We have time to kill, so let me quickly grade the Knicks regular season efforts and you can all chime in with your own grades.
Here’s the big rule – A is the highest grade you can get. I hate that, like, “A” “A+” and “A++++” or whatever. This is like the NBA max. Once you get it, you get it. We all know some As are better than other As, but they’re still an A, so just be happy with it.
Julius Randle – A
I mean, duh. The dude might even make the All-NBA team. Kind of a no-brainer.
Reggie Bullock – A
The fascinating thing about Reggie Bullock is that there is a very good chance that he’s only still on the team because they gave him a big 1+1 contract on the first day of free agency without checking to make sure he was, you know, healthy, and he felt so bad after he failed his physical that he signed for the room exception for a two year deal, so after a terrible injury-plagued first year, he was so cheap in year two that they had to keep him (as why would you pass on a guy making so little money?) and he then turned out to be precisely the player that they were hoping they were getting the other year, only better. Great defense and big-time shooting, Bullock has made himself a lot of money this season.
Derrick Rose – A
It’s funny, I was actually very much pro Derrick Rose being an asset for a playoff team. His performance last year was encouraging enough that I really thought he would be useful as a Lou Williams-type player for a top four playoff team. However, I was thinking more obvious playoff teams like the Clippers, and thus I didn’t see Rose fitting in with a team that looked on the periphery of the playoff scene. Well, as it turned out, Rose has been a big addition to a top four playoff team, it just turned out to be the Knicks! He’s played his best ball in almost a decade and also has made himself a lot of money this season.
Alec Burks – A
We were all shocked that no playoff team was willing to give Burks a multi-year deal for more than he got for one year from the Knicks because he just had a good year last season and played for a playoff team (after a trade deadline deal from the tanking Warriors to the pre-Morey, middle of the playoff pack Sixers). Burks has been instant offense and when the rest of the team sometimes falls into a funk, Burks has been there to bail them out. He has also made himself a lot of money this season.
Nerlens Noel – A
Ever since foolishly turning down a big money extension early in his career, this former lottery pick has been forced to scrounge around for short-term, low-level contracts. He signed with the Knicks in the hopes of building up his resume as the starter and found out that he wasn’t going to even be the starter, which pissed him off enough that he fired his agent (amusingly, the actual starter, Mitchell Robinson, also fired that same agent for bringing Noel here in the first place). But then Mitchell Robinson got hurt and Noel stepped into the starting role and was excellent. His ability to approximate Mitchell Robinson’s skills has been invaluable. He’s also made himself a lot of money this season.
Taj Gibson – A
When Mitchell Robinson’s injury forced Noel to move into the starting lineup, the Knicks needed a new backup center and somehow, no team had even bothered to pay the minimum to bring Taj Gibson in and so he stepped up and has played inspired basketball for the Knicks, even moving to the closeout part of the game over Noel at times due to his stronger offensive skills. If he were a lot younger, he would have made himself a lot of money this season, as well, and now that I think about it, is it possible that he has made himself a little more money? Might a team be willing to give him, like, $4 million next season? I assume he’ll be a Knick no matter what (anyone know what the Early Bird rules are if a player plays for a team in back-to-back season, but not really concurrently. I think since he didn’t play for any other team, it still counts as two seasons for Early Bird rights, so the Knicks might be able to offer him a nice small raise to keep him going over the cap).
Immanuel Quickley – A
When you can arguably get the best performance from an NBA rookie with the #25 pick, you have to be happy with that. Quickley has shown some bad rookie habits that have led to Thibs to basically give him an incredibly short leash, where basically it’s like he has a heat check each game. “Is he on today? Okay, he’ll play big minutes.” “Is he off today? Okay, he’ll be benched most of the game.” But for a rookie to be at that level is still very, very impressive. A huge part of the team’s future.
RJ Barrett – A
I really didn’t want to give RJ an A, but then I thought, whatever, an A or a B+ is basically the same thing, let’s just be happy and give him the A. RJ has successfully transformed his game in his second season and will likely transform it again in his third season and become a superstar. His defense has been excellent and you have to love how clutch he’s been in big games this season. He just needs to also make some shots at the start of the game, as well.
