After being a lottery team just one season ago the New York Knicks have turned themselves into a top contender in a loaded Eastern Conference. After finishing 12th place in the east with a record of just 21-45 in the previous season, the Knicks drafted Obi Toppin with the eighth overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Despite being a lottery pick, Toppin’s contributions were minimal during the 2020-21 NBA season. He averaged just 4.1 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 0.5 assists per game in his rookie year with the Knicks.
Even with minimal production from Toppin the Knicks were able to turn their misfortunes around due mostly to contributions from players that were on the roster from the year before such as Julius Randle, Reggie Bullock and Mitchell Robinson.
Mitchell Robinson Shows off His Summer Progress
Robinson, who was the Knicks defensive anchor this season, averaging 1.5 blocks per game did not suit up for the Knicks in the playoffs after fracturing his foot in late March. The belief amongst many Knicks fans is that if Robinson had played in the series, they may not have been eliminated by the Atlanta Hawks in five games like they were. Robinson’s ability to control the paint would have almost certainly halted the Hawks easy penetration to the hoop which is where the Knicks really struggled in the series.
Now that the offseason has officially begun for the Knicks, players are preparing to improve in order for the Knicks to take the next steps from being good to being elite. Robinson has not wasted any time this summer. In a recent Instagram post the 7-footer shows that he has gained over 30 pounds of muscle. Coming into last season Robinson only weighed 240 pounds, but now he is clocking in at a whopping 275 pounds.
Tom Thibodeau Sounds off on Randle’s Impact
As is the case with most teams, the work ethic of the role players starts and finishes with the leader and that certainly has been the case with the Knicks. Despite a disappointing outing in the NBA playoffs, Julius Randle has worked tirelessly to improve upon his game. As a result he received the NBA’s Most Improved Player award for this season. Knicks’ head coach Tom Thibodeau says that he could see the fire in Randle’s eyes from the moment he took over as coach.
“It always starts with your best players, if they work like that it sets a tone for the team, and so [Randle] is relentless,” Thibodeau said via Ian O’Connor of the New York Post. “It’s not an accident that he’s having the type of season that he’s having. His commitment, I could see it from the first day I met him, the type of conditioning he had and how committed he was to turning this thing around.”
Randle’s work ethic should come as no surprise as he came up under one of the hardest working hoopers in the history of the game in the late Kobe Bryant. Now that Randle’s drive is starting to rub off on his teammates, the Knicks could be in for an even deeper playoff run in 2022.