The New York Knicks are four games into the season. What do we know about this team, and what questions still remain to be answered?

The NBA offseason came and went, and outside the additions of Jalen Brunson and Isaiah Hartenstein, the Knicks decided to run things back, despite being at the forefront of trade rumors for the entire summer. The front office ultimately decided that their assets were worth more than the likes of some star players, including Donovan Mitchell. Headed into the season, the Knicks clocked in at 18th on the NBA’s power rankings, giving their young nucleus something to prove after a disappointing season following their first playoff appearance since 2013.

What We Know: Jalen Brunson checks a lot of boxes for New York

The biggest Knicks personnel change of the offseason, Jalen Brunson has made his presence felt on both sides of the ball. This is unfamiliar territory for the Knicks, as they haven’t had a consistent starting point guard for well over a decade.

Brunson has carried his strong playoff play into the season, averaging 2o.0 points, 8.5 assists, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.0 steals per game while shooting 41.2% from three thus far, all career-highs. His winning and humble attitude is infectious and is rubbing off on the rest of the team. After last season where various egos complicated the team’s chemistry, Brunson’s arrival put all of that to bed. Despite not being known as a natural facilitator, his playmaking has stood out so far, with 34 assists total, including last night’s career-high 13-assist masterclass.

Even if Brunson isn’t assisting on a play, his playmaking has inspired the rest of the squad to keep the ball moving. The Knicks have displayed an unselfish style of basketball so far through a sample size of games with 28 assists against the Grizzlies, 29 against the Pistons, and 26 against the Magic and Hornets respectively. Through four games rank 10th as a team in assists per game. But most importantly, Brunson’s playmaking has allowed Julius Randle to thrive. Too many times last year, Randle was tasked with bringing the ball up due to their blunders at the point guard position. This took a toll on Randle, which is most likely why he experienced a down year. With Brunson now involved, Randle can find his spots and look to score and rebound. Randle’s assist numbers may go down, but for the sake of his and the team’s efficiency, it will be worth it in the long run. Check out this highlight between Brunson and Randle:

Another thing that comes to mind with the addition of Jalen Brunson is his ability to score at will. Take the game against the Magic as an example. In the third quarter of that game, Orlando looked to make a run and take the lead over New York. Not a single player for the Knicks could buy a bucket. Brunson took it into his own hands and scored on back-to-back possessions to keep the Knicks in front. Against Charlotte, Brunson single-handedly sealed the win with his scoring out of isolation. A player that is capable of doing this is extremely special, and something the fans have not seen in quite some time. Pairing Brunson with Randle and R.J. Barrett (both of whom averaged 20 points per game last season) will be a scary trio with Barrett and Randle being the beneficiary of Brunson’s arrival home. It’s early in the season, but the Knicks will continue to spell trouble for opposing defense as the season continues.

What We (Should) Know: Not to panic about R.J. Barrett

It’s disappointing to see Barrett, arguably the Knicks’ best player, struggle so far this season. After an 11-point showing in his season debut versus the Grizzlies, fans questioned whether signing Barrett to an extension was the right move for the franchise. I can assure you that it was indeed the right move. If we look back to last season, Barrett also struggled early on. Before the new year, Barrett averaged 15.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.2 assists, which, given how his season turned out, should be a reminder to fans not to overreact to his slow start. Despite his poor play, it doesn’t mean he shouldn’t start or he is unplayable. His box plus/minus actually say otherwise regarding his play. Barrett’s average plus/minus per game of +10.5 shows that while his shooting percentages haven’t been efficient (37.0% from the field, 14.3% from 3), he still impacts the game in different ways, as he looks to better his teammates around him.

As the season progresses, Barrett’s play will only improve. It took time for him to find his footing last season, and after the All-Star break, he went on a tear. Barrett is adjusting to playing off the ball more now that Brunson has taken over ball-handling duties. Not to mention that both Brunson and Randle have taken touches away from the former third-overall pick. There have been concerns about his workload as of late since he has to make up for Evan Fournier and Brunson’s defensive breakdowns by guarding the opposing team’s best perimeter player. What people don’t realize is that Barrett was in a similar situation to begin last season, when Kemba Walker was still on the team. He will be just fine and once Barrett starts rolling, there’s no telling what heights this team can reach.

What We Know: Julius Randle is in for a bounce-back season

Last season certainly didn’t work in Randle’s favor, but with improved lineups and rotations, he is not only playing well, but it looks like he is having fun out there on the court. He no longer has to take the ball up the floor each and every possession (likely a big reason why his efficiency took a dip last season) and is making the most of his opportunities. As previously mentioned, the addition of Jalen Brunson is working wonders for Randle. Brunson’s ability to create off the dribble takes significant pressure off of the former Kentucky forward and allows him to get to work. His three-point shooting still may not be the best, but Randle’s field goal percentage to start the season off has been phenomenal. Outside of a couple of forced shots, Randle has taken his time and found the most efficient ways to score.

