Knicks: What we learned from the preseason as the real games begins

Dec 13, 2020; Detroit, Michigan, USA; New York Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina (11) looks on during a stoppage in play during the second quarter against the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 13, 2020; Detroit, Michigan, USA; New York Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina (11) looks on during a stoppage in play during the second quarter against the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

There were plenty of positive signs from the New York Knicks in preseason play.

While we are all excited to finally see the New York Knicks play after a 9-month layoff, we shouldn’t read too much into what we have seen during the preseason games. This offseason was rushed and there was no summer league, but there are a few takeaways.


We can see that the coaching has improved significantly. Everyone seems to have a defined role and defense is a major point of emphasis. The Knicks are also playing with a sense of urgency. I like the fact that Thibs is playing the young players together, especially pairing Frank and Dennis Smith Jr. (DSJ) together in the backcourt.

Development of Foundational Players

One of the main themes for the 2021-22 season is to have the Knicks’ two best young players, R.J. Barrett and Mitchell Robinson, take a giant leap forward in their development. While Barrett’s outside shot has been a bit streaky, there are signs of improvement, and the rest of his game appears to have progressed. After a slow start in game one, R.J. found his groove and asserted himself.

However, the same can not be said of Robinson. In fact, he has been the only source of controversy. While he is giving great effort, you can see why Thibs started Nerlens Noel. Robinson’s game lacks polish as he struggles to do the little things. He is also still making silly fouls, like the flagrant foul 1 on Blake Griffin, one of the five fouls he got in 19 minutes in the second game. There is also the major concern: can Mitch develop his offensive game and be more than a rim runner? That question is still unanswered.

Luckily, he ended the preseason with an impressive performance against the Cavs when he blocked 4 shots and grabbed 12 rebounds.


One of the bright spots of the first two preseason games has been Obi Toppin. The rookie has literally popped off the screen, and the talent is undeniable. Besides the freakish athletic ability, his offensive skill set is very polished.

He can score in the post, off the dribble, in transition, and shoot from beyond the arc. The other bright spot has been his passing. He has great vision and is constantly looking for his teammates. My major concern with Toppin was his defense, which needs to improve. But I do see him engaged, communicating with teammates, and talking with coach Woodson and Payne about his defense every chance he gets. Based on what I’ve seen so far, my opinion of Toppin is changing. He is looking like a foundational piece which is a huge win for the Knicks.

As for Immanuel Quickley, he has quickly become the darling of Knicks Twitter, and it’s hard not to get excited about his play at point guard. There is no question that he can guard at the NBA level and Thibs, who is not much for doling out compliments, has said he can be one of the best shooters in the NBA. Quickley’s value will increase exponentially if he can be relied upon to handle point guard duties.

Other Young Players

The other factor that can speed up the rebuilding process is if one of the struggling young players pops, that would be a boon for the Knicks. Not much is expected from Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr. (DSJ) and Kevin Knox.

Ntilikina has been content to play as an off-the-ball connector, supporting the point guard. What has been encouraging is that he has played more aggressively, is looking to get to the basket and has hit some of his open 3-pointers.

DSJ appears to be in better shape and has given better effort on defense–he actually took a charge. His outside shot also looks better. The major concern is his ability to organize and run the offense. Hopefully that will improve.

Kevin Knox looked good in the first game, conjuring up memories for Summer League. His on-the-ball defense also looked better. He then went crazy over the final five quarters of play, nailing 9 three-pointers after making 65 all of last season.

Veteran Players

The new vets have also looked good. Alec Burke is a solid wing with a good outside shot. Nerlens Noel has also done his job, providing a redundant skill set as Mitch. This will ensure the Knicks will have 48 minutes of rim protection and lobs threats at the rim. He also does the little things well, like screen, move without the ball and defend without fouling.

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As for the returning vets, Randle and Payton, their play is consistent with last year’s contribution.