Grading the Knicks at the All-Star Break: The starters

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Jalen Brunson of the Knicks
New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) shoots against the Phoenix Suns during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Jessie Alcheh)

The NBA season is exiting the All-Star break and the New York Knicks look to be peaking. They’ve won their last three and six out of their last eight, including wins over the 76ers, Heat, Hawks, and Nets. 

While Knicks fans are certainly excited for the team to get back on the court at the end of next week, we thought we’d take the intervening time and go through the roster to give each player a letter grade for their performance with a small explanation to support it. 

Earlier in the week we looked at the bench players, so today we’ll take a look at the starters (and two key rotation pieces). Let’s see how each one has stacked up so far this season.



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Isaiah Hartenstein

Grade: B- 

Yes, Isaiah Hartenstein is not a starter, but he’s one of two non-starters in this section so that I could split up the team evenly, but also because he’s been playing starter’s minutes with Mitchell Robinson sidelined. Hartenstein is up to about 25 minutes per game and has averaged 5.4 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game in February. 

He actually grades out as the Knicks’ fourth-bets defender according to FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR metric, and the team allows 1.3 fewer points per possession and holds teams to a 1.1% worse effective field goal percentage (eFG%) when Hartenstein is on the floor, according to Cleaning the Glass. However, he has not fit into New York’s offense at all, with the team scoring 1.7 fewer points per possession with him on the court, which is why he ranks as their 8th-best offensive player by RAPTOR and is ranked 9th in NBA.com’s Player Impact Estimate.  

His inconsistent rebounding and lack of offensive fit hold his grade back a bit, even if he has been trending in the right direction. 


Immanuel Quickley

Grade: B+

It’s hard to be upset about much of anything Immanuel Quickley has done this season. He’s averaging 12.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 3.2 assists in 27.7 minutes per game while leading the team in plus/minus. He’s the team’s third-best defender, according to RAPTOR, with the team holding opponents to 11.5 fewer points per possession and a 6.6% worse eFG% when he’s on the court. Those are both 99th-percentile ratings in the entire NBA. He gives this team a defensive identity it needs and his impact on that end cannot be overstated. 

However, the offense has been a bit inconsistent this year. He’s 8th on the team in eFG% and 7th in true shooting percentage with a 56.2% mark. Considering the team needs outside shooting to help space the court, that’s a big area when IQ needs to show improvement. Right now, the Knicks are 2.5 points per possession worse when he’s on the court and have a 1.6% worse eFG%, which puts him in the 30th percentile in the league. 

He ranks 4th in Player Impact Estimate and 4th in Net Rating on the team, so he has been great for New York this year, but there is still room for growth as well. 

Knicks Immanuel Quickley
New York Knicks’ Immanuel Quickley (5) drives past Los Angeles Lakers’ Dennis Schroder (17), of Germany, during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Quentin Grimes

Grade: B

The Knicks didn’t want to include Grimes in any potential trades for Donovan Mitchell and you can start to see why as the second-year pro has flashed a strong well-rounded game this season, albeit with bouts of inconsistency. RAPTOR ranks Grimes as the team’s 7th-best player by Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and the 6th-best defender. The team actually allows 0.4 points per possession more with Grimes on the court and opponents have a 1.3% better eFG% which puts Grimes in the 28th percentile in the NBA. 

Now, much of that could also have to do with the fact that the Knicks lack any strong perimeter defender in their starting lineup, so Grimes often has to guard point guards like Kyrie Irving and also versatile wing players like Pascal Siakam. His poor defensive metrics are thus a combination of his performance and also the poor spots that coaching has put him in. 

On offense, the Knicks are 2.6 points per possession better with Grimes and give away 1.2% fewer turnovers. His 58.4% true shooting percentage is 5th on the team, but he’s another player who could afford to show more consistency with his shot. While he ranks 11th in Player Impact Estimate, he’s 5th in net ratings, I think the coaching decisions have done him some disservice in a solid first half of the season.  


