The new-look Knicks set the tone for 2024 on Monday, taking down the Minnesota Timberwolves 112-106. New York nearly had an epic collapse against the top team in the West, but late clutch plays from their foundational pieces helped secure the win. While Julius Randle’s 39 points spearheaded the Knicks, OG Anunoby’s 17 points and six rebounds were above his season averages in Toronto and gave the Knickerbocker faithful a glimpse at the potential of star talent for the rest of the season.
“He seems like the perfect piece that compliments our team very well,” Randle said after the Knicks victory.
Indeed Anunoby showed flashes of how he will compliment the Knicks offense and playstyle moving forward. In his first half of action, the basketball IQ of Anunoby was on full display, connecting with Donte DiVincenzo two different times on baseline cuts behind the defense for thunderous dunks.
The ability of Anunoby to fit into the Knicks’ play style is paramount. He showed an innate ability to do just that in his first game, being the ultimate team player. It did not go unnoticed by the New York faithful, “I appreciate all the fan love,” said Anunoby, “I definitely feel it.”
Right from the opening tip, the new-look starting five for the Knicks seemed to click. The combination of Jalen Brunson, Divincenzo, Anunoby, Randle, and Isaiah Hartenstein was able to set the tone early while using their size on the defensive end to their advantage. The per 36 minutes numbers for this unit in their first action were astounding, touting a 140.5 offensive rating and an 86.8 defensive rating, good enough for a +53.7 net rating.
While water will certainly find its level with this lineup, they certainly got off to the right first step on Monday. Losing a potential sixth man of the year in Immanuel Quickley and a starter in RJ Barrett in the Anunoby trade, it is paramount the Knicks get contributions from their starting unit and carry the load.
With Monday being Anunoby’s first game, there were lots of encouraging signs as the game progressed for the new dimension the former Raptors star will bring to the table, “He was great on both sides of the ball,” said Brunson, “It’s only going to go up from here… he has all the tools.”
The two-way presence of Anunoby cannot be understated. While Anunoby has seen a steady decline throughout his career in terms of defensive rating, Tom Thibodeau’s system plays to the strengths of the stretch wing and shows why New York has been targeting him for so long.
Going forward, the role that is carved out for Anunoby is still largely unknown. The only clear thing is the addition of Anunoby adds a new wrinkle to the Knicks system while allowing more offensive freedom for Randle. The ability of Anunoby to play a more dynamic role on both ends of the floor can potentially elevate the Knicks to elite levels shortly.