Over the last few years, the Knicks have had visions of superstars dancing in their heads. But instead of unwrapping a shiny new player or two, they've gotten more than their fair share of, well, disappointment.
But this holiday season, there’s reason for optimism looking ahead, with a new team president, a new head coach, and some exciting young players.
Still, though, there’s a few things the Knicks should still have on their wish list for the 2021 campaign. Here’s a look at what the Knicks should be asking for this holiday season…
A young, starting point guard emerges
In all likelihood, the Knicks will go into the 2020-21 season with Elfrid Payton as their starting point guard. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. Payton is a solid NBA point guard with a knack for getting others involved. Last season, he averaged 10.0 points and 7.2 assists to go along with 4.7 rebounds, starting 36 games for New York.
But it’s no secret that that the Knicks are hoping one of their young point guards can take the jump forward into the leading role.
Frank Ntilikina has all the physical tools. At 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, Ntilikina has the size, length, and athleticism to be an all-round point guard. Defense has always been his forte, and that will bode well for him under Tom Thibodeau, but just imagine if his offense could match that defense. The 22-year-old averaged a career-best 6.3 points and put up career-best shooting numbers (39.3 percent overall, 32.1 percent from three), and at times he’s looked like he’s on the cusp of taking his game to the next level. It just hasn’t happened yet.
On the other hand, Dennis Smith Jr.’s numbers have declined in each of his three pro seasons. After averaging a very impressive 15.2 point and 5.2 assists while starting 69 games as a rookie with the Mavericks in 2017-18, Smith showed some potential after being dealt to the Knicks in the Kristaps Porzingis trade, averaging 14.7 points and 5.4 assists in his first half-season with the team. But he took a big step backwards in 2019-20, averaging just 5.5 points and 2.9 assists, seeing his playing time dip to 15.8 minutes per game. The ninth overall pick in 2017 has the athletic ability to thrive in the NBA, he just hasn’t put it all together during his time with the Knicks, and this could be a make-or-break season for him.
And then Immanuel Quickley -- the Knicks' No. 25 pick -- helped spur a fourth-quarter comeback in the team's third preseason game over Cleveland. "I’ve been a point guard all my life. I feel I’m versatile playing off the ball, on the ball," Quickley said.
Obi Toppin is as good as advertised
The eighth overall pick from Dayton was the highlight of the Knicks’ preseason opener, tallying 11 points and seven rebounds in a 20-minute run off the bench. The second game was a different story, as he had just four points on 1-of-9 shooting (including 1-of-6 from beyond the arc) in 24 minutes. He went 4 for 6 on Wednesday, posting eight points and seven rebounds in 31 minutes.
That goes to show that the rookie will have his ups and downs (as all rookies do) during his first pro season. Still, from a pure talent and energy standpoint, Toppin looks to be exactly the kind of player the Knicks have been hoping to land in the draft.
So what Knicks fans should be hoping for this year is that Toppin proves to be more boom than bust as a rookie, even if that means he’s not going for 11 and 7 off the bench every time out. Toppin is likely the Knicks power forward of the future, and he’s got the size and shooting capability to be a prototypical stretch four in today’s NBA.
The Brooklyn-born Toppin appears to be an easy player for Knicks fans to root for, so here’s to hoping he’s not another Knicks draft bust, and instead pans out to be the dynamic player he has the potential to become.
Julius Randle ups his trade value before the deadline
Going hand-in-hand with Toppin’s progression will be seeing how Julius Randle’s future as a Knick pans out.
Randle is a good NBA player, with career averages of 16.1 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 3.1 assists. He plays hard every night and plays with a physical edge at the power forward spot.
But the best case scenario for the Knicks this season is probably one that sees Randle have a great first half of the season, raising his value before the trade deadline, and forcing the hand of a contending team to trade the Knicks valuable assets for him.
Randle is probably the most complete player on the Knicks’ roster right now and he’ll almost all but certainly be the team’s leading scorer this season, but just like with Marcus Morris last year, if the Knicks can land a first-round pick or maybe even more for Randle at the deadline, that’s probably the route they want to go for a couple of reasons. First of all, it would take Randle’s $19.8 million salary for next season off the books, and secondly, it would allow Toppin to step into the starting role at the four spot and extend his playing time as a rookie.
Randle driving up his trade value while putting up big numbers for the Knicks should be high atop any fan’s wish list.
RJ Barrett takes a leap forward as a scorer
The third overall pick from last year’s draft has admitted that he was disappointed to be left off both of the All-Rookie teams last season, and he has every right to feel that way, as he averaged 14.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 2.6 assists while taking on a starting role right away.
Barrett having a chip on his shoulder could be exactly what the doctor ordered for his sophomore campaign as a pro.
In the Knick’s second preseason game, Barrett poured on 25 points to go along with four rebounds and four assists. He was just 1-of-5 from three-point range, but even though he didn’t shoot it all that well, he still showed a willingness to step out and shoot the three, which is a really good sign as he looks to take on an even bigger role in his second year.
Perhaps Barrett didn’t put up “Wow” numbers as a rookie, but he was extremely consistent last season, and if he can up his scoring and shoot at a higher clip from beyond the arc (32.0 percent as a rookie), Barrett could a huge part of turning the Knicks around sooner rather than later.
Leon Rose and Tom Thibodeau create a team that attracts star players
That brings us to the final stop on our wish list, and this one may be the single most important step for the Knicks as a franchise: Can Leon Rose and Thibodeau help change the overall perception of what the Knicks are as an organization?
One of the great NBA franchises, the Knicks have obviously fallen on hard times over the last 20 years, and as a result, the team has become a punch-line for NBA jabs and jokes. Star players have repeatedly passed on coming to New York (with players like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving electing to Brooklyn over the “mecca” of Madison Square Garden), and previous coaching hires and front office moves have gone awry.
So will Rose and Thibodeau be the ones to change that league-wide image of the Knicks franchise? Thibodeau clearly brings a no-nonsense, hard-nosed approach to coaching, and he’s had success in building teams into playoff contenders in his previous stops. It’s obviously far too early to tell exactly how he fits with this current iteration of the Knicks, but at the very least, he’s a proven NBA coach with a track record of building winners.
As for Rose, will he be able to do what other Knicks front office members haven’t in piecing together a roster that can sustain winning and make a run (or two, or three) at an NBA title.
Sure, maybe it’s a lot to wish for.
But after all, now’s the time of the season to dream big.