Mitchell Robinson

Grade: A-

While the Knicks are holding their own without Robinson, they are a much better team with their defensive stalwart on the court. Robinson ranks as their second-best defender by RAPTOR and they allow 5.4 fewer points per possession with him on the court, which is 90th percentile in the NBA. He also has the best rebounding rate on the team, which adds an extra layer of value.  

While he doesn’t bring a diverse offensive game, he is a strong rim runner and the team is 3.4 points per possession better with him on the court, shooting 2% better from the field. He has the 2nd-highest Net Rating on the team (behind Josh Hart) and has been a perfect “glue guy”, especially on the defensive end where his rim protection matters more to the Knicks than almost anything else. 


RJ Barrett

Grade: C-

It’s been a really tough year for RJ and we’ve covered it in a slew of articles, but this last one sums up the concerns fairly well. He is the team’s worst defender by RAPTOR, with a score that is over twice as bad as Julius Randle’s. He has the worst defensive rating on NBA.com and the team allows 9.0 more points per possession when he’s on the court. That’s 9th percentile in the whole NBA.

The Knicks also create 2.4% fewer turnovers and allow a 2.4% better eFG% from opponents, both of which are bottom 20th percentile in the league. Point blank: Barrett has been horrible on defense this year for the Knicks and it’s impacted players like Grimes who need to cover for him. 

On offense, the Knicks are 1.5 points per possession worse with Barrett on the court since he has the 10th-best eFG% on the team and the 4th-worst turnover ratio. NBA.com ranks him 11th on the team in Net Rating and RAPTOR has him dead last in WAR. It’s just been a terrible first half of the year for Barrett. 

RJ Barrett of the Knicks scores against the Heat
New York Knicks’ RJ Barrett (9) drives past Miami Heat’s Caleb Martin during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023, in New York. The Knicks won 106-104. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Jalen Brunson

Grade: A-

While Josh Hart may have won Knicks’ fans over in the last week, there is no question that Jalen Brunson is the most significant addition to the team in perhaps the last decade. He has just been sensational this year, averaging 23.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 6.2 assists per game. He is far and away the team’s most impactful player according to RAPTOR, registering a 6.5 WAR, which is a huge 1.4 points ahead of Randle in second place. 

His impact on the Knicks’ offense cannot be overstated. They average 7.5 more points per possession when he’s on the court (93rd percentile), turn the ball over 2.2% less (93rd percentile), and shoot a 2.1% better eFG% (82nd percentile). He is their best offensive player and paces the team with his ability to get out and run. 

However, he has been bad on defense. He has the 8th best Net Rating on the Knicks in part because his defensive rating drags him down. The team allows 7.8 more points per possession with him on the court and teams have a 3.9% better eFG% when he’s out there. Those are both 5th percentile in the NBA. His impact on the offense and culture have almost totally made up for it, and he’s one of the best players in the NBA in the clitch, but it would be great to see him pick up that defensive effort.  


Julius Randle

Grade: A-

What a bounceback year for Randle, who is an All-Star after averaging 24.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game. RAPTOR has him as the second-best player on the team by WAR and NBA.com gives him the highest Player Impact Estimate (aside from the one-week score from Josh Hart). While his Offensive Rating just trails Brunson, the team averages 10 more points per possession with him on the court, which is 97th percentile and bigger than Brunson’s impact. 

However, Randle does have a tendency to become too ISO-focused late in games, and he has also been a poor defender. The Knicks allow 7.5 more points per possession with him on the court and opponents have a 3.8% better eFG%. RAPTOR has him as the team’s second-worst defender, which creates a big problem with the team’s three highest-paid players being the three worst defenders. 

However, while we can criticize Randle’s defense, and it can ding his grade a bit, he has been a driving force for this team this year and has paired great with Brunson, happily distributing the ball and running through the offense (in most cases). If he can continue to make strides on defense, this Knicks team could be dangerous. 


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Knicks forward Julius Randle attempts a layup as Pistons forward Isaiah Livers defends during the second half.
Knicks forward Julius Randle attempts a layup as Pistons forward Isaiah Livers defends during the second half.AP Photo/Carlos Osorio