Mitchell Robinson – Prorated A
Mitch is weird. I don’t feel right giving him an overall A when he’s missed half the season, but he also did play half the season, so an incomplete sounds wrong, so I’ll just grade him on how he played in the half of the season that he played, which was excellent. He was basically Nerlens Noel, but better, and Nerlens Noel has been excellent. If they could find a way to keep the two-headed monster of Mitch and Noel, that’d be amazing.
Obi Toppin – C+
He didn’t have a good rookie season, but he has played a lot better recently. I don’t think he really has a future here, but I think he could have a future in the NBA period, which I wasn’t sure about early in the season.
Frank Ntilkina – Prorated C+
His numbers are the best they’ve ever been, which isn’t that great, and he never plays (120 less minutes played than Austin Rivers, who hasn’t played on the team in months), but I dunno, he’s had some good moments when he’s played, so…yay? And hey, maybe he’ll be the Knicks starter in the playoffs. Who knows.
Elfrid Payton – D+
I mean, he had some good games, right? He’s obviously being asked to play a certain type of way that isn’t the way he normally plays, so that’s going to take a toll on him a bit as a player, but whatever, he’s still been bad.
Kevin Knox – D
He’s just a waste of a roster spot at this point. And that’s with him making a lot of strides in some areas, but like Toppin, a lot of those numbers are from games where they can’t even keep him on the court, so it’s kind of like fool’s gold.
Everyone else is an incomplete. Except Luca Vildoza, who gets an A just because.
Tom Thibodeau – A
The fact that the Knicks have a top three defense (they moved just sliiiiiiiiiightly ahead of the Jazz in the last game, so it’s really like a tie for third) honestly doesn’t shock me. I’ve seen coaches like Thibs do this all the time. Getting teams to play defense is one of the areas where I firmly believe that coaches make a huge difference. It’s why I picked the Knicks to win 31 games, as I thought Thibs would make them a good defensive team and good defense in the NBA is like three-point shooting in college basketball, it keeps you in games you wouldn’t normally stay in. So that part didn’t surprise me (here’s some past examples. Phoenix Suns defense a year before Scott Skiles took over – 19th. Skiles’ first season there – 3rd. The Bulls went from 21st in defense a year before Skiles got there to 16th when he took over as interim coach the next season to 2nd in his first full season there. Milwaukee wasn’t as dramatic, but it was still literally last in defense the year before he got there to 15th in his first year to second in his third year). In other words, the top defensive coaches have historically done this sort of thing. It’s not shocking. What is more shocking to me is that Thibs has managed to cobble together a functioning offense here. Not a good offense, but good enough to compete, but really, moreover, it’s the fact that he coaches every game like it is Game 7 and that has affected his players, as well. They choke away leads like every NBA team does, but unlike those other NBA teams (and every Knicks team we’ve been watching for years except for the 2012-13 team that now looks like Jason Kidd did some sort of voodoo shit on them), they then get them back. Look at the Spurs and the Hornets games – most teams lose those games, but not a THibs-coached team. So getting them to get to be a good enough offensive team to pair with the defensive improvement (which is also partially from Thibs’ favorites Rose and Gibson joining the team and playing like they played for Thibs back in Chicago) and getting their temperament to a point where they wobble but don’t break is what has turned them from a 31 win team to a 41 win team.
Thibs’ Coaching Staff – A
The fact that, like, every Knick coach is discussed when a coaching opportunity opens up says a whole lot. Luckily, only Woodson actually got a job (a job that was clearly meant for Brad Stevens, right? You don’t spend all of that money with the end goal of getting Mike Woodson, right?), so this great coaching staff will be back next season almost entirely intact. To be fair, though, after Keith Smart, it is hard to not look like a genius assistant coach.
Leon Rose – A
Rose was most impressive in what he didn’t do. He didn’t panic and he just let the chips play where they lay this season and trusted in Thibs to get the most out of this roster, while adding value contracts like Noel and Burks, drafting a stud rookie in Quickley and then rewarding the early strong play by getting Thibs Rose (and a time machine for Rose). Brock Aller is a star and heck, maybe Scott Perry isn’t even useless when paired with smarter co-workers. Rose seems to like having a bunch of different voices and so the whole is likely even better than the sum of its parts. That’s nice to see.