Looking Back at the 2021 New York Knicks

July 15th, 2021

By Alan Lu

The Knicks overachieved this year, as they had a very good season from All-Star forward, Julius Randle in the regular season, and head coach Tom Thibodeau led them to get to a 4-seed in the playoffs.  However, they were overpowered and overmatched by the Atlanta Hawks, as they lost in 5 games to them, and they really struggled on both sides of the floor, with Randle having played really poorly in the postseason, and the Knicks could not guard the Hawks in the playoffs.

New York Knicks’ star forward, Julius Randle played very well during the regular season, as he made his first NBA All-Star team, and he was named the Most Improved Player this past year. He really struggled in the playoffs though, but he turned in a solid season overall.
(Photo:
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images, via Bleacher Report)

F Julius Randle
2021 (NYK): 71 GP, 24.1 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 6 APG, 46 FG%, 41 3PT%, 81 FT%, 19.7 PER, 57 TS%, 7.8 WS, .140 WS48

Randle had a terrific regular season, as he showed off strong all-around skills to help lift the Knicks to a 4 seed.  He also won the Most Improved Player award this past season.

However, he really struggled in the playoffs, and he could not shoot the ball well at all, as his team lost in 5 games in their first round series to the Hawks.

2021 Season Grade: B+
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Starting power forward on the New York Knicks
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 3 stars

R.J. Barrett turned in a fairly solid season, and he was able to help lead his team to the playoffs this year.
(Photo:
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images, via SB Nation’s Posting & Toasting)

G-F R.J. Barrett
2021 (NYK): 72 GP, 17.6 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3 APG, 44 FG%, 40 3PT%, 75 FT%, 13.4 PER, 53 TS%, 4.1 WS, .078 WS48

He had a very good second season, and he thrived as a shooter, facilitator and rebounder for his team this past season.  He’ll still need to be a more efficient scorer, and will need to improve his defense, and he didn’t shoot the ball well in the playoffs.  Still, he significantly improved this year, and he looks to be a cornerstone player for the Knicks’ franchise for years to come.

2021 Season Grade: B
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Starting shooting guard on the New York Knicks
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2.5 stars (3.5 stars potential)

Nerlens Noel turned in a solid season, especially from a defensive standpoint during the regular season. He and the Knicks were not nearly as effective in the playoffs, but it seems that Noel may have played his way into a lucrative contract for next year.
(Photo:
Charles Krupa/Associated Press, via Bleacher Report)

C Nerlens Noel
2021 (NYK): 64 GP, 5.1 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 2.2 BPG, 1.1 SPG, 61 FG%, 71 FT%, 14.8 PER, 64 TS%, 5.2 WS, .162 WS48

Noel played well, as he was quite effective as an interior player, and he especially thrived as a defender this past season.  He and the Knicks struggled defensively in their first round series loss to the Hawks, but he generally played well this year.

2021 Season Grade: B
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Rotation player on an NBA team
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2.5 stars

Noel will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of the 2020-21 NBA season.

G-F Reggie Bullock
2021 (NYK): 65 GP, 10.9 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.5 APG, 44 FG%, 41 3PT%, 91 FT%, 11.1 PER, 61 TS%, 4.6 WS, .114 WS48

He shot the ball very well in the regular season, and he excelled as a shooter and defender for the Knicks this year.  However, he did not shoot the ball well at all in the playoffs.

2021 Season Grade: C+
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Rotation player on an NBA team
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2.5 stars

Bullock will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of the 2020-21 NBA season.

G Elfrid Payton
2021 (NYK): 63 GP, 10.1 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 3.2 APG, 43 FG%, 29 3PT%, 68 FT%, 11.7 PER, 48 TS%, 1 WS, .032 WS48

Payton excelled as a facilitator and defender this past season, but he really struggled to shoot or score the basketball, and he was probably overextended as a starter this year, especially in the playoffs, as he looked overmatched in the postseason.

2021 Season Grade: C
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Rotation player on an NBA team
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2 stars

Payton will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of the 2020-21 NBA season.

