Who’s the New York Knicks’ most underrated player?

alec burks, knicks

When considering the New York Knicks’ most underrated player, most may point to third-year shooting guard RJ Barrett. Barrett established himself as one of the best players on the team last season, averaging 17.6 points, 3.0 assists, 5.8 rebounds, and shooting 44% from the field. However, I would argue that Barrett is rated properly and took a significant step forward in his development at 20 years old.

The one player who simply doesn’t get enough credit for his contributions is shooting guard/small forward Alec Burks. Burks is a former first-round pick from back in 2011, and at 30 years old, signed a three-year, $30 million extension this off-season with the Knicks. The third-year is not guaranteed, so the deal is essentially a two-year, $20 million contract if the Knick elect to opt-out during the 2023-24 season.

Burks was one of the Knicks’ top scorers last season, averaging 12.7 points off the bench. The team needed Alec’s ability to curate instant offense, which is something they desperately needed during the first half of the season when they were one of the worst three-point shooting squads in the NBA. Burks finished the year shooting 41.5% from range over 49 games. He averaged 25.6 minutes per contest and even picked up the slack at point guard before the front office traded for Derrick Rose at the deadline.

He’s one of those savvy veterans who can’t be overlooked, but fans and analysts often forget his value to the team as a consistent scorer and solid defender. Burks posted a 56.4% true shooting percentage this past season, including a 15.2 assist to turnover ratio. His net offensive rating was extremely comparable to his defensive performance, indicating consistency on both ends of the floor.

This upcoming year, the Knicks will use Burks in a similar way, featuring him off the bench to help mitigate fatigue for players like Evan Fournier and RJ Barrett. His role is essential in keeping the starting team healthy and fresh over the course of a game, let alone the entire season. His impact in the 4th quarter last year was massive — his timely shooting and burst of energy on offense were awesome.

Interestingly, Burks scored 23.8% of his points in 2021 from inside the paint; 49.2% of his points came from three-point range. Burks is a well-rounded player for the Knicks, and given his extension, the coaching staff agrees.

Grading the New York Knicks free agent acquisitions

New York Knicks, NYK

The New York Knicks spent an exorbitant amount of money this off-season to solve multiple positions of weakness. Having secured the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference last season, the team did more than enough to increase their odds of placing even better during the 2021-22 season.

Their free-agent acquisitions will play a big part in taking a step forward this upcoming year, including the retention of three familiar faces that were preparing to hit the market.

Grading the New York Knicks free agent signings:

1.) C: Nerlens Noel

With Mitchell Robinson playing in just 31 games last season, Nerlens Noel was forced into a more significant role. Averaging 5.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, and shooting 61.4% from the field, Noel had one of his best years to date. However, his biggest impact came on defense, where he blocked 2.2 shots per contest and stole the ball 1.1 times on average. He was a maestro in the paint, meeting players at the rim to reject shots.

While Noel’s stats don’t stand out, a lot of his value doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. The Knicks seemingly overspent a bit on his retention, extending him on a three-year, $27.7 million deal. However, it is essentially a two-year contract with the third year not guaranteed. Paying him nearly $10 million is quite a lofty amount for a backup center, but the value he provides cannot go unnoticed.

Grade: B-

2.) PG: Derrick Rose

The very moment the Knicks acquired Derrick Rose from the Detroit Pistons at the deadline, the team took a massive step forward. It is clear that Rose is more than capable of being a starting point guard in the NBA, but age has certainly taken its toll on his stamina. With Elfred Payton offering little to nothing during the postseason, Rose was forced to play more minutes, picking up small injuries that impacted his production and efficiency.

Nonetheless, he averaged 14.9 points, 4.2 assists, and shot a career-high 41% from three with the Knicks last season over 35 games.

After realizing how much gas Rose has left in the tank, president Leon Rose elected to re-sign him on a three-year, $43.56 million deal. This is another contract that has no guarantees for the third season, and pairing ham with Kemba Walker should mitigate fatigue for the most part.

