Going into the 2022-23 NBA season, the Eastern Conference looks like it is going to be incredibly competitive again for the New York Knicks.
Last season, the top 10 teams in the Eastern Conference finished with a record above .500. The Eastern Conference in 2021-22 collectively finished with some of the best records we’ve ever seen.
Historical context of the 2021-22 Eastern Conference
If teams 1-10 in the Eastern Conference repeats itself from last season, the Knicks will have to take a leap to even make it to the play-in tournament. New York finished the 2021-22 season with a record of 37-45, a full six games behind the tenth seed to make the play-in.
Since 1980, there have only ever been two instances where the tenth team in the East finished with a .500 record. In 1997-98, the Washington Wizards finished in ninth at 42-40 and the Orlando Magic finished in tenth at 41-41. The Chicago Bulls finished ninth in 2015-16 with a record of 42-40 and the Washington Wizards finished tenth at 41-41.
The fact that the 9-10 seeds in the East both finished 43-39 in 2021-22 was historic. Looking back at history, it may not be sustainable and we are more likely to have those 9-10 seeds be closer to .500 than above it this season.
3 reasons why the Knicks will be able to compete in the East in 2022-23
1. Direction at point guard with Jalen Brunson
The Knicks made what some could call a splash when they signed Jalen Brunson to a four-year, $104 million contract this offseason. It was a significant signing for a franchise that hasn’t had a point guard or playmaker of that caliber for a long time.
Playing alongside Luka Doncic, Brunson hasn’t always had the opportunity to put his playmaking skills on display. That’d be tough for any guard to do in that situation next to Luka, as he had the highest usage last season.
In 62 regular season games with Luka last season, Brunson averaged 15 points, four rebounds, and four assists. In 17 regular season games without Doncic, he upped his game to 20 points, 7.5 assists, and four rebounds. Brunson also exploded without Doncic in Game 2 and Game 3 of the Mavericks’ first round-series against the Jazz in the playoffs.
When Brunson was given the keys, he averaged nearly eight assists per game. Julius Randle led New York in assists last season at 5.1 per game. Brunson’s passing abilities are important for a Knicks franchise that has frankly been awful passing the ball in the last four seasons.
Here’s how the Knicks have ranked in assists per game since 2018-19:
The last Knick to average over 7.5 assists per game was Raymond Felton. Felton averaged nine assists per game in 54 games in the 2010-11 season. Stephon Marbury averaged 8.1 assists per game for the Knicks back in 2004-05 while playing in all 82 games.
Jalen Brunson at point guard gives the Knicks a word they haven’t been able to use for a long time — sustainability. Brunson handling the ball and facilitating the offense will help the team grow. With his ability to drive, he should be able to find open teammates and he can also run in transition.
An increase in usage and handling the ball could see Brunson be the first Knick to hit that 8-10 assists per game range in a very long time.