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In a season in which former Philadelphia 76er and current Los Angeles Clipper James Harden was really the only superstar moved (with apologies to Pascal Siakam), the New York Knicks swooped in and won trade season.
If we consider that stretch to include just over the last month, New York surrendered…
- RJ Barrett
- Immanuel Quickley
- Evan Fournier
- Malachi Flynn
- Quentin Grimes
- Ryan Arcidiacono
- Three second-round picks
- OG Anunoby
- Alec Burks
- Bojan Bogdanović
Yes, that’s right. The Knicks didn’t have to give up any of the first-round picks from their oft-discussed trove of draft assets.
And all of the players listed among the outgoing assets combined for just 1.9 wins over replacement player (value over replacement player times 2.7) as Knicks players this season (with Quickley accounting for 2.2 by himself).
In just 14 games with New York, Anunoby already has 1.6 by himself.
His addition alone was a full-fledged game-changer for the Knicks. Since he was acquired, they’re plus-252 with Anunoby on the floor. Donovan Mitchell is the only player in the league with a higher raw plus-minus over that stretch, and he’s played three more games than Anunoby (who’s going to miss at least another three weeks with an elbow surgery).
When he’s back, Anunoby’s ferocious, multipositional defense should make as quick an impact as it did when he first joined the team. His lower-usage, less ball-dominant offensive game will continue to make him a better fit alongside Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle too.
Anunoby is a timely cutter, reliable catch-and-shoot outlet and All-Defensive-caliber forward.
Even before Thursday’s moves, the Anunoby version of the Knicks looked like a team that could make a run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Beyond him, Brunson is playing like an All-NBA-level guard, with averages of 27.2 points, 6.5 assists and 2.7 threes and a 41.1 three-point percentage.
Randle, like Anunoby, will be out for a few more weeks, but he’s a rightful All-Star. Over the last four seasons (in his case, 266 games), he’s averaged 23.3 points, 9.9 rebounds and 5.0 assists.
Supplementing those two with Anunoby, whose skills fit seamlessly with their high-usage games, was a grand slam. Now adding Burks and Bogdanović is almost certainly a double or triple.
Bogdanović turns 35 in April, but his game has never been predicated on overwhelming athleticism. And he didn’t appear to be slowing down in Detroit. Over his season and change there, he averaged 21.1 points and 2.7 threes while shooting 41.3 percent from deep.
With him at the three-point line, it’ll be more dangerous for opposing defenses to sell out on drives from Brunson and Randle.
And even if he’s not a high-end defensive player, Bogdanović’s size (6’7″ and 226 lbs) helps him clog up passing and driving lanes. And if any coach can scheme around his weaknesses on that end, it’s probably Tom Thibodeau.
As for Burks, a former Knick, he’s quietly become one of the league’s best backup combo guards in recent years. Much of the creation and outside shooting Quickley brought can be replaced by Burks, whose Moneyball offense will be a boost to the second unit.
Over the last five seasons, he’s averaged 18.8 points, 4.1 free throws, 3.6 assists and 2.9 threes per 75 possessions while shooting 40.3 percent from deep. Stephen Curry is the only player in the league who matches or exceeds all five marks over the same stretch.
Adding both of those shooters to a rotation that includes…
- Donte DiVincenzo (18.3 points, 3.9 threes, 3.3 assists, 1.4 steals and a 40.1 three-point percentage over his last 20 games)
- Josh Hart (a consummate glue guy and one of the league’s best rebounding wings)
- Isaiah Hartenstein (a high-end rebounder and stock collector and underrated passer)
- potentially Mitchell Robinson (who should start on-court work as part of his injury recovery after the All-Star break)
Even before deadline day, the Knicks had the league’s fifth-best point differential per 100 possessions against top-10 teams.
They’ve fully embraced the resilient, gritty approaches to basketball with which their coach and point guard have thrived.
It’s the kind of approach that New York fans wholeheartedly embraced in the 1990s too.
For two decades between that era and this one, they had to suffer through some of the worst basketball the NBA had to offer (the Knicks were 30th in winning percentage from 2001-02 through 2021-22).
The current front office, coaching staff and reworked roster is now rewarding them for their long suffering.
The top-end contenders in the East, like the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks (assuming the latter team gets its act together under Doc Rivers), may still be safer bets to win the East, but New York doing so would no longer be a shock.
Led by a borderline top-10 player in Brunson, the newly fortified Knicks are absolutely talented enough for a Finals run. More importantly, they’ve proved willing to play hard enough to get there.