The biggest improvement from last season has been his ability to limit turnovers (1.5 turnovers per game compared to 3.4 last season, a career-low) and play within the flow of the offense. Compared to his antics last season, Randle has had a swagger to start the season for New York. Body language has been something that’s been associated with Randle for the last two years. While he didn’t have the best body language last season, he has made strides to improve his emotions on the court. Fans should be very excited for what’s in store for Julius Randle in what looks to be a bounce-back year.

What We Don’t Know: Quentin Grimes, his injury timetable, and more

Easily the biggest unknown for the team at this time, Quentin Grimes has been sidelined with a foot injury to start the season. The second-year shooting guard had an impressive Summer League outing to the point where Leon Rose kept him out of trade discussions with other teams. For a player coming off his rookie year where he averaged six points per game, Rose has high praise for the 22-year-old. But after his injury, it will take some time for Grimes to be reintegrated into the rotation. There are many questions about Grimes that are still to be answered. Is his foot injury a nagging issue that will impact his play throughout the season? When will he be back in the lineup? And the one that everyone is wondering: will he have the opportunity to overtake Evan Fournier in the starting lineup? Considering the Knicks already run a 10-man rotation as is, it will be difficult to find time for Grimes without reducing the minutes of another player.

Cam Reddish has been a pleasant surprise to begin the season with a 22-point game in his season debut against the Grizzlies. His play from that game alone gave him the opportunity for more time, especially since Grimes has yet to make his season debut. It will be intriguing going forward to see what lineups Tom Thibodeau will put out there once Grimes is set to return. Will Reddish see a reduction in minutes or will it impact another player? Derrick Rose has been used sparingly in the Knicks’ first four games, would Thibs do the unthinkable and cut his beloved vet from the rotation? No matter what happens, Grimes will find his way into the lineup. Whoever gets cut from the rotation upon Grimes’ return could be on the move with the Knicks having plenty of time to make a decision before the trade deadline in February.

What We Don’t Know: Who will close the game at the center position?

It’s not often that a team has two starting-quality centers (unless that team is the Orlando Magic), but the Knicks find themselves in exactly that situation. New York gets the best of both worlds with Mitchell Robinson, a solid interior defender and rebounder who can finish around the rim while Isaiah Hartenstein brings the ability to stroke the three ball and space the floor as a passer on the perimeter, which expands the Knicks’ prowess on the offensive end.

So who does Tom Thibodeau put out on the floor to finish the game? It will likely be situational due to the opposing team and their personnel, but I can envision Hartenstein finishing games more despite not being a starter. Hartenstein’s offensive upside will keep him in games late. While his defense isn’t the best, he is mobile enough to hang with other centers down the stretch. Another reason why I see Hartenstein closing the game out is due to Robinson’s notoriety for getting into foul trouble. If he’s in foul trouble or fouled out, New York will have no choice but to play Hartenstein or even Jericho Sims. If Hartenstein keeps up his solid play, there’s even a chance he could run away with the starting center spot despite Robinson re-signing this offseason. Either way the ball rolls, the Knicks have options at center no matter what team they are matched up against.

What We Don’t Know: Can the Knicks thrive in a competitive Eastern Conference?

A narrow loss to the Memphis Grizzlies shows that the Knicks are able to compete with some of the league’s best, but with the East getting deeper each year, it will be tough to tell how it will pan out. Outside of the Grizzlies, the Knicks have faced the Hornets, Magic, and Pistons, teams that are looking to rebuild their franchises for future years and are more likely to be in the running for projected 2023 first-overall pick Victor Wembanyama than in the playoff hunt. After beating the Hornets in overtime on Wednesday night, they will now be tested by several Eastern Conference contenders, as they’ll face the Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, Philadelphia 76ers, and the Boston Celtics in their next five games. This is as difficult a stretch as they will see all season, but if they can be competitive in each of these five games no matter the outcome, there is hope that the Knicks will be able to contend for more than just a play-in spot, but potentially a top 6 seeded team in the East.

The biggest factor that will come into play for the Knicks if they want to succeed in the East is their defense. After ranking among the best teams in the league from the defensive side of the ball two seasons ago, the Knicks took a slight step back last season. To begin the season, the Knicks have played relatively solid defense, ranking within the top ten for defensive rating. But going beyond the numbers, New York has been caught sleeping at times, allowing ball handlers to get to the basket with ease for easy buckets. Their perimeter defense in their opener against the Grizzlies was abysmal, as they allowed Memphis to hit 17 threes. Following their opening night loss, the Knicks did a better job on the perimeter against the Pistons and the Magic, allowing nine threes and seven threes, respectively. In the coming weeks, they will be tested with some familiar divisional foes, along with a road trip out west. It will be important for New York to capitalize in the majority of these games, especially with some teams experiencing injuries early on in the season.

What’s next for the Knicks?

New York will head to the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee to play the Bucks. Quentin Grimes (foot) has a chance to return after being limited at practice on Wednesday. For the Bucks, Khris Middleton (wrist) will be out for the first few weeks of the season, so his availability against the Knicks seems to be in doubt.

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