The Knicks open their 2023-24 campaign facing off against one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics, on Wednesday night. It will be a test right from the tip for New York: In order to be the best, they will have to beat one of the best.
After finishing over .500 for a full 82-game season for the first time since 2012-13, the Knicks have put themselves back on the map in regards to being contenders in the East. Now that expectations have been set for head coach Tom Thibodeau’s team, it is time for them to be met.
After being named a Third-Team All-NBA member last season, forward Julius Randle will be expected to shoulder the load and lead the Knicks on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Now entering his 10th year in the league, Randle must provide veteran leadership for a young and scrappy Knicks roster. Coming off a year where he averaged a career-high in points per game, it is clear the franchise cornerstone is in his prime. Randle’s skills will most definitely be put to the test Wednesday night as he will see a mix of Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, and Kristaps Porzingis.
In the backcourt, RJ Barrett and Jalen Brunson proved last season how dynamic the duo can be when they are clicking on all cylinders. In Brunson’s first season in the Big Apple, the guard lived up to expectations, providing a scoring boost that lifted the Knicks to the highest single-season offensive rating in franchise history. Barrett was the perfect complement, fitting into his scoring role alongside Randle and Brunson, averaging nearly 20 points per game with a 48.5% effective field goal percentage. However, with a new-look backcourt in Boston, Barrett and Brunson will be put to the test on Wednesday night.
Other than the Milwaukee Bucks acquiring Damian Lillard, there is no other team in the Eastern Conference that shook up their roster like the Boston Celtics did this offseason. After falling just short in the Eastern Conference Finals last year, the Celtics made blockbuster moves in hopes of building a championship contender.
The Celtics first made a move for Porzingis, acquiring him from the Wizards. As the Knicks have already seen in the preseason, Porzingis adds a piece to the Celtics they did not have before. The stretch-five is able to play beyond the arc, opening up the Celtics to play five out and utilize the drive-and-kick for three-pointers. Teams in the past have often been able to have help in the paint with no outside shooting threat from the five position. Now with Porzingis, the Celtics offense will be more threatening and unpredictable than last year.
In the backcourt for the Celtics and likely matching up with both Barrett and Brunson at points will be All-NBA defender Jrue Holiday, who the Celtics acquired in the wake of Lillard going to the Bucks. Holiday is widely regarded as one of the best defenders in the league and will be paired with another All-NBA defender in Derrick White. White rose to the occasion in his first full season with the Celtics last year, becoming a key piece in the rotation.
In what will be game one of at least 82 for these teams, it will be a competitive chess match on both sides of the ball. The main calling card of Thibodeau’s teams has always been their scrappiness and defensive prowess. That will need to be on full display from the tip if the Knicks want to start their season on the right foot.