The 2020 season was bitter sweet for the Knicks. They far exceeded the prognostications of many pundits who had them finishing with a losing record for the eighth consecutive season. Instead, under new head coach Tom Thibodeau and the dramatic rise of forward Julius Randle, the Knicks ended the regular season 41-31, their best record since going 54-28 and winning the Atlantic Division in the 2012-’13 campaign.
They were the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference and a team none of the top contenders were eager to face in the postseason. But the Knicks were thoroughly outplayed by the No. 5 seed Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs, losing their best-of-seven series 4-1. At the Knicks’ annual Media Day on Monday held at the MSG Training Center in Tarrytown in Westchester County, Randle reflected on the disappointing exit.
“I could have made the game more simple,” he said. “Part of that was me being me, putting a lot on my shoulders. Not making the moment bigger than what it was but just me wanting to be great in that moment.
“…It was a fairly simple series that I feel like, for me, I tended to just over complicate it.” Randle averaged 24.1 points and 10.2 rebounds during the regular season, shooting 46% overall and 41% on three-point attempts. His consistently impactful play earned him the Most Improved Player Award, All-NBA Second Team and a first All-Star selection.
However, in five postseason games against the Hawks, Randle shot just .298% from the field, .333 on threes and scored six points (18 points per game) below his regular season average. The Knicks’ signing of shooting guard Evan Fournier, who played for the Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics last season before leading France to the finals at this past summer’s Tokyo Olympics, where they lost to the United States, as well as the free-agent acquisition of Bronx native Kemba Walker to bolster the point guard rotation, will further enhance the growth of Randle and by extension the team.
The 28-year-old Fournier says he will provide the type of mental and physical toughness Thibodeau demands from his players, instilled in him by his parents. “Both of my parents were judo fighters from the national team. So I’ve always been around fighters my whole childhood,” said the nine-year veteran, who entered the NBA as a first round pick (No. 20) of the Denver Nuggets in 2012.
“A lot of hard workouts, hard practices. Guys throwing up because they’re tired. As a kid, it just kind of stays with you. It’s a part of who I am. I enjoy winning. I enjoy battling, and I enjoy competing.’’
The Knicks open their preseason schedule Oct. 5 at Madison Square Garden versus the Indiana Pacers. They will play a total of four preseason games in preparation for their regular season start Oct. 20 hosting the Celtics at MSG.