Grade: B+

3.) SG: Alec Burks

One of the Knicks’ top scorers last season was Alec Burks, who played an essential role off the bench. Serving as a shooting guard and small forward, the former first-round pick from 2011 averaged 12.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, and shot 42% from the field. He also hit on 41.5% of his shots from three, representing another high percentage shooter who curates immediate offense when called upon.

Burks isn’t the most stout defender, but his ability to play multiple positions and rotate in different combinations was enough to convince the front office to keep him on a three-year, $30 million deal. Burks’s contract also has an out after the second season, as the Knicks eye a potential big-name free agent with the opening of more salary space.

Grade: B

4.) SG/SF: Evan Fournier

One of the Knicks’ more lucrative free-agent acquisitions was Evan Fournier, formerly of the Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic. Replacing Reggie Bullock as the team’s primary shooting guard, Fournier averaged 17.1 points last season over 30 minutes per game. Attempting 6.7 3-PT shots per game, he hit on 41.3%, a solid clip. The difference between Fournier and Bullock is that the former is able to create shots for himself, which should take pressure off power forward Julius Randle, who also signed an extension this off-season.

The Knicks landed Fournier on a four-year, $73 million deal. The team has an out after the third season, giving them a bit of flexibility down the road.

Grade: B

5.) PG: Kemba Walker

One of the biggest surprises of the off-season was the signing of Kemba Walker. Having landed him on a two-year, $17.9 million deal, the Knicks couldn’t imagine in their wildest dreams he would be available at such a great price point. Having struggled to stay healthy last season with a degenerative knee issue, Walker was only able to play in 43 games.

After the All-Star break, his statistics skyrocketed, but the injury lingered and eventually forced him to miss more time. At 30 years old, Walker was most recently an All-Star in 2020.

The veteran point guard averaged 19.3 points, 4.9 assists and shot 42% from the field last year. Finding an efficient way for Walker and Randle to play cohesively will be a challenge for New York but can’t be any worse than Payton running around aimlessly like a chicken with its head cut off.

As stated above, the duo of Rose and Walker should be great for limiting minutes and keeping both healthy for a full 82 game season.

Grade: A

6.) Taj Gibson

Gibson’s role on this team falls into two categories, extra reserve, and leadership. Gibson is an all-effort type of player who contributed valiantly during the postseason after Noel picked up an ankle injury. His value as an offensive weapon is next to none, but Taj plays relentless defense and sets the tone for the rest of the team. He signed a two-year, $10.1 million deal with the Knicks, but the 2nd year is non-guaranteed.

Grade: B-

BREAKING: Knicks agree with Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel on three-year deals

New York Knicks, Alec Burks

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, the New York Knicks have agreed to bring back Nerlens Noel and Alec Burks on individual three-year contracts.

Burks will stay with the Knicks for three years, $30 million, and Noel, three years, $32 million, signing very similar contracts that provide offensive and defensive proficiency on both ends of the floor.

Last season, Burks averaged 12.7 points, 2.2 assists, and shot 42% from the field. He impressively connected on 41.5% of his shots from range, averaging 5.0 attempts per game. Alec is a quality offensive play-maker, coming off the bench and giving the Knicks immediate point production when they needed it most. He can play both small forward, shooting guard and fill in at point guard if necessary.

They clearly value the former first-round pick, as his contract will expire at 33 years old. Continuity remains a priority for New York, as they also brought back Noel, who posted a career-high 2.2 blocked shots per game during the 2020-21 season. While he doesn’t offer much on offense, averaging 5.1 points, he is a solid complement to Mitchell Robinson, who will earn $1.8 million after the Knicks picked up his club option.

Expect the Knicks to be very active over the next few days, if not hours. They have approximately $17 million remaining in cap room with $15 million tied up in cap holds for Derrick Rose, Reggie Bullock, and $3.3 million in non-guaranteed money with Luca Vildoza.

