There’s some deja vu going on. This time last summer, the New York Knicks were labeled as a play-in team at best after “overpaying” Jalen Brunson in free agency. The front office eventually deciding to back out of the Donovan Mitchell trade talks gave people even less hope for New York in 2022-23.
For the first time in a long time, karma played in the Knicks’ favor as they secured the No. 5 seed in the East and knocked Mitchell and the Cavaliers out of the first round of the playoffs. Julius Randle earned All-NBA/All-Star honors for the second time in three seasons, but Brunson solidified himself as the star that New York should build around.
The front office is still waiting patiently to make the right move for a star, but that star needs to fit well beside Brunson. The Knicks could make that move later this offseason, before the 2024 deadline, or maybe next summer. There isn’t a big-name star on the market for New York to pursue, but that could change. We’re looking at you, Joel Embiid.
Believe it or not, the Knicks are in a good spot right now. The organization’s big move may not happen this offseason, but it’s coming.
The Athletic’s Zach Harper put together the latest edition of the outlet’s NBA Power Rankings (subscription required), and New York’s spot may surprise you. After the past year, though, Knicks fans should be used to their team being underestimated.
The Athletic puts Knicks in ‘Play-In Battleground’ tier in latest NBA Power Rankings
The Athletic breaks its power rankings into four tiers: Contenders, On the brink of contention, Playoff Hopefuls, Play-In Battleground, Edge of Competition, and Tank Adjacent So Far.
Upon first glance, it would seem that the Knicks would be in the Playoff Hopeful tier, but that tier was made up of the Kings (No. 8), Cavaliers (No. 9), Grizzlies (No. 10), Clippers (No. 11), and the Sixers (No. 12). The Knicks were the first team listed in the Play-In Battleground tier at No. 13.
Here’s what Harper wrote to explain why he put New York in that spot:
"I’m just not certain their ceiling actually goes beyond what we saw last season. They have depth and an identity, which is more than you can say for most teams. I just wonder if this squad is capable of evolving further or if they’re just waiting for a disgruntled star to become available. We don’t hear a lot about the Knicks pursuing the big guns. Maybe we should again."
Indeed, the Knicks haven’t done much this offseason. It was thought that the front office would try to trade into the 2023 NBA Draft after not having a pick, but that didn’t happen. New York has made only one free agency signing thus far, Donte DiVincenzo. The Knicks have made one trade, too, but that was only in return for two second-round picks.
This year’s free agency class wasn’t stacked, and there isn’t the right star on the trade market that New York should go after, so the front office’s quietness makes sense.
Like every team in the league, the Knicks’ success in 2023-24 will hinge on their ability to stay healthy. Jalen Brunson doesn’t have an extensive injury history, but he’s the most significant concern, given that New York performs astronomically better with him on the court. He has a solid backup in Immanuel Quickley when he’s out.
New York is looking to build off its success in 2022-23, meaning finishing between No. 7 and No. 10 in the East would be disappointing. The Bucks, Celtics, 76ers, and Cavaliers finished above the Knicks in the Eastern Conference standings this past season. Given James Harden’s uncertain future, there’s a real chance that New York could outperform Philadelphia. The same could maybe be said for Cleveland, but Donovan Mitchell is a monster.
The Knicks are still a move or two away from being labeled a contender, but they’re no play-in team. It isn’t a bad thing that the front office has made methodical moves, but instead, it’s a good thing given the organization’s terrible decision-making history. New York was an oversight this time last year. Don’t make the same mistake of thinking the same again this year.