• The Knicks were coming off a second-round loss in last year’s layoffs against the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Miami Heat in six games. Under head coach Tom Thibodeau, the Knicks had finally established an identity based on a hard-nosed and aggressive defense. On offense, the team was anchored by both Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson. Brunson had been acquired via free agency from the Dallas Mavericks, and outperformed all expectations in his first year in the Big Apple. The Knicks front office had done a fantastic job building this roster without having to empty their chest of assets. With that in mind, the Knicks entered the 2023-24 season with increased expectations, as well as the ability to make further moves on the trade market in order to attempt to take the next step towards a championship.

    How’d It Go?

    The season for the Knicks ended just as the previous season did, with a second-round exit, this time against the Indiana Pacers. However, the circumstances around this result were very much different from the season before. The Knicks were plagued by injuries, not only during their postseason run, but also during the second half of the regular season. All-Star Julius Randle suffered a season-ending shoulder injury on January 27th, which led to Jalen Brunson having to carry a large burden on the offensive end of the floor for the team. Brunson excelled in this role, establishing himself as the franchise player moving forward, but it was evident during the playoffs that he was in need of additional help. In addition to Randle’s injury, starting center Mitchell Robinson suffered an ankle injury which cost him most of the second half of the season. Despite Robinson’s efforts to return during the playoffs, he eventually suffered a setback and was forced again to sit out. While it may seem “simple” to blame injuries for their shortcomings, the fact that they even made it that far is a testament to head coach Tom Thibodeau and the culture he has established in New York considering the amount of injuries.

    However looking back, their season got off to a rather inconsistent start, and after losing three games in a row in late December, the Knicks were standing with a 17-15 record. It was then that the front office decided to dip into their chest of assets and acquire OG Anunoby via trade from the Toronto Raptors. Anunoby projected to be an ideal fit on the squad, tasked with guarding the opposition’s best player on a nightly basis. It also cleared up a messy situation in the backcourt and on the wings, as moving Immanuel Quickley and RJ Barrett put more shots on Brunson’s plate and also gave Josh Hart and Donte DiVincenzo time to get into rhythm and play real roles. Unfortunately for the Knicks, injuries did not allow them to get an extended look at their updated core together before Randle went down with his shoulder injury after Anunoby had just gotten back from an extended absence himself.

    From a fantasy perspective, the amount of injuries led to the unexpected rise of multiple secondary role players on the roster. Donte DiVincenzo, Josh Hart and Isaiah Hartenstein all benefited from increased roles which made them much more fantasy relevant in standard formats than expected at the beginning of the season. DiVincenzo and Hartenstein became two of the biggest waiver wire pickups in re-draft formats during the season.

    Coaching

    As previously mentioned, Thibodeau has established a defense-first culture on the Knicks, and seems to have the support of the front office and his players. His old-school mindset has been embraced by the fans. While his coaching style can be very demanding towards players, the fact he has the backing of all parties in the franchise allows him to be himself and not have to worry about changing his methods. Although it is important to notice that his old-school style of coaching also has some downsides to it.

    The main aspect that sticks out in regards to this, is the fact that Thibodeau once again leaned towards playing his starters heavy minutes. As the injuries started to pile up for the team, the minutes distribution started to tilt even further. This peaked during the postseason, as there were multiple games in which Josh Hart played all 48 minutes(!). The debate whether the heavy minutes are linked to the amount of injuries the Knicks experienced during their season came up again during the postseason, and has been a topic which has accompanied Thibodeau during his coaching career. It is hard to draw an accurate conclusion from this on the outside, as on one hand it seems harsh to blame Thibodeau for freak injuries that occurred to Randle and Robinson. However, on the other side, Anunoby for example does have a fairly large track record of injuries, and it’s fair to question whether Thibodeau and his coaching staff should have been more careful with their load management of Anunoby’s minutes once he joined the team.

    The Players

    Jalen Brunson
    PG, New York Knicks
    SeasonTeamGPGSMPG FGMFGAFG% FTMFTAFT% 3PTM3PTA3PT% PTSREBAST STLBLKTO
    23-24 NY 77 77 35.4 10.3 21.4 47.9 5.5 6.5 84.7 2.7 6.8 40.1 28.7 3.6 6.7 0.9 0.2 2.4
    22-23 NY 68 68 35.0 8.6 17.6 49.1 4.8 5.8 82.9 2.0 4.7 41.6 24.0 3.5 6.2 0.9 0.2 2.1
    21-22 DAL 78 60 32.0 6.4 12.8 50.2 2.3 2.7 84.4 1.2 3.1 37.1 16.2 3.9 4.8 0.8 0.0 1.6

    ADP: 37.4/23.9 (Yahoo/ESPN) | Total Value: 17/16 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 29/29 (8/9-cat)

    Brunson took his game to another level during the 2023-24 season. His tenacity on the offensive side of the floor is relentless. He continuously puts pressure on the opposition’s defense by attacking the basket and using his elite footwork to score in the paint on floaters and mid-range jumpers. The fact he has been able to improve his shooting from beyond the arc (40% on 6.8 attempts per game on the season), makes him a very difficult player to guard one-on-one.

    He posted career-highs in multiple categories last season, including PPG, APG, FTA/G and FT%. Yes, his FG% dropped to 47.9% compared to 49.1% the previous year, which was not surprising considering the offensive load he had to carry for his team, especially after Randle’s season ending injury. Despite handling such a heavy burden on the offensive end, and logging a career-high 35.4 minutes per game, Brunson showed immense durability and stamina during the season. Brunson played in 77 games, which is reflected in his total values for the season.

    Brunson exceeded expectations from a fantasy perspective based on his average ADP heading into the season and has clearly established himself as the best player on his team. Randle, who is a high-usage player, should be able to return next season at 100% to start the year, which could lead to Brunson losing a bit of usage overall. However, this should not stop fantasy managers from trusting Brunson as a top-35 selection in re-draft formats heading into next year.

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