The Knicks began their 2022-23 NBA regular season last night facing the Memphis Grizzlies on the road, a young team led by 23-year-old point guard Ja Morant, one of the league’s best and most electrifying young stars. He is the embodiment of the term franchise player. The Knicks are trying to develop or acquire one of their own.
Morant, drafted No. 2 overall in 2019, has transformed what was a regressing franchise with a fan base that grew apathetic into one of the best and most appealing teams in the league. The Grizzlies were 33-49 the season before selecting Morant, finishing 12th in the Western Conference. Last season, the Grizzlies were 56-26, second in the West.
Right behind Morant in 2019, the Knicks took RJ Barrett with the No. 3 pick. They hope the 6-foot-6 guard-forward will take a substantial step in his progression, and emerge as the bona fide star the franchise desires and needs to become more than an NBA Play-in Tournament team. The blunt reality Knicks fans must accept is that teams devoid of transformative talent such as Morant will be clawing to gain traction in the mid tier of the standings.
The Knicks were beneficiaries of a perfect storm of a 2020-21 season. The league and the world adjusting to a new normal in the aftermath of the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a career year by forward Julius Randle, who made All-NBA Second Team, were prevailing factors in the Knicks compiling a 41-31 record in the abbreviated schedule and No. 4 placing in the East. Last season the Knicks regressed. Some viewed it as water seeking its own level. They ended 37-45, No. 11 and one spot out of the Play-in.
With the addition of point guard Jalen Brunson, the former Dallas Maverick signed as a free-agent in July, the Knicks are betting he will help increase Randle’s and Barrett’s efficiency. But the core of Brunson, Randle and Barrett need consistent production on both ends of the court from a young support group led by center Mitchell Robinson, guards Evan Fournier, Quentin Grimes and Immanuel Quickley, and forward Obi Toppin.
If they all perform reasonably well and experience favorable health, always a critical qualifier, the Knicks should be in solid postseason contention.