With a successful season about in the books, the Knicks have several players vying for awards. But where do they rank among the competition?
With just five games left in the regular season, the New York Knicks have largely locked up the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, capping off one of the strongest New York seasons in recent memories. With that success, often comes accolades. Like any team set up in the top half of the conference, the Knicks have several candidates for awards.
The last time the Knicks were this successful, was in 2020-21, when they won 41 games and earned the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. That year, Julius Randle won the Most Improved Player of the Year award and snagged All-NBA second-team honors while Tom Thibodeau took home the Coach of the Year award. Immanuel Quickley nearly made the All-NBA rookie first team. This time around, the Knicks have some candidates for some more awards. Let’s break it down from least likely to most likely.
Quentin Grimes and Mitchell Robinson: All-NBA Defensive Teams
For all of the offensive accolades of both Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson, the defensive success of Quentin Grimes and Mitchell Robinson has gone under the radar. Grimes, just in his second season, has blossomed into one of the premier up-and-coming defenders. Where the likes of RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley thrive off-ball, Grimes is an excellent on-ball defender, who continues to get better at pestering opposing guards and wings.
As for Mitchell Robinson, his rebound has been incredible. Last season, Robinson was lethargic due to his bulking up while injured. Slimming down and earning a brand new contract in the process, Robinson bounced back to his previous seasons, blocking shots and serving as an ultimate clean-up for New York’s defense. Even with New York’s backup centers, Isaiah Hartenstein and Jericho Sims, playing well, Robinson remains a starter and a stalwart in the middle.
Unfortunately, both players are unlikely to make either the first or second team. Grimes is looking up and seeing the likes of Oklahoma City’s Lu Dort, Milwaukee’s Jrue Holiday, Boston’s Marcus Smart and Derrick White, and Chicago’s Alex Caruso as viable candidates. Meanwhile, Robinson will have Milwaukee’s Bam Adebayo, Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez, Cleveland’s Evan Mobley, and fellow New Yorker, Nets’ center Nic Claxton with comparable, if not better, resumes.
Jalen Brunson: Most Improved Player Of The Year
One of the weirdest awards in the NBA, Most Improved is named as an award for players who took the biggest step forward. However, the award has been remodeled as an award made for the “good player” who took the leap to superstardom. Is “good player” to “star player” the biggest jump in the NBA? Yes, but it often leaves other, less heralded players with no nomination.
Brunson has effectively made a star leap. Averaging 23.6 points, 6.1 assists, and 3.5 rebounds, Brunson went from a solid starter in Dallas to one of the best point guards in the Eastern Conference with New York. Not only has his efficiency remained in place, while also remained one of the most effective isolation scorers in the league. Before his brief ankle and knee injuries, Brunson felt like a top candidate for the award.
However, Brunson faces an uphill climb to win the award. Utah’s Lauri Markkanen was the early frontrunner as Utah was thriving, but with the Jazz falling back a bit, the door opened up. Brooklyn’s Mikal Bridges exploded offensively after his trade from Phoenix, but combine that success in Brooklyn with his solid play in Phoenix and you have something. The winner here seems to be Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeious-Alexander, who has blossomed as a two-way threat, and with the Thunder on the cusp of making the play-in, award Alexander sounds about right.
Tom Thibodeau: Coach of The Year
I both fully understand that Tom Thibodeau isn’t going to win the award and that perhaps I’m too close here. However, Thibodeau deserves some credit for his adjustments early in the season. Switching to an eight-man rotation came at the right time, resulting in the Knicks pulling off several winning streaks and impressive wins against the league’s best. At various stretches throughout the season, the Knicks sported a top-10 defense and a top-10 offense – currently sitting at 5th overall offensively and 18th defensively – all while playing a Thibodeau-brand of basketball.
When all is said and done about this season’s regular season, Thibodeau managed the offensive balance between Randle and Brunson and got to the point where he used Quickley as this pivot off the bench, capable of playing with just about everyone, he managed RJ Barrett properly through the ups and downs of being a young player, committed and stuck with Quentin Grimes, managed to get minutes for all three of his rotation-worthy centers and found the perfect bench piece at the deadline in Josh Hart and used him properly so far.
He’s not going to win. Sacramento’s Mike Brown should be the runaway candidate here, with Oklahoma City’s Mark Daigneault, Denver’s Micheal Malone, and Boston’s Joe Mazzula, off wins alone for the last two, in that third or fourth spot. Still, I wanted to mention Thibs here for going from basically on the outs in New York to successfully navigating the Knicks to two seasons in the playoffs in three years. The Knicks have an interesting decision to make with him and a potential contract extension to make him the head coach for the foreseeable future.
Julius Randle: All-NBA team
Despite the recent injury that will knock him out the next two weeks and the Orlando dust-up, Julius Randle felt like a strong contender for an All-NBA team. Randle has averaged 25.1 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 4.1 assists while shooting a respectable 34 percent from the outside. His defense isn’t on the same level as two seasons ago, but he’s been solid. As Brunson earned all the accolades early, Randle didn’t get enough love for effectively changing his game and shot diet to become a perfect teammate for the former Villanova Wildcat.
The forward spot is the trickiest spot for several reasons. One – Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James. You just don’t leave these guys off the list, despite numerous injuries and games missed. With the “G-G-F-F-C” format, it makes it tough for any leeway for Randle and those three are his biggest competitors right off the bat. James is the closest to being off the list, but Leonard and Durant feel like strong candidates to make the third team.
Then, from there, we’re looking at Boston’s Jayson Tatum, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokoumnpo, Miami’s Jimmy Butler, and Utah’s Lauri Markkanen. Eight players and Randle is in that mix. Whether he makes one of the six spots remains to be seen, but Randle is on the shortlist and could use some luck to make his second All-NBA team.
Immanuel Quickley: Sixth Man of The Year
Immanuel Quickley has been electric the last six weeks and that pushed him to be the betting favorite to win the Sixth Man of the Year award. Strictly on the floor, however, Quickley has assumed a key bench role as the second tempo-setter after Brunson. His versatility makes him a key piece – the ability to work off of Brunson and Randle, the ability to carry the offense, the defensive flexibility – all things that have pushed Quickley into an indispensable role.
Along with Quickley, Boston’s Malcolm Brogdon seems to be the two frontrunners in the mix here. Both are top-tier bench guards who can play more minutes, thanks to their flexibility with the starters. Both can handle the ball, run the offense and play around the team’s star players. Quickley’s last few weeks have been electric, and that might be just enough to walk away with the award and start the most interesting offseasons for a New York athlete in recent memory.
The New York Knicks have had success, and that often comes with team accolades. Usually, a coach or a player would get nominated for an award and in some cases, walk away a winner. The Knicks, is no different, with several different players and coaches eligible for the award. Whether they can win the award is one thing, but the likes of Julius Randle, Jalen Brunson, Tom Thibodeau, and Immanuel Quickley could all find their names among the top three of some prestigious awards over the coming weeks.