The Knicks’ New Season, New Problems

William Tseng

With Julius Randle and RJ Barrett leading the Knicks’ first playoff run in eight years, the future looked bright. With Tom Thibodeau taking the helm of head coach last year, the Knicks seemed like sure competitors. Knicks Fans waited in anticipation over the offseason to see how the front office would improve a roster that already seemed to have great chemistry. The two most notable signings of the offseason were Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier.

Walker’s signing was met with mixed reactions. On one hand, Kemba filled a role that the Knicks have desperately needed for quite some time: a playmaker. Plus, his contract was a small two-year $18 million. However, other Knicks fans saw this as a terrible decision. Walker had an off-year last season with an injury in his left knee that left many fans skeptical of whether Kemba would be 100% this season. Before signing Walker, as well, the Knicks already had Elfrid Payton as the starting point guard and Derrick Rose on the bench as a backup.

With Evan Founier, there was less debate as most Knicks fans agreed that his signing was terrible. Evan Founier signed a hefty four year contract worth about $78 million with the fourth year being a team option. This meant that Fournier would be earning almost as much as Julius Randle and more than Derrick Rose! Before signing Fournier, the Knicks already had RJ Barrett as the starting shooting guard with rookie guard Immanuel Quickley contributing and improving quite well off the bench. But because of the signing, Fournier takes the starting shooting guard position instead of Barrett, leaving Quickley to stay on the bench and potentially play less minutes. Quickley is young so his development as a player is important. In addition, RJ Barrett’s playing time as a shooting guard would be significantly restricted with the amount of guards on the team. He would have to mostly play as a small forward which isn’t what he has been accustomed to for the past two years.

Jump to today, as of the date this is being written, the Knicks now have a 9-8 win loss record and every worry that has been talked about has come true. Because of the new additions, Immanuel Quickley’s stats have regressed instead of improving.  Rather than averaging the 11.4 points per game he did last year, he is now only averaging 8.6 points per game. The change might seem insignificant, but because he is coming off a rookie season, he should be improving. RJ Barrett has also regressed significantly. Last year, he was averaging  17.6 points per game and shot 44.1% from the field. Now, he is averaging only 14.9 points per game —barely more than what he averaged in his rookie year— and is shooting 38.8% from the field which is the worst in his career. As RJ Barrett is only in his third year of his career, he like Quickley, should still be improving. 

To answer whether Evan Fourner has been worth the money, the answer is simply no. He has been super inconsistent. Some nights, he can score a solid 19 points but other nights, he can score a measly 5 points. He also has been averaging just 35.5% from the three-point line this season, and 26.8% this month alone. He is nowhere near playing at the level that is expected from him for the money he is being paid. To put it simpler, he is nowhere near playing as well as Julius Randle who barely makes more money than him. But that’s not to let Randle off the hook. He’s been playing pretty inconsistently as well this season, but he is still the Knicks’ best player. 

At least Kemba Walker hasn’t been inconsistent… he’s just been consistently bad. Instead of being the playmaker the Knicks signed him to be, Walker has  averaged only 3 assists per game— the lowest assist per game average of his whole career. Most nights, he barely shoots over 40% from the field most nights while averaging 11.7 points per game —also his lowest points per game average of his career. He is actually playing worse than he did last season when he was injured.

It seems like all the progress that the Knicks made last season has come crashing down as a result of the offseason. On the upside, fan favorite Derrick Rose has been more or less continuing what he did last year while Obi Toppin has been improving since his rookie season last year. Both have been contributing well with them having the two highest Player Efficiency Ratings of the team. The Knicks finished with a 41-31 record last season and made the playoffs. Can the Knicks do the same, maybe even better this season? We’ll see. For now, Knicks fans have to wait—just like they have been for the past 22 years to make the Finals.