Knicks

Anunoby Makes the Knicks a Top Contender in the East

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On the morning of December 30, 2023, the world surrounding Knicks fans was abruptly shaken.

What went from a patient, in-house rebuild turned into a pivoting reset in a matter of hours.

It caused fear, panic and scrambling across social media amongst Knicks supporters. Questions were asked about whether the Knicks lost the trade in terms of value and about the quality of the pieces coming back. Those questions were answered rather quickly.

OG Anunoby’s arrival has made the Knicks a serious contender in the Eastern Conference. He embodies everything Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau wants in a two-way wing: long, athletic, selfless, skilled and a high motor. Since Anunoby’s arrival, the Knicks are 15-3, boasting the second-best net rating in the NBA in that span (+14.2). They own wins in that span over the Timberwolves, 76ers and Nuggets, who own a combined record of 100-49.

The January 25th win at Madison Square Garden over the defending champion Denver Nuggets fully encapsulated what has been going on in New York for the past month. It was a 38-point drubbing that included suffocating team defense, terrific ball movement, dead-eye three-point shooting, and simply out-working opponents. Anunoby posted a Knick career-high 26 points on 10-for-18 shooting to go along with six steals. Anunoby also improved on a preposterous second league-leading +252 plus-minus since coming to the Knicks, only trailing Jalen Brunson (+260).

With the Knicks, Anunoby is averaging 15.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. Pairing those numbers along with the nearly highly regarded “50/40/90” shooting splits with 51.6% from the field, 39.1% from 3, and 84.2% from the foul line, it’s safe to say the Knicks added an elite wing stopper and a more than capable offensive complementary option.

They have never had a body to throw at the likes of Jayson Tatum, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jimmy Butler. He truly brings a one-man defensive game wrecker mentality, and to pair that with terrific catch-and-shoot ability from three, it seems the Knicks have found the perfect player for their system.

Not only is Anunoby thriving with the Knicks, but the touches that RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley soaked up prior to the trade are being redistributed to the Knick stars. Jalen Brunson is averaging 30 points and 7.4 assists per game since the trade, both of which increased from pre-Anunoby. Julius Randle is averaging 24.9 points per game since the trade, which also is an uptick. Randle’s injury puts a small damper on the teams’ recent surge, but they’re 3-1 since he went down and the timetable for his return seems to be more along the lines of “weeks” rather than “months”.

The offense has more fluidity and spacing, and the defense has more cohesion and perimeter prowess. Since the trade, the Knicks own the league’s best scoring defense, allowing an absurd 101.1 points per game. They also have the best rebounding percentage in the NBA, along with the NBA’s tenth best offensive rating.

Anunoby’s 7’2” wing span paired with his elite lateral quickness has changed the way the Knicks defend. There is less pressure on their rim protectors, it’s better for off-ball defenders to stay attached to shooters, and he can defend all five positions which makes Tom Thibodeau’s job much easier when he wants to tweak rotations during a game.

The aspects of OG Anunoby’s game that are most marketed are his multifaceted defensive capabilities and stand-still three point shooting. But he has brought so much more to the Knicks than your average “3-and-D” qualities. The touch around the rim is rock solid, and he has a refined, underrated off-the-bounce midrange game. His self shot creation has been a pleasant surprise since his arrival, along with his ability as a connective passer and aggressive rebounder. He really is the full package when it comes to complementary NBA wings.

The Knicks have been the best team in the NBA for three and a half weeks now. It remains to be seen how they will match up with the Eastern Conference’s elite in the playoffs — i.e. the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks — but this Knicks team feels different. There seems to be a new level of confidence around the organization than in years past.

They don’t just want to be in the playoffs, they want to make a run when they get there, and Anunoby will, without a shadow of a doubt, be at the heart of however the Knicks do in the playoffs. You’ll hear plenty about Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo, Tyrese Haliburton and Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum. However, there are very few players that will have a bigger impact on the eventual outcome of the NBA playoffs in the Eastern Conference than OG Anunoby. 

Come mid-April, Jalen Brunson is going to do his thing. Julius Randle is capable of playing All-NBA level basketball. Donte DiVincenzo has been one of the league’s best outside shooters this season. Isaiah Hartenstein and potentially a healthy Mitchell Robinson bring one of the NBA’s best duo of big men. Josh Hart, Deuce McBride and Quentin Grimes all bring different versatile skill sets off the bench.

Then, there is OG Anunoby. His strengths are tailor-made for a big playoff series. His long wingspan is constantly in passing lanes, his frame makes it nearly impossible to back him down in the interior, he’s a high-IQ offensive player that doesn’t disrupt the flow his stars provide, knocks down open three pointers, and plays as hard as anyone in the league.

He was the missing piece to the puzzle for this core. Eastern Conference contenders, consider this month of January from the Knicks a warning. This team is for real, and it is spectacular to behold.

About Tim Fell

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