The New York Knicks started the 2022-23 season off with a 117-96 win over the Detroit Pistons in their preseason opener.
It was a much-needed boost of confidence for a team that took a step back last season, going 37-45 just a year after making a surprise run to the playoffs. The production from Julius Randle wasn’t there, and the Knicks tried to find a point guard in aging veterans like Kemba Walker and Derrick Rose, but there seemed to be no cohesiveness between the young bench players and the older veterans signed to play big minutes.
However, while the win is nice, it’s still the preseason, so we need to look beyond just the numbers to try to decipher what this team will look like in the regular season.
In order to do that, here are my seven observations from the Knicks first preseason game:
1. Jalen Brunson proving his worth
There was a lot of hand-wringing and criticizing the Knicks’ decision to throw big money at Brunson to lure him away from the Mavericks. When the Knicks weren’t able to pull a trade for Donovan Mitchell, there was renewed discussion that Brunson was a poor fit as the driving force of an offense.
After just one preseason game, that looks like it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Brunson looked great on Tuesday. He played fast and attacked the basket relentlessly, and the pace seemed to be contagious. Even though Brunson isn’t technically a fast guard, his movements are sudden and he’s creative in the way he maneuvers around defenders. While Brunson also shot 2-of-4 from beyond the arc, his bread is buttered with aggressive drives to the hoop or drive-and-kicks, which the Knicks have sorely needed.
2. Julius Randle puts up numbers but may not be the best fit
The issue to keep an eye on is how Brunson fits with Julius Randle and RJ Barrett. All three players are better when they are attacking the basket. Mitchell Robinson is also a rim-runner, which means the Knicks have four starters that are better when they are going to the basket. That can be a problem for spacing.
We saw it at times early in the game when Randle or Barrett would hang around the three-point line and put up a poor three. Randle even took one of his patented step-back threes that was way long.
In the third quarter, Brunson took a less aggressive approach and allowed Randle and Barrett to drive the ship a bit more. As a result, Randle had 10 of his 16 points in the third quarter while Barrett had nine of his 21 in that period.
Given how much the Knicks were up by, it made sense for Brunson to pull back and try to do less, but the Knicks will likely not want to see that when they’re in a tight contest. If Brunson and Barrett are actively attacking is Randle going to just hang by the three-point line? Is he going to make sure he gets his own shots, even if they aren’t good ones? I think there are still questions that need to be answered.
3. The Knicks want to run
I mentioned the pace with Brunson, but it carried over to this whole Knicks team. This team wants to defend and run. The Knicks had 14 steals on Tuesday and had 31 fastbreak points and 62 points in the paint. They want to play at speed at attack the basket, which is great to see.
The second unit with Immanuel Quickley, Miles McBride, and Obi Toppin seems perfectly designed for that.
4. The Hartenstein-Toppin pairing works
Toppin also pairs well with newly-signed big man Isaiah Hartenstein. I wasn’t sure what we’d get from Hartenstein, but with Jericho Sims out, the big man was given 27 minutes and showed that he could be an asset as a stretch-five. “iHart,” as he’s being affectionately called, is comfortable in the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop, hitting 2-of-3 from beyond the arc and directing traffic from the top of the key.
Hartenstein finished with eight points, seven rebounds, two steals, and one assist, but, perhaps more importantly, his skill on the perimeter makes him a strong pairing with Toppin, who is far more comfortable slashing and attacking the basket. It’s just another way in which this second unit was impressive on Tuesday.
5. Cam Reddish with an injury he can’t afford
Cam Reddish came into the preseason battling for rotation minutes after not really finding a home in Thibodeaux’s rotation. The 23-year-old has yet to really make good on the promise he showed as the 10th overall pick in 2019.
Reddish flashed as a 20-year-old in his rookie season, scoring 10.5 points per game with 3.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 1.1 steals as a part-time player for the Hawks, but the minutes and statlines kind of plateaued there.
With Quentin Grimes banged up, Reddish had a chance to claim some minutes in the Knicks rotations, but Tuesday couldn’t have gone much worse. While he played good defense, he was just 1-of-6 from the field before spraining his ankle and not returning to the game. With only three preseason games left, Reddish will need to get back on the court to show that he can fit on this team.
6. Miles McBride earning minutes with defense
Miles McBride was a bit of a fan favorite last year in the way the energetic end-of-bench guys often do. McBride appeared in 40 games for the Knicks, averaging just 9.3 minutes per game, but he plays with a defensive intensity that fans – and likely Thibodeaux – loved to see.
We saw more of that on Tuesday with McBride just hounding the Pistons on defense and coming away with six steals. He also chipped in seven points, four rebounds, and two assists in a full statline. There was also a few moments where McBride was left on the court with Brunson, Barrett, Randle, and Robinson, which would seem to indicate that Thibodeaux might be open to using McBride in a few units.
7. Knicks’ three-point defense can use some work
At the end of the day, the Pistons only shot 31.7% from beyond the arc, so it may not seem like this was an issue, but those numbers are impacted by the struggles of the bench players at the end of the game. In the first half, the Pistons had a lot of open looks from three, in part because of how aggressive the Knicks were being with their hands in trying to jump passes.
The Pistons were able to connect in the first half and keep the game close but weren’t able to hit from deep much in the second half. If the Knicks face a better shooting team, the consistent open looks from the three-point line could become an issue.