On the latest Crossover podcast, Howard Beck and Chris Mannix discuss if New York can continue their hot streak.
Mannix: I want to start with your New York Knicks, who, as we record this, have won seven games in a row. They’re playing some pretty good defense. Jalen Brunson looks like he’s worth every nickel of the contract that they gave him. The Knicks right now I think are playoff contenders, no doubt about that. Are they win-a-series contenders? Advance-to-the-second-round contenders? Or pretenders?
Beck: Are the Knicks contenders to win a playoff series? No, I don’t think they are—with all respect to the way they’ve pulled themselves together, and this streak, and the defense they’re playing, and the grit they’re showing, and yes, I agree, Brunson has been worth every dime they spent to get him, and the effects are kind of what you would’ve hoped for when you finally get a competent point guard with a team that badly needed somebody to lead their offense.
Here’s where the skepticism comes in, and it’s not even as much about the Knicks as it is about their surroundings. So real quick reference points here. They’re 14th in offensive efficiency, ninth in defensive efficiency, net rating of 10th. That suggests that they’re pretty good. Tenth-best net rating in the league suggests that they should be able to win a playoff series, perhaps. However, I look at the East and I see five teams that are absolutely, definitely better than them, barring any crazy things happening, trades, injuries, whatever. Milwaukee, Boston, Cleveland, Brooklyn—I’m surprised I have to put them back in this sentence. The Nets are there, the Sixers are there as well I think when they’re healthy. So that’s five teams that are definitely better than the Knicks and the standings, and they’re definitely better than the Knicks when it comes to a head-to-head matchup in the playoffs.
And then if you’re looking at the standings now and you’re thinking about who you think should be sixth by the end of the season, Miami and Atlanta both have better talent than the Knicks. I mean, if you’re drafting a team, you’re taking Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo both before you’re taking any Knick. And you’re taking Trae Young and Dejounte Murray before you’re getting to anybody on the Knicks. Those teams have better talent. Now, better talent is not always a better team. Chemistry matters, fit matters, all kinds of stuff. And I’m not sure about the Hawks’ fit. They got some weird stuff going on there. But Miami and Atlanta should be better than the Knicks. They may not be at the end of it.
But the bottom line is that if the Knicks are not top four, and they’re not, then you’re bottom four. And when you’re bottom four, you gotta beat one of the top four. And I just don’t see them taking four out of seven from the Bucks, Celtics, Cavaliers, Nets, or Sixers. Do you?
Mannix: No, I don’t. And I’m gonna call them pretenders as well for at least a series win. You know, you play the teams that are in front of you, the Knicks have benefited during this recent stretch, which goes beyond these seven games, of playing teams that were minus a star, whether it was the Sixers with Joel Embiid. I was at the Sacramento game where they played the Kings without De’Aaron Fox. They benefited from that, not their fault, you play who’s put in front of you. But I think that’s propelled them a little bit during the stretch.
I’m encouraged by what Brunson brings, for starters. He’s great. Julius Randle, a little bit of a bounce back year, still not All-NBA level like he was a couple of seasons ago, but he’s up to like low-to-mid-30s from three-point range. His field goal percentage is up. He’s above 20 points per game again. So, I think he’s more of an asset. I don’t think they’re great defensively or going to be great defensively. And if you’re not, you better be damn good offensively, and I don’t think they’re that good offensively either.
And when you consider who they’re gonna have to face in the first round, the teams you mentioned, Milwaukee, Boston, Cleveland, Philadelphia, whoever it is at the top of the conference standings, I just don’t see them coming away with a win. Maybe the best-case scenario is Tom Thibodeau saves his job in New York? Maybe. I mean, it’s possible, I guess. But I don’t think they’re a threat to win a first-round series, at least not the group as they’re currently constructed.