Grading the Knicks’ Offseason So Far

While the New York Knicks had an unfortunate finish last season, they did better than everyone thought they would. And, despite only winning one game, they showed that they wanted to be there.

They were hungry.

That hunger has translated to the offseason, where the Knicks have been making moves to try and improve their team. Even though the offseason is far from over, I’m going to take a look at the moves that have been made so far and grade them. Each move will be graded on its impact on the team and its cost. Not every move has been amazing and/or flashy, but the Knicks have been preparing to make another playoff run next season.

Move #1: Extending Julius Randle

This came as no surprise to many Knicks fans, who saw Julius Randle as a shining star during the 2020-2021 season. He was arguably the Knicks’ best player, coming through time and time again. Although he regressed during the playoffs, he was still the NBA’s Most Improved Player for a reason. In his second season as a Knick, he averaged a double-double with 24.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. He registered six triple-doubles, was named an NBA All-Star and made the All-NBA Second Team–the latter two being his first appearances. Riding on these strong performances, Randle signed a four-year, $117 million contract that includes a player option in the final season. He already had one more year on his contract, so he’s now looking at five more years in New York.

I think this was a great move for the Knicks. They extended one of their best players, making him a building block for years to come. Even though his playoff performance could use some improvement, Randle was one of the reasons they even made the playoffs in the first place. He’s a hard worker, he loves New York and he has some great energy. On top of that, he will serve as a great role model for the younger players. All-in-all, I think this was a great, well-deserved move. Grade: A

Move #2: Re-signing Derrick Rose

I must admit, I was a little surprised when the Knicks traded for Derrick Rose last season. I understood their need for a point guard and the utility of a veteran presence, but it still caught me off-guard. However, at such a low cost, I didn’t argue.

Rose must’ve felt my lingering suspicions as it didn’t take long for him to show his worth. Averaging 26.8 minutes per game, he had 14.9 PPG and 4.2 APG. He proved to be efficient off the bench, giving the Knicks another offensive option. Additionally, he often kept his team in the mix during last year’s playoffs. In their lone series against Atlanta, Rose averaged 35.0 minutes per game, notching 19.4 PPG and 5.0 APG. Head coach Tom Thibodeau relied on him greatly, giving him more time on the court than he had during the regular season.

Rose’s strong half-season became the basis of his new contract: three years for $43 million. It’s a decent chunk of change for the 32-year-old veteran, who once played for the Knicks many years ago. Worst-case scenario, he loses his touch and regresses to a much more minor role, providing more knowledge than production. Best-case scenario, he continues to be a threat off the bench and an effective sixth man. Either way, this is a solid move. Grade: B+

Move #3: Signing Evan Fournier

Speaking of moves that surprised me, here is another one: Evan Fournier, the 28-year-old Frenchman, signed a four-year, $78 million contract with the Knicks. He spent six-and-a-half years with the Orlando Magic before being traded to the Boston Celtics last season. In his time with the Magic, he averaged 16.2 PPG and 37.6% from behind the arc. Across two teams last year, however, he averaged 17.1 PPG with a 41.3 3P%.

On top of those numbers, Fournier also played well in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Over the course of the tournament, he averaged 18.7 PPG, the highest of all the French players. Additionally, he had a 37.8 3P % that helped his team make it all the way to the Gold-medal Final. Even though they were beaten by the United States, Fournier was still crucial in France’s silver-medal run.

With all this in mind, I think this is a solid free-agent signing for the Knicks. While Fournier isn’t the flashiest name (I’ll get to that one shortly), he does provide some good offense on the wing as a small forward–especially for a team that ranks near the bottom of the league in offensive categories. Additionally, it was just announced that the deal was a sign-and-trade. In other words, the Knicks not only received Fournier but also two future second-round picks. That new information alone brings this grade up a notch. Grade: B+

Move #4: Signing Kemba Walker 

Here it is: the crown jewel of the Knicks’ offseason moves so far. Kemba Walker, the Bronx native, signed a two-year, $18 million deal with the Knicks after clearing waivers from the Oklahoma City Thunder. He was traded to OKC from the Celtics, with whom he spent two seasons.

Walker’s time there was less than ideal, as he averaged 19.9 PPG and 4.8 ASG. It was a span that saw him deal with injuries, leading to a decline in his quality on the court. Case in point: Walker averaged 25.6 PPG in his final season with the Charlotte Hornets over the course of 82 games. In his first season as a Celtic, he averaged 20.4 PPG over the course of just 56 games. Despite this decline, Walker is still a four-time NBA All-Star who has plenty of experience at 31 years old.

After the initial giddiness of the news wore off, I realized how intriguing this move is. I like to compare it to Derrick Rose’s deal in that it’s a low-risk, high-reward deal. Which one it is will depend on Walker’s health. If he continues to be mired down with injuries, then at least he can be a helpful veteran presence. However, if he manages to stay healthy and perform well, he could really boost this team and give it another edge. Even a middle route between these two extremes could be helpful.

At the end of the day, the Knicks didn’t commit too much money as things could swing one way or the other. They addressed a need with a big name that could really be beneficial. I was going to give this a lower grade but I think the type of contract gives it a slight boost. Grade: A-

(Side note: I find it interesting how both, main point guard options are older players: Rose and Walker. That’s nothing against them of course–it’s just interesting to point out)

Moves #5 and #6: Re-signing Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel 

I’m grouping these two moves together just because they fall in a slightly lower tier than the others. Alec Burks signed a three-year, $3o million contract while Nerlens Noel signed a two-year, $21 million contract. Both players played important roles this past season. Noel played well in the absence of Mitchell Robinson, who was injured for most of the season. He was great on defense, notching 2.2 blocks and 6.4 rebounds per game. Even with Robinson set to return, Noel could be a threat off the bench, a trusted veteran presence and a replacement for Robinson in the case the injury bug strikes again.

As for Burks, he was a dangerous weapon off of the bench. In 25.6 MPG last season, he averaged 12.7 PPG–including a 41.5 3P%. He consistently performed in the fourth quarter, hitting clutch shots to keep the Knicks in play in close games. With Fournier coming in and most likely starting, Burks will continue to be used as an option off the bench. With him and Derrick Rose, the Knicks have a great secondary duo.

These two low-cost moves will prove to be vital to the Knicks, as both of these players have shown their worth. Re-signing both of them shows Thibodeau’s faith in them and they will most likely play important roles in another playoff run next season. Grade: A

Conclusion

It has been a busy and effective offseason so far for the Knicks, who are looking to improve themselves after a disappointing finish last season. They have pushed the right buttons, re-signing important pieces of last season’s playoff push and adding important pieces to address their needs. Even if the Knicks were to stop here, they could make another great run. However, if I were them, I would keep going. Their contention window has just opened; it’s time to go all in.

 

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