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Yes, the Knicks Are Good

This is the first true thing I've said about the Knicks in 23 years.

3:56 PM EST on March 6, 2023

The Knicks prepare to get blown out by the Dallas Mavericks, the low point of their current, great season. It was also the only game this reporter attended. (Hell Gate)

Are the Knicks good? It's a question that has plagued all New York basketball fans for the past two decades-plus. 

The answer, since at least the team's magical run to the 2000 finals before a 9/11-induced coaching tailspin (yes, the terrorists did indeed win on this count), has been definitively, "No, the Knicks are not good."

The period from 2001 to 2010 was darkness, a void that should never be spoken of or referenced again. If you have fondness for Nate Robinson or the Knicks version of Stephon Marbury, that's cool, but really, keep it to yourself—those were morgue-like days at the Garden. 

The 2010 Knicks can be seen as a bit of a bright spot, until the Melo trade blew them up into outer space, before then coalescing into a dwarf star in 2013, when the team had a 54-win season. But were those 2013 Knicks good? No, they were clearly held together by duct tape and running on the world's most ancient knees. A serious team they were not, although they did accidentally create the three-centric style of play that has predominated in the NBA since then. (The innovators rarely get their rewards.) 

Regression to darkness followed—more coaches, more bad draft picks, more songs by JD and the Straight Shot, which brings us to 2021, when the Knicks won forty games in a COVID-shortened season under new coach Tom Thibodeau. Were those Knicks…good? They were fun, sure, and they were young, which was a huge improvement over the 2013 team. They had the advantage of skipping the pandemic bubble tournament, whose consequences the NBA still hasn't gotten its head around. But that team? They weren't good—they were easily dispatched in the playoffs, with lone All-Star Julius Randle having a very public mental breakdown that continued into the 2022 season, where the Knicks were mostly dreadful. 

Which brings us to today: The Knicks are on a nine-game winning streak, have a fair shot at notching 50-plus wins, and will quite possibly have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. 

These Knicks, I must now declare, in full honesty, and without any intention to immediately recant what I've put down on paper (I would never), these Knicks are GOOD. They are fun and good. They do cool basketball things, like dunking and making extra passes and smirking after plays, and they clearly like playing together (most Knicks teammates have actively disliked one another), and are apparently somewhat interested in defense. Currently, they are beating the shit out of every other NBA team. 

So what's changed from that 2021 team, which featured a lot of the same players? In true New York fashion, it's the point guard play. The best NBA free agent signing in New York over the last two decades was not Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant, but Jalen Brunson, whose stoicism and wildly competent play has allowed Randle to make plays in rhythm instead of in isolation, and who has himself proved to be a prolific scorer. With Brunson on the floor, Randle actually works as a basketball player, young players like Quentin Grimes and RJ Barrett get the spacing they need to shoot (Barrett inconsistently), and a player like Mitchell Robison needs only hang around the basket for an easy slam or put-back. Brunson can get the young Knicks to run, which is something that both Thibodeau and Randle often discourage—they prefer to fall back into isolation-heavy half-court sets. Most importantly, Brunson is an actual winner, having delivered two championships to Villanova. Whereas most recent vintage Knicks have only sniffed at anything approaching a win, Brunson knows what it takes.  

When Randle sits, and Brunson takes a short breather, that's when the fun really starts, with third-year Immanuel Quickley making the leap and becoming an electrifying point guard, with his goofy floaters over forwards who tower above him, or pulling up to shoot rainbows from forty feet away. He skips around the court, and in his lightness, somehow lifts the weight of twenty years of Knicks misery. Joining in his bounciness is New York native Obi Toppin, who would have much more to offer, if only he didn't play the exact same position as Randle. 

And what really makes this team good? Their depth, their youth, and the fact that this current iteration looks like a floor, not a ceiling—all of their best players are under long-term contracts, and on ones favorable enough to let even the Knicks eventually sign the player they'll need to compete for a championship. 

With the Nets fittingly irrelevant once more, the Knicks are firmly New York's team—doing right by beating up their mainstay rivals Boston, Miami, and Philadelphia. They look fun, they are fun, and most importantly, they're actually good

Could they win it all? I don't know! Who cares! It's the Knicks—being good is just good enough. Ask for more, and you'll end up with a starting lineup featuring Lou Amundson. We can't go back. 

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