After an unexpectedly successful season last year, the New York Knicks now find themselves in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, with a 27-38 record and little hope of making the playoffs — yet, there is reason for optimism in Madison Square Garden, as the team’s young core continues to blossom into a bright spot for a franchise long-devoid of hopeful future prospects.
Over the past six games, the trio of RJ Barret, Immanuel Quickley and Mitchell Robinson has seen significant improvements on both sides of the ball, with all three players winning praise from coaches and fans alike, despite going just 2-4 during that span.
Barret, the 21-year-old shooting guard who the Knicks drafted third overall in 2019, has scored 28.8 points per game during that six-game stretch, compared with his season average of 19.2, and his career 17 points per game.
“What we’re seeing with RJ is steady improvement,” said Head Coach Tom Thibodeau. “You look at where he is today versus even my two short years of being with him — I watched a lot of films from his rookie year. He’s made great strides and I think he’ll continue to make great strides because of who he is and how he approaches it.’’
Meanwhile, 22-year-old Quickley, who the Knicks drafted with the 25th overall pick in 2020, has recorded 16.7 points per game in the six contests since Feb. 25, while adding 3.2 assists and 5.7 rebounds — despite coming off the bench in each of those games. All three of those numbers are higher than his season-long totals of 10.1 points, 3 assists, and 2.6 rebounds.
Veteran team-leader Julius Randle praised Quickley’s work ethic, while adding that he has increased his confidence in himself and his on-court abilities.
“I think the biggest thing with him is he’s playing free,” Randle said. “He’s kind of clearing his mind, and going out there and hooping and trusting his work. He’s probably one of the hardest workers I’ve ever been around, especially for a kid that young, so he just has to keep going, keep playing like that.”
Mitchell Robinson, 23, has also seen noticeable improvements in recent games. The 2018 second-round draft selection has been a force on the boards in recent weeks, with 9.4 rebounds per game, up from a season total of 8.6 .
Robinson heads to unrestricted free agency this season, which puts the Knicks finances in a tough spot, though ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported late last month that both he and the team are engaged in talks about a contract extension.
If the Knicks do manage to keep their young core together, along with veterans like Randle and Evan Fournier, they figure to be set up for an upswing in seasons to come.