New York Knicks’ point guard, Derrick Rose turned in a resurgent year. He had a strong season, and he was a finalist for the Sixth Man of the Year award this past year.
(Photo:
Justin Ford/Getty Images, via Fansided’s Hoops Habit)

G Derrick Rose
2021 (DET/NYK): 50 GP, 14.7 PPG, 4.2 APG, 2.6 RPG, 1 SPG, 47 FG%, 39 3PT%, 87 FT%, 18.3 PER, 55 TS%, 3.1 WS, .118 WS48

Derrick Rose really excelled as a shooter, scorer, and as the super sixth man for the Knicks this year, and he provided instant offense for them off the bench.  He also was the Knicks’ best player in their postseason run this year.

2021 Season Grade: A- (C w/DET, A w/NYK)
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Starter or good bench player on an NBA team
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2.5 stars

Rose will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of the 2020-21 NBA season.

C Mitchell Robinson
2021 (NYK): 31 GP, 8.3 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 65 FG%, 49 FT%, 17.7 PER, 64 TS%, 3.4 WS, .192 WS48

He played very well in his role, as he excelled as an interior player before he got hurt, as he ended up missing the rest of the season afterwards, which included the playoffs.  He’s not expected to expand his offensive game much further, but he is a very athletic rim runner and rim protector that excels at making plays inside the paint on both ends of the floor.

2021 Season Grade: B-
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Rotation player on the New York Knicks
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2.5 stars (3 stars potential)

Robinson has a non-guaranteed, team option for next season.

G-F Alec Burks
2021 (NYK): 49 GP, 12.7 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.2 APG, 42 FG%, 41 3PT%, 86 FT%, 14.8 PER, 56 TS%, 3.3 WS, .126 WS48

He had a solid, all-around season for the Knicks this year, but he struggled to make threes consistently for them or to defend in the playoffs in their first round series loss to the Hawks.

2021 Season Grade: B
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Starter or good bench player on an NBA team
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2.5 stars

Burks will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of the 2020-21 NBA season.

New York Knicks’ rookie guard, Immanuel Quickley surpassed expectations this year, and he ended up making The 2020-21 NBA All-Rookie Second Team.
(Photo:
Raj Mehta/USA Today Sports, via HoopsHype)

G Immanuel Quickley
2021 (NYK): 64 GP, 11.4 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 2 APG, 39 FG%, 39 3PT%, 89 FT%, 15.8 PER, 56 TS%, 3.2 WS, .125 WS48

Quickley excelled as a shooter and scorer in his role, and he also provided some playmaking and defensive skills this year.  He struggled more to score inside the arc, and he struggled to make shots or to pass the ball nearly as well in the playoffs.

2021 Season Grade: B+
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Rotation player on the New York Knicks
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2.5 stars

F-C Taj Gibson
2021 (NYK): 45 GP, 5.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 63 FG%, 73 FT%, 16 PER, 66 TS%, 3.8 WS, .195 WS48

He really excelled as an interior player for the Knicks in the regular season, and he was a bargain for them, as they signed him off the scrap heap via free agency during the middle of the year.

However, he was not nearly as effective for the Knicks in the playoffs, and they really struggled to defend with him on the floor in the postseason.

2021 Season Grade: B+
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Rotation player on an NBA team
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2 stars

Will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of the 2020-21 NBA season.

F-C Obi Toppin
2021 (NYK): 62 GP, 4.1 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 50 FG%, 31 3PT%, 73 FT%, 12.7 PER, 57 TS%, 1.5 WS, .109 WS48

He didn’t shoot nearly as well as expected from the outside, but he still made shots efficiently, and he was effective as a rim runner and as a rim protector off the bench for his team this year.  He didn’t get nearly as much playing time as anticipated, but Toppin still had a decent season, nonetheless.

Toppin played very well in Game 2 of the first round series in the playoffs, and he made energetic plays, and he also showed a solid jump shot in that time span.  He could be due for a much bigger role on the team next year.