Report: Knicks expected to re-sign both Nerlens Noel and Alec Burks as free agency looms

alec burks, knicks

The New York Knicks have their sights on former Boston Celtics shooting guard/small forward Evan Fournier. Having spent time with Orlando and Boston last season, Fournier averaged 17.1 points, potentially bringing a solid ball-handler to New York for the next few seasons. General manager Scott Perry has already traded for Fournier once in the past, so acquiring him would offer a familiar face.

However, the Knicks are also intrigued by some of their own, Including Center Nerlens Noel and versatile offensive weapon, Alec Burks.

According to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, the Knicks are expected to re-sign both Nerlens Noel and Alec Burks.

How did Noel and Burks impact the Knicks last season?

Nerlens Noel: Contract worth about $10 million per year

Noel is coming off a resurgent season, signing a one-year, $5 million deal with New York last year. At 27-years-old, Noel set a career-high with 2.2 blocks per game. While he doesn’t offer much on offense, he played in 64 games, supplementing the loss of Mitchell Robinson valiantly. He shot 61% from the field on 3.5 attempts per game, and with Robinson set to earn $1.8 million, overspending on Noel, a reliable defender, is a solid move.

Ultimately, the Knicks know exactly what they’re getting a Noel, a great shot blocker who protects the rim extremely well.

Alec Burks: Three years, $30 million

Burks was one of the more clutch players on the team last year, so retaining was likely a priority. The former first-round pick is expected to earn $10 million per season, averaging 12.7 points, 2.2 assists, and shooting 42% from the field in 2020. He also connected on 41.5% of his shots from range, a career-high, attempting 5.0 3’s per game.

It seems the Knicks are prioritizing continuity and believe their roster last season simply needed a few additions. Acquiring Fournier and having the money left over to sign a point guard would be an ideal situation, as it seems the team is looking to act quickly.

Should the Knicks consider bringing back Alec Burks for the 2021-22 season?

alec burks, knicks

One of the New York Knicks most impactful players this past year was shooting guard Alec Burks, who was an instant offensive producer off the bench for Tom Thibodeau’s squad. Burks signed a one-year, $6 million deal with the Knicks last season, and at 29 years old, proved he can be an adequate player that produces on a daily basis.

The former first round pick back in 2011 averaged 12.7 points, 2.2 assists, and 4.6 rebounds per game this past year. Playing 25.6 minutes per night, he also connected on .420 from the field and had nearly a 42% success rate from downtown. Overall, he was a sufficient scorer, offering clutch moments when the team needed him most in the 4th quarter (he had numerous double digit 4th Q performances).

While the Knicks’ offense struggled at times last year, Burks had the ability to score at three levels, handling the ball, operating off the pick and roll, and creating shots for others. Keeping him around for another season should be a no-brainer, as he also offers high effort defense and experience among a team filled with youth.

The only reason the Knicks wouldn’t consider bringing Burks back:

Unless the veteran is asking for a multi year deal with a significant pay raise, this should be an easy decision for the Knicks, who need as many solid depth pieces as they can possibly find. However, you could make the argument that the emergence of a Immanuel Quickley could eat into his time and make him irrelevant. After testing Quickley as a point guard last year, it is clear his future will likely be as a shooting guard — he is 3 inches shorter than Burks, and doesn’t offer the same ability to feature in isolation.

Overall, Quickley shouldn’t be the reason the Knicks pass on resigning Burks, and in fact, his impact would likely be far greater than the alternative, having adjusted to Thibodeau’s system and reliance on defense. A two year, $16 million deal with Alec might be sufficient, and would offer the Knicks familiar chemistry and experience with a team that is preparing to turn over in free agency to a degree.

NBA scouts divided on ‘one for the ages’ Knicks-Hawks series

new york knicks, julius randle

Too close to call!

That’s how NBA scouts view the New York Knicks-Atlanta Hawks series that will begin Sunday in a 15,000-packed Madison Square Garden.

The Knicks have swept the Hawks in the regular season but throw that record away from the window, as Tom Thibodeau said.

“It’s going to be really, really an interesting series. Not a lot of playoff experience on either side. I think the offense of Atlanta is probably a little more consistent than the offense of the New York Knicks. They have a lot of offensive weapons. But the grittiness and toughness and the defense of New York maybe can neutralize some of that,” said Michael Vandegarde, a former Philadelphia 76ers scout for 18 years, told Empire Sports Media on a phone call.

