The Knicks gave their fans an unforgettable season, winning their first playoff series in 10 years, before ultimately falling to the Heat in the semifinals. They were a tough, resilient team that fit the city and its fanbase like a glove. Unlike most years, where they become more irrelevant as the season goes on, New York got better as the games went on, going further than they have in a decade.
While there are many reasons why New York had their most successful season in recent memory, a few stand out in particular.
From a roster standpoint, the team got a major boost from the free agent signing of point guard, Jalen Brunson, who took this team to the next level. While a decent amount of players from the 2021 season still remained such as Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, and Obi Toppin, the Knicks were in desperate need of a point guard who could guide the offense. Brunson did show plenty of improvement the year prior, but that didn't stop some Mavericks from letting him walk in free agency. Although the Knicks were criticized for signing him to a $110 million contract, that now seems like a bargain if anything. While this is only Brunson's first year as a Knick, he already has a legitimate case as the best free-agent signing in Knicks history.
Throughout the season, it became more apparent that Brunson was finally the point guard the Knicks have been searching for. His production and leadership were essential in helping the Knicks rebound from a 37 win season the year prior. Brunson posted career highs in points and assists, while spearheading an offense that averaged 10 more points than last season. More importantly, he helped the Knicks maintain their success over the course of the year in a competitive Eastern Conference. He further proved himself in the playoffs, averaging 27 points, five rebounds, and four assists. This included an incredible 38/9/7 in 48 minutes in game five against Miami to stave off elimination. Brunson's presence, also allowed other players like Randle to thrive in more comfortable roles.
For head coach Tom Thibodeau, anyone who viewed him as incredibly stubborn, must think twice. He's not perfect, but he made many adjustments that had a major impact. His best move, without question, was going with a nine man rotation despite having a fairly deep roster. It jumpstarted an eight game win streak, and while some wondered how long it could last, the strategy ultimately proved to be the right decision. Other smart moves, included inserting Quentin Grimes into the starting lineup, and finding an immediate role for Josh Hart after the Knicks traded for him in February.
If there's one attribute the Knicks had this season, it would be their resilience. With all due respect to their top options, Brunson, Randle, and Barrett, they aren't superstars. A team constructed like the Knicks must do all the little things right from hard-nosed defense every possession, to picking up after another's mistake. Whereas some teams might struggle in that department, it was easy for the Knicks because they had such a tight knit group. Everybody understood their responsibilities, and were determined to excel in their roles. New York's chemistry only got better when they acquired Hart, who was Brunson's Villanova teammate, at the trade deadline.
Each month, the Knicks continued to make significant strides as a team, and it showed from December up until the semifinals. Some moments that highlighted their grit included the eight game win streak that sparked the turnaround, an overtime road win in January against the Celtics, a 20 point comeback against the 76ers, a nine game win streak from February to March, and their first round triumph.
This was a significant step for the Knicks in becoming a playoff contender. They have a strong foundation of unselfish players who work extremely well together. With the majority of this team likely returning, along with the possibility of the Knicks being an attractive destination this offseason, there are plenty of reasons to be excited going forward. With Brunson on the roster, anything is possible.