2021 Season Grade: C+
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Rotation player on an NBA team
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2 stars (3 stars potential)

G Frank Ntilikina
2021 (NYK): 33 GP, 2.7 PPG, 37 FG%, 48 3PT%, 44 FT%, 7.7 PER, 51 TS%, 0.5 WS, .070 WS48

He didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, and he didn’t pass the ball nearly as much, but Ntilikina thrived as a defender for his team.  He didn’t play in the playoffs though, and he hasn’t been nearly the offensive player as advertised coming into the 2017 NBA Draft.

2021 Season Grade: C-
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Back end roster player, possible back end of the rotation player in the NBA
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 1.5 stars (2 stars potential)

Will be a restricted free agent (RFA) at the end of the 2020-21 NBA season.

F Kevin Knox
2021 (NYK): 42 GP, 3.9 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 39 FG%, 39 3PT%, 80 FT%, 9.1 PER, 54 TS%, 0.6 WS, .065 WS48

Knox improved as a shooter and scorer, as he really improved his three-point shooting, but he still has struggled in the other facets of the game, and he hasn’t made two-pointers nearly as well as hoped.  Knox was drafted to be an athletic, versatile forward that could create mismatches that would swing in his favor, but he ended up barely playing in the playoffs this year.

2021 Season Grade: C
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Back end roster player, possible back end of the rotation player in the NBA
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 1.5 stars (2 stars potential)

C Norvel Pelle
2021 (BRK/SAC/NYK): 13 GP, 1.5 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 53 FG%, 11.6 PER, 57 TS%, 0.2 WS, .112 WS48

He is an athletic shot blocker that can help his team protect the paint, but he has barely played in the NBA in the past two seasons, and he may top out as a backup center in this league.

2021 Season Grade: B- (F+ w/BRK, A- w/SAC, A- w/NYK)
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Back end roster player, possible back end of the rotation player in the NBA
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 1.5 stars

G-F Theo Pinson (Two-Way)
2021 (NYK): 17 GP, 0.1 PPG, 11 FG%, -8.1 PER, 11 TS%, -0.1 WS, -.205 WS48

He’s an athletic point forward that has some defensive skills, but he shot the ball really poorly in limited minutes, and he did not play very well in the NBA this past season.

2021 Season Grade: F+
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Back end roster player, possible back end of the rotation player in the NBA
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 1.5 stars

G Luca Vildoza
2021 (NYK): DNP
2021 (Euroleague): 32 GP, 10.3 PPG, 3.5 APG, 1.9 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 42 FG%, 38 3PT%, 81 FT%, 13.5 PER, 55 TS%, 1.4 WS, .080WS48
2021 (ACB): 27 GP, 10.9 PPG, 3.7 APG, 1.7 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 42 FG%, 36 3PT%, 83 FT%, 16.2 PER, 56 TS%, 1.8 WS, .137 WS48

I’ve never seen this guy play, and he could be a backup point guard in the NBA if he stays on the Knicks’ roster next season.

2021 Season Grade: I (I for Incomplete)
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Back end roster player, possible back end of the rotation player in the NBA
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 1.5 stars

G Jared Harper (Two-Way)
2021 (NYK): 8 GP, 0.4 PPG, 0 FG%, -10.8 PER, -0.1 WS, -.365 WS48
2021 (G-League): 12 GP, 21.3 PPG, 6.9 APG, 2.9 RPG, 47 FG%, 40 3PT%, 85 FT%, 19.6 PER, 64 TS%, 0.9 WS, .111 WS48

He played very well in the G-League, but he played poorly in sparse playing time in the NBA this year.

2021 Season Grade: D-
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Back end roster player, possible back end of the rotation player in the NBA
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 1.5 stars (2 stars potential)

Head Coach:
Tom Thibodeau
2021 (NYK): 41-31, 1-4 in the playoffs
Coaching Career: 393-277, 25-36 in his playoff career

Despite his team’s first-round playoff exit this year, New York Knicks’ head coach Tom Thibodeau’s first season with his new team can be described as a massive success, and he also ended up winning the Coach of the Year award for the second time in his coaching career.
(Photo:
Jim Mone/Associated Press, via The New York Times)

Tom Thibodeau led his team to win far more games than anticipated in the regular season, as he helped Julius Randle make an All-Star team and win the Most Improved Player award, and rookie guard Immanuel Quickley also turned in a solid year, as he made the All-Rookie 2nd Team this year. 