Both teams have ended their long playoff drought this season. The Knicks bucked the odds to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2013, capturing the fourth seed in Thibodeau’s first season with the team. The Hawks, on the other hand, had a coaching change midseason that propelled them to the fifth seed in the East after a slow start. Atlanta’s interim coach Nate McMillan had guided the Hawks to a 27-11 record since taking over from Lloyd Pierce, who was fired after a 14-20 start with a spate of injuries in the roster.

“I believe this Knicks vs. Hawks series will be one for the ages,” said Tony Coleman, a freelance NBA scout, in an email.

“Thibs and (Nate) McMillan both are defensive-minded coaches, respectively, at heart and will present unpredictable strategies to throw the other off their game plan. Two tremendously talented teams playing at another level this season — turning around the direction of the organization in New York’s case, and Atlanta trying to make a statement of being a team in the Eastern Conference to reckon with and not to be looked upon as an easy opponent.”

Another active NBA scout said that the key to this first-round matchup would boil down to execution. The Eastern Conference scout, who preferred not to be named, pointed out that this series is a classic matchup between offense and defense.

The Hawks ranked eighth in the Offensive Rating (115.9) and seventh in Net Rating (+4.5) since McMillan took over. On the flip side, the Knicks have transformed into a defensive juggernaut under Thibodeau. They ended the regular season as No.1 in points allowed from 18th last season, No.1 in opponent’s field goal percentage from 17th last season, and first in opponent’s 3-point percentage from 28th last season.

“This is going to be one of the closest series in the first round. The Hawks have solid outside shooters, but the Knicks have the best three-point defense. If every game goes down the wire, New York has more clutch players. They got Derrick Rose, Alec Burks, Julius Randle, and to some extent, RJ Barrett, who’s hit big shots this season. Atlanta has only Trae Young, but he’s new to this playoff environment, and maybe Danilo Gallinari and Lou Williams, but Lou shrunk in big moments against the Denver Nuggets in last year’s playoffs,” said the Eastern Conference scout.

Vandegarde expects a competitive series with both teams grinding out to the “last 8, 6 minutes of the game.”

“Who has a little more composure? Who gets higher-quality shots will play a big role in who will win this series,” Vandegarde said.

The biggest headache for the Knicks in this series is Young, who torched them with 24.7 points and 12.0 assists in their three matchups this season. For Vandegarde, who’s currently consulting for multiple NBA teams, the Memphis Grizzlies-Golden State Warriors play-in game could provide a blueprint for the Knicks on defending Young but with a caveat.

“It will be interesting to see what Thibs does [on Young]. I think it was interesting watching the game last night how Memphis guarded Stephen Curry. [Memphis] threw many double teams at him, and the supporting cast couldn’t make enough plays. Atlanta has a lot more offensive firepower and weapons than the rest of Golden State does,” Vandegarde said.

“I think you could double Trae and get the ball out of his hands, but Atlanta has three-point shooters, slashers, they got offensive rebounders. If you do that, the three-point shooting of Atlanta is a huge concern,” Vandegarde warned.

Coleman, a six-year pro scout who has done live scouting for TPG Sports Group (NBA Summer League) and behind-the-scenes work for a top Eastern Conference team in the past, also shares the same view on defending Young. But he wants the Knicks’ primary defender to be bigger and quicker.

“The best way to guard Trae, in my opinion, is to put a bigger guard on him with a quickness that will be as physical as possible on him. In addition, I would run and jump him with a second defender the minute he crosses the half-court line. In this case, he will have to pass. As a result, the ball is no longer in his hands, minimizing the dribble penetration, kick-outs, and lobs to Capela,” Coleman offered.

