The Knicks’ starting 5 could be special next season

NBA: Toronto Raptors at New York Knicks
Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks pulled off a blockbuster deal on Tuesday night, acquiring Mikal Bridges from the Brooklyn Nets. It always felt like a matter of time before Brooklyn cracked, and the Knicks managed to convince them that their draft capital could support their future instead of trying to build a player ready to win now.

Bridges was essentially ignored during the latter portion of the 2023–24 season, as the Nets gave Cam Thomas operational control over their offense. Clearly interested in leaving, Bridges will join three of his former Villanova teammates across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Strengthening the Roster: Knicks’ Strategic Moves

Fortunately, not only did the Knicks land Bridges, but they are also keen on bringing back OG Anunoby on a new contract, which will likely exceed the $35 million per season threshold. If the Knicks re-sign Anunoby, it is far less likely that Isaiah Hartenstein will return to the team unless they offload Mitchell Robinson and clear his salary from the books. The team is likely already at the first salary apron, and acquiring Anunoby on a long-term extension will quickly push them to the second apron, necessitating a few additional players to be tossed into the deal with the Nets to keep them below the first apron.

A Glimpse Into the Knicks’ Potential Starting Five

Let’s take a look at what the Knicks’ starting five could look like next season after adding Bridges. Right off the bat, Jalen Brunson maintains his role as the team’s point guard and superstar scorer.

May 8, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) celebrates in the fourth quarter  after scoring against the Indiana Pacers during game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Over 77 games this past season, Brunson averaged 28.7 points, 3.6 rebounds, 6.7 assists, and shot 47.9% from the field. He finished as a second-team All-NBA player and ranked fifth in MVP voting. This was his best season by a significant margin, and with Brunson expected to accept a slightly reduced salary and extension, the team continues to build a formidable roster that should be able to compete with the Boston Celtics next year.

Julius Randle: A Key Player in Knicks’ Strategy

Despite rumors that the Knicks would offload Julius Randle, it seems as though they are keen on keeping him. The 29-year-old power forward averaged 24 points this past season, including 9.2 rebounds and five assists before dislocating his shoulder. He shot 47.2% from the field with a 51.8% effective field goal rate.

Jan 25, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) controls the ball against Denver Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon (50) during the first quarter at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Randle is a quality forward with the capacity to feature at center if needed, making him more versatile. His physicality will be essential since the Knicks don’t need to lean on him in clutch situations anymore with Brunson at the helm and a bevy of scoring talent at their disposal.

The Defensive Linchpin: OG Anunoby

Bringing back OG Anunoby would significantly enhance the team’s defense, and he’s an underrated scoring option as well. The 26-year-old is entering his prime, and while he has had some injury issues in the past, the Knicks have the depth to manage any issues he may face. He averaged 14.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 2.1 assists this past season, shooting 48.9% from the field.

Anunoby is an elite defensive player capable of limiting some of the best scorers in the game. If the Knicks manage to face off against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals next year, they will want Anunoby locking down Jayson Tatum, which is likely what they’re thinking at this time.

Jan 23, 2024; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Mikal Bridges (1) talks to New York Knicks forward OG Anunoby (8) during the first quarter at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Financial Strategy and Future Prospects

Of course, retaining Anunoby on a long-term contract will be expensive, but with Brunson expected to take less money, and the potential trading of Robinson, the Knicks should be prepared to pay a bit in luxury tax if it secures their first championship in decades. It could be well worth the cost, and they’ll make their money back tenfold courtesy of the upcoming NBA media deals and having a packed house at Madison Square Garden every game.

The Final Piece: Mikal Bridges’ Role

Let’s take a look at the final piece of the puzzle, Mikal Bridges. The 6’6″, 209-pound former All-Defensive asset in 2021 brings tons of tools to the Knicks’ shed. Bridges hasn’t played any fewer than 82 games since the 2020–21 season. He is perennially healthy and offers the Knicks a fantastic wing who was productive this past season in four games over 82 appearances, scoring 19.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 36 assists. He shot 43.6% from the field, 37.2% from beyond the arc, and 52.1% in effective field goal rate.

Brooklyn Nets forward Mikal Bridges (1) looks to drive past New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) in the first quarter at Madison Square Garden
Brooklyn Nets forward Mikal Bridges (1) looks to drive past New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) in the first quarter at Madison Square Garden
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Bridges should see his efficiency with the Knicks skyrocket, especially since other teams will be focused on the team’s other playmakers. He will have his way with weaker defenders as other teams try to lock down Brunson and Randle. In other words, this is a match made in heaven for the Knicks, who have added yet another Villanova star to the mix and reinforced their chemistry even further.

In addition, Bridges is on an extremely favorable contract, essentially swapping his deal with Bojan Bogdanovic, who is making about $5 million less after the Knicks had to consume $2 million in guaranteed money in the trade. However, $23.3 million for Mikal is nothing compared to what players are earning these days, and the Knicks clearly offered enough draft capital to execute the deal.

Specifically, they handed out four unprotected first-round picks, a protected first-rounder from the Bucks, an unprotected pick swap, and a second-round pick in exchange. Draft selections won’t help the Knicks right now since they need proven commodities. Bridges is not only proven but also a rising star in the league.

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