For the past several seasons, a major talking point has been how the Nets, not the Knicks, are the most talented NBA team in New York.
When guys like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are serving as the headliners, it’s rather hard to argue against this type of sentiment.
Currently on Brooklyn’s roster is what Sean Marks and company hope will become the association’s next great “big three” in Durant, Irving, and last year’s top-flight trade acquisition Ben Simmons.
And while the first two names listed are far and away superior players in comparison to anyone found on Tom Thibodeau’s roster, there’s an argument to be made that the latter falls behind several Knickerbockers when it comes to individual ranks across the league.
At least, that’s what ESPN seems to believe, as a group of over 200 reporters, editors, producers, and analysts wound up placing Simmons (76) behind Julius Randle (71), Jalen Brunson (67), and RJ Barrett (63) on the publication’s list of the top-100 players heading into 2022-23.
Considering he was ranked 16 on this list the last time he was coming into a season with the expectation of playing, his 60-slot plummet is almost certainly a direct result of his full-season holdout last season.
Throughout his career, Simmons has managed to establish himself as one of the best talents the association has to offer.
A perennial All-Star, two-time All-Defensive selection, and an All-NBA selectee, when on the hardwood the 26-year-old is a dominating force who boats career averages of 15.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 1.7 steals, and just shy of a block per game on 56% shooting from the field.
The last time Simmons suited up for an NBA game was back in 2020-21, where he notched his third All-Star selection by putting up stat-sheet stuffing averages of 14.3 points, 6.9 assists, and 7.2 rebounds per game whilst finishing second in the Defensive Player of the Year running and helped guide the Philadelphia 76ers to the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Barrett’s Shooting a Major Question Mark
Of all the Knicks mentioned on ESPN’s list, RJ Barrett finds himself on the outside looking in on the league’s top-50, slotting in at 63 overall.
Selected third overall back in the 2019 NBA Draft, seemingly every year since the wing has managed to improve in a multitude of areas within his game.
Just last season, through 70 games played Barrett saw himself finish with career-highs in numerous statistical categories, posting averages of 20.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per contest.
And while his progressions over the years could be argued as being enough to warrant his entry into the top 50, in the article ESPN’s Tim Bontemps stated that the 22-year-old still has one major hurdle to jump over before he can be moved up any higher.
Said hurdle: shooting consistency.
“Two years ago, Barrett shot 40.1% from 3-point range. In his other two NBA seasons, Barrett shot 32% and 34%. The difference between Barrett becoming a high-end wing player or a solid starter is where those 3-point shooting numbers shake out over the long term. After giving him a big-money extension this summer, the Knicks will be banking on the high-end outcome coming to fruition,” Bontemps wrote.
Last season, Barrett’s shooting efficiency played a major role in determining the outcome of New York’s contests, as he shot 43.9% from the floor and an impressive 39.1% from deep in wins and a mediocre 38.2% from the floor and 30% from deep in losses.
Knicks, Nets Could Be Trade Partners
In a recent sit-down with Heavy.com’ Sean Deveney, an anonymous NBA general manager discussed alternative trade options that the New York Knicks could look to pursue now that Donovan Mitchell resides in Cleveland, and one, in particular, was a deal with the Nets for one of their star players.
Citing his unpredictable attitude coupled with his expiring contract, the executive believes that if Brooklyn were to shop Kyrie Irving (ranked 33 on ESPN’s top-100 list), the Knicks could be a suitable trade partner and, realistically, could offer up the best package for him.
“The Knicks would have a chance to re-sign him — that’s one of the big fears about dealing for Irving, that he is not going to stick around after the season, he is a rental player,” the executive told Deveney.
“But if you send out Evan Fournier and Derrick Rose and a pick, the Nets would have to consider that. It’s not much but if they are not sure Irving will be back, they might not do much better.”
Despite his wildcard status, Irving is still a seven-time All-Star, a three-time All-NBA selection, and an NBA Champion, who, in 2021-22, posted stellar per-game averages of 27.4 points, 5.8 assists, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.4 steals on 46.9% shooting from the floor and a career-high 41.8% shooting from distance.