Thibodeau revealed earlier this week that he’s been contemplating on using Frank Ntilikina to shadow Young in the series. The embattled Elfrid Payton could remain as the starter, but his token minutes could be further reduced. But to Payton’s credit, he has been effective against Young when he’s the primary defender. Young has only scored two points on 2-of-8 shooting and dished out only two assists against a single turnover in the 14 minutes he was matched up against Payton, according to NBA.com.

Young’s penchant for baiting a foul is also a cause of concern for the Knicks. But Coleman said the Knicks could limit Young’s effectiveness by making him work harder on defense.

“Keep him off the foul line by limiting being in scenarios to foul him. Be relentless about denying him access to the ball while wearing him down over the course of the game with physical play ongoing. Make Atlanta play on one side of the court — not allowing ball reversal to keep Trae at bay, so to speak. Make him play defense. Post him up, make him run off a lot of P/R action to wear him down through physical contact and aggressiveness,” Coleman added.

Meanwhile, a Western Conference scout expects Randle to continue tormenting the Hawks in this series. Randle is averaging 37.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 6.7 assists against Atlanta this season. He dropped 40 and 44 points on the Hawks in their last two wins.

While De’Andre Hunter’s return could boost the Hawk’s defense, the NBA scout couldn’t see a single Atlanta player who could match up well with Randle. Even last year with a healthy Hunter, Randle was unstoppable. The Knicks’ main engine had two monster double-doubles (35 points, 18 rebounds, and 33 points, 11 rebounds) in 2020.

“Their only chance is to double him,” the Western Conference scout said. “So it’s going to be important for the Knicks’ outside shooters to be sharp and consistent throughout the series.”

The Knicks are the only team in the league that ranked in the top 10 in 3-point percentage (39.2%, third), but in the bottom 10 in the percentage of their shots that came from 3-point range (34.7%, 24th), according to NBA.com. But they have six players who shot 40 percent from deep.

In many ways, both coaches — Thibodeau and McMillan mirror their teams’ bid in this year’s playoffs. Thibodeau has been demonized for his bitter ending in Minnesota. A playoff success with a young core in New York can absolve that if their surprising regular-season run hasn’t done that yet. Same with McMillan, who is out to put his first-round failures with the Indiana Pacers behind him with this fresh start with the Hawks.

“Thibs is a coach of the Year candidate if he’s not gonna win it. Nate has done a good job after taking it over,” Vandegarde said. And I think that’s everything you could ask for from a coach of the year, but ever since Nate took over, Atlanta has been great as well. I think they’re both extremely quality coaches and quality people.”

The Hawks were expected to make the playoffs with several additions of veteran players to their young core, but it took McMillan to unlock their potential. The Knicks’ turnaround is one of the biggest stories this season.

“I’m not sure if there’s a really big edge from either one guy. I think it’s gonna play out on the players on the court — how the two teams will handle the playoffs atmosphere and intensity. I think that’s the big key. Can Julius (Randle), who has never been to the playoffs, can mimic what he’s done the whole year? Can RJ (Barrett) step up? Can (Trae) Young do it? Can Kevin Huerter do it? Those guys don’t have any playoff experience. Can these guys bring their A-game throughout the series,” Vandegarde said.

Coleman picked the Knicks to win the series owing to their defense. The Western Conference scout also sees the Knicks as a slight favorite.

“Nothing against Nate but Thibs’ brilliance will come out on top in this series,” the Western Conference scout said.

The Eastern Conference scout and Vandegarde, on the other hand, are picking the Hawks because they believe Atlanta is equipped with more firepower.

“I’m excited about the series. I think it can go either way. I don’t think it’ll be a shock in either direction. But if I had to choose, I’d pick the Hawks,” Vandegarde said.

Vandegarde explained that Atlanta has more than enough firepower to overwhelm the Knicks’ defense.

“In the playoffs, it seems to be easier to take one or two players and limit their offensive opportunities. If they can take away Julius (Randle), there’s a lot less on the table for the Knicks offensively,” Vandegarde said.

