Knicks head into playoffs after a 2022-23 regular season that defied expectations

Isaiah Hartenstein Knicks
(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Rallying behind a cry of “nobody believes in us” has become something of a sports cliché in recent years, but in the case of the 2022-23 New York Knicks, it is also very much a reality. 

On Sunday, the Knicks capped off the season with a 141-136 loss to the Pacers in a meaningless game. They had clinched the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference earlier in the week and chose to rest a few injured starters while completing the year with a 47-35 record. 

The .573 winning percentage gave New York the 8th-best record in the NBA. Their team 2.9 plus/minus was good for 7th-best in the entire league, while their offensive rating was 4th-best and their defensive rating was 19th. NBA.com had their net rating at 2.8, which made them the 7th-best team in the entire NBA this season; yet, most people still view them as pretenders. 

Much of that has to do with pre-season predictions. Nobody had faith in the Knicks. 

Their over/under win total set by the Vegas sportsbooks was 38.5 and they had +6600 odds to win the NBA title, 19th-best in the league. 

ESPN predicted that the Knicks would finish 10th in the Eastern Conference with a 39-43 record. They believed that the front office’s moves in the offseason laid the framework for future success but that the time was not now.

Bleacher Report claimed that “given the strength of the conference right now, it’s almost impossible to picture the Knicks nabbing more than a play-in tournament invite this season, and even that’s not guaranteed.” 

The Athletic also wanted to “place them in the range of 39-to-41 wins.” The site claimed that “it would also take a mix of monster seasons from their leading players and disappointing ones from the teams above them to climb out of the play-in tournament.”

Yet, here the Knicks are, casually watching the play-in tournament as they gear up for a first-round matchup with a team they went 3-1 against during the regular season. 

Jalen Brunson Knicks
New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) drives against Denver Nuggets guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (5) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, March 18, 2023, at Madison Square Garden in New York. Brunson scored 24 points in his return from a left foot injury, leading the New York Knicks to a 116-110 victory. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Much of that success during the year can be attributed to the team’s depth. 

“It feels good to be on this team where so many players play well on any given night,” said RJ Barrett after the Pacers game on Sunday.  “So many players can bring anything to the table. I think that makes our team so deadly.”

The Knicks finished the season with six players averaging double-digit points. Julius Randle led the way with 25.1 per game with Jalen Brunson right behind at 24.0. However, RJ Barrett (19.6), Immanuel Quickley (14.9), Quentin Grimes (11.3), and Josh Hart (10.2) also showed the ability to pour in points when needed. 

Similarly, with Randle nursing an ankle injury the last two weeks, Obi Toppin stepped up, averaging 24.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 4.0 assists in April. That kind of depth makes the Knicks a tough team to gameplan for because they can adjust and attack with any number of players based on who’s playing well on a given night. 

However, even after a season where they defied expectations and showed that they could compete against the best teams in the league at home and on the road, the Knicks are not going to get caught up in what they’ve already accomplished. 

“At the conclusion of the season, you know exactly where you stand, and then you get ready for what’s next,” said head coach Tom Thibodeau after Sunday’s game against the Pacers. “The next step for us is the playoffs, so I think we’ve made great strides, but this is a greater challenge and it’s the next challenge that’s in front of us. So, we gotta tackle it.”

But while they won’t focus too much on what they’ve done to get to this point, they know that the preparation and approach that got them to the playoffs is one that can continue to work for them even as the stakes get higher. 

Even if nobody else has bought in. 

Heading into Tuesday’s play-in games, the Knicks have the 12th-best odds to claim the title at +14000. The Cavaliers, who the Knicks beat three times in the regular season have odds of +4000. Vegas has also put the series spread at Cavaliers -1.5 games, which means they expect the most likely outcome to be Cleveland winning 4-2. 

Yet, nobody on the Knicks is concerned about the lack of faith. 

“I think what we’ve done to get here is the same thing that we need to continue to do,” said Quickley. “Everybody needs to do all the things that they’ve done throughout the season and don’t try to reinvent the wheel.” 

It worked for New York when nobody thought it would before the season began, so why wouldn’t it work again before the postseason?

For more Knicks coverage, visit amNY Sports

Immanuel Quickley Knicks
New York Knicks guard Immanuel Quickley (5) battles against New Orleans Pelicans forward Larry Nance Jr. in the second half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Friday, April 7, 2023. The Pelicans won 113-105. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)