On the other hand, the Knicks were very disappointing in the playoffs, as they mightily struggled on both ends of the floor, sans Game 2 (which was their lone playoff win this year), and the Knicks ended up losing to the Hawks in 5 games in the first round of the 2021 NBA playoffs.  The Knicks didn’t make adjustments, except for Game 2, but they also didn’t have enough firepower to compete with the Hawks on most nights in the postseason.

2021 Season Grade: B
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Head coach of the New York Knicks
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2.5 stars

A Brief Summary of the 2020-21 New York Knicks’ Season:

The New York Knicks were surprisingly good this year, and they defended very well as a team during the regular season. After all, no one expected them to end up as a 4-seed, and it’s doubtful that even the most diehard Knicks’ fans thought they were going to go this far this season. Unfortunately, as they raised their profile throughout the regular season, their playoff expectations suddenly became much loftier once they reached the playoffs. They fell short of their playoff expectations, as they lost in 5 games in the first round to the Hawks.

The 2020-21 New York Knicks’ Season Grade: B+

The New York Knicks’ Projected 2021-22 NBA Rotation

Projected Starters:
C Mitchell Robinson
F Julius Randle
F R.J. Barrett
G Immanuel Quickley
G Derrick Rose

Key Reserves:
F-C Taj Gibson
F-C Obi Toppin
The 19th Overall Pick of the 2021 NBA Draft
The 21st Overall Pick of the 2021 NBA Draft

Others competing for a spot in the rotation next season:
F Kevin Knox

Other players that are currently projected to be on their next season’s roster:
The 32nd Overall Pick of the 2021 NBA Draft
G Luca Vildoza
G Jared Harper (Two-Way)

Others:
The 58th Overall Pick of the 2021 NBA Draft – Likely a stash Pick, or a player that ends up on a Two-Way contract

Impending Restricted Free Agents:
Frank Ntilikina – Not Expected Back

Impending Unrestricted Free Agents:
Nerlens Noel – Not Expected Back
Reggie Bullock – Not Expected Back
Elfrid Payton – Expected Back
Derrick Rose – Expected Back
Alec Burks – Not Expected Back
Taj Gibson – Expected Back

Nerlens Noel, Reggie Bullock, and Alec Burks may be expected to cash out to sign elsewhere in free agency, but given Thibs’ ties to Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson in his Bulls’ days, the Knicks may have a good chance to re-sign Rose and Gibson in the offseason.  Elfrid Payton was much maligned for his lack of offense as a starter on the Knicks’ team this year, and they may want to move on from him to improve their point guard position.

Players with an Impending Team Option:
Mitchell Robinson – Expected Back

Players on Non-Guaranteed Contracts for Next season:
Mitchell Robinson – Expected Back
Norvel Pelle – Not Expected Back
Luca Vildoza – Expected Back

Projected Players Cut From Next Season’s Roster:
Theo Pinson

Draft Picks:
#19, #21, #32, #58

Projected Offseason Plan for the New York Knicks:
They have a lot of cap space to work with in the offseason, and they can really throw their money around to sign multiple big-name free agents.  They’ll need more dynamic offensive players, preferably an extra ball handler that can shoot and score, and they’ll need athletic wings that can shoot, defend, and ably create their own shot.  They also could look to re-sign Nerlens Noel or to sign a backup center for a cheaper price if they deem Noel to be too expensive.  The Knicks also could roll over some of their cap space and focus on the draft.

In the draft, they may need more athletic wing players that can shoot, defend, and ably create their own shots off the dribble, and they also could use an extra ball handler that can shoot and score.

2022 New York Knicks’ Expected Win-Loss Record, and Projected 2022 Season Finish:
43-39, 7th in the Eastern Conference in 2022

Expected 2022 Season Outcome: 
The Knicks will likely be a mid-tier playoff team next year, but they’ll need more offensive firepower and depth to increase their chances to make a deep playoff run next season.

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