What to Expect from the New York Knicks Heading into the 2021 NBA Playoffs

What+to+Expect+from+the+New+York+Knicks+Heading+into+the+2021+NBA+Playoffs

Joseph Frescott , Co-Editor in Chief

Season Recap

Heading into the 2020-21 NBA season, the expectations for the Knicks were not very high to say the least. Coming off of their 7th consecutive losing season, fans and analysts alike had little hope for New York. On paper, the Knicks made very few improvements in the 2020 offseason, with their most notable free agent signings being Alec Burks, Elfrid Payton, Austin Rivers, and Nerlens Noel, not exactly what you would consider an elite free agent class. Their draft picks were a little more exciting, as they spent their 8th pick on the high flying Obi Toppin from Dayton, and the 25th on the reliable shooter from Kentucky Immanuel Quickley. Both prospects were intriguing, but weren’t enough to get anyone excited about the Knicks potential this season. 

However, despite all of the critics, New York has been able to shock the NBA world this year. From the opening tipoff of this season, it was clear that this Knicks team was much different than that of years past. One of the biggest reasons for this was new Head Coach Tom Thibodeau. Known as one of the toughest coaches in the NBA, Thibs proved to be the perfect coach for this young Knicks roster. The veteran coach helped instill a new culture in a franchise that hasn’t had much direction since the days of Carmelo Anthony. Through their gritty defense (ranked 1st in most defensive categories) and an unselfish offense led by Randle, Barret, and Quickley, the Knicks have been able to compete with the NBA’s best this year. 

The Knicks started the season with an impressive record of 8-8, with quality wins over the likes of the Milwuake Bucks and the Utah Jazz. They continued this early success into All Star weekend, as they were the 6th seed with a record of 14-16. Speaking of All Star weekend, the Knicks had an All Star this season, as 26 year old Julius Randle made his first appearance. After a subpar 2019-20 season, Randle broke out this season, averaging 24 PTS, 10 RB, and 6 AST as the Knicks primary scorer. Led by the outstanding play of the first time All Star, the Knicks were able to continue their impressive season after the break and won 27 of their last 42 games to finish with the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference. 

What to Expect

When it comes to the Knicks chances at winning a championship this season, they have a tough road ahead of them, starting with their first round matchup against the Hawks. The 4th seeded New York Knicks are scheduled to play the 5th seeded Atlanta Hawks, a team that has been incredibly hot as of late. These teams squared off three times during the regular season, with the Knicks sweeping the season series 3-0. With this being said, New York cannot take them lightly, as Atlanta finished the year 7-1 in their last 8 games. Led by the dynamic scorer Trae Young, Atlanta is one of the youngest teams in the NBA, and have truly gelled as a complete unit this season. They rank as 8th best offense in the league, but they have the 23rd best defense, something the Knicks should be able to exploit. If the Knicks are able to contain Trae Young like they did during the regular season, they should have no problem taking down Atlanta in 5 or 6 games. 

Following a tough first round matchup with the Hawks, the Knicks will likely have to face the 1st seeded Philadelphia 76ers in the second round. Led by MVP candidate Joel Embiid, the Sixers have had an incredible season. Similar to the Knicks, Philadelphia has found a lot of success on the defensive end, as they have the 2nd ranked defense only behind New York. In the regular season, the 76ers were able to get the better of the Knicks, sweeping the series 3-0. With Mitchell Robinson unlikely to return for the playoffs to bring the elite interior defense, it would be a tough series for the Knicks to win against a fully healthy Sixers team. Unfortunately for Knicks fans, the 76ers pose too  big of a problem for this Knicks squad, and will likely this series in 5 or 6 games.

Regardless of how the Knicks fare in the playoffs, they should be praised for what they have been able to accomplish in this shortened season. Being able to finish as a top 4 seed after most projected them to be a bottom 5 team in the East is impressive by itself, but if they can make a run in the playoffs, this could be a season that Knicks fans remember for a long time.