“Obviously, RJ Barrett has been great, and Derrick Rose has been great. But that’s really the end of the offense. I know they shot it well from 3. But they’re not shooting a ton of 3s. That’s part of their game, but it’s not a major weapon like it is for the Hawks. I just think Bogdan Bogdanovic, (Kevin) Huerter, their three-point ability, John Collins, (Clint) Capela’s offensive rebounding and scoring, bringing Lou Williams and Danilo Gallinari off the bench who have a major experience in the NBA as well as playoff experience and their offensive abilities, I just think in the end that will probably win out,” Vandegarde concluded.

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Thibodeau addresses Knicks’ Elf-ant in the room; Ntilikina as Trae stopper?

Tom Thibodeau may bury struggling Elfrid Payton on the bench during crucial moments of the game, but he will never throw his beleaguered starting point guard under the bus.

The New York Knicks have reached this far, with Thibodeau sticking to his guns with Payton as a starter. But Payton’s role had been reduced to token starts for the Knicks during the home stretch, with his favorite point guard Derrick Rose taking a larger role off the bench.

“The depth of our team is one of our strengths. There are things that Elfrid provides for us that are big assets to our team — his size, his defense,” Thibodeau said on his zoom call with reporters on Wednesday. Those are important factors. And then you look at it in totality. How does the team function?”

The Knicks have won 16 of their last 20 games despite Payton’s offensive woes. Payton hasn’t breached the 20-minute barrier since April 28. His confidence took a hit with only a total of six points in their final six games. He shot at an atrocious 3-for-19 from the floor during that ugly stretch.

“As is the case with most players, there will be ups and downs. You don’t have to shoot well to play well. Just go out there and give us what you can. And every game is different,” said Thibodeau of Payton.

“The thing that I love about our team is if someone’s not doing good, another guy steps in, and if he’s doing good, everyone is cheering for that guy. The most important thing is the team winning. That’s where I want the focus to lie,” he added.

Thibodeau was able to hide Payton’s deficiencies with Rose closing out games and Alec Burks getting back in the groove.

Rose and Burks will figure heavily in the rotation as Thibodeau will rely on their playoff experience. The veteran backcourt duo has a combined 63 playoff games under their belts.

“The things that you can do well, focus on those things. The things that you don’t do well, you stay away from those things. Play with your strengths and cover your weaknesses and do that as a team. And if you do that as a team, the team will have success and that’s what we’re focused on,” Thibodeau said.

Aside from Rose and Burks, Thibodeau may reach deep in his pocket in his bid to slow down Trae Young, who averaged 24.7 points and 12.0 assists in three games against the Knicks this season. Thibodeau admitted he’s been contemplating a lot about utilizing Frank Ntilikina, who’s been out of the rotation for most of the season.

“Frank has been sort of that role as a defensive stopper. He adds great value to our team,” Thibodeau said.

“What you guys don’t see is — he and Kevin Knox and a bunch of other guys who are not in the rotation — how hard they work in practice. We value practice greatly. They’re providing a lot to our team. And whatever their strengths are, we’re gonna try to take advantage of that. And we want them to continue to improve, and that’s an important part of what we’re doing here. All our players are critical.”

If Ntilikina manages to sneak into the rotation, it will be interesting to see how Thibodeau will spread out the minutes.

Will Payton’s minutes get further reduced, or will Ntilikina cut into rookie Immanuel Quickley’s playing time?

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks News: Julius Randle on his future with Knicks, secret ingredient in post-season

new york knicks, julius randle

The New York Knicks are just two regular-season games away from starting their postseason journey. While they currently contain the final guaranteed playoff spot with the 6th seed, there is potential for the Knicks to maneuver upward. If they can win the next two contests and either Miami or Atlanta lose, they could leapfrog one of them to get a better standing.

Ultimately, home-court advantage would be an astronomical benefit, but even so, the fact the Knicks are in the postseason is somewhat of a miracle. Thanks to a variety of factors, including head coach Tom Thibodeau and the rise of Julius Randle, the Knicks have become not only a destination for stars in the future but a team ready to win now.

Randle, who has one year left on his contract, will likely be seeking a max deal with the Knicks. He will earn nearly $20 million next season. Upper management might be smart to wait and see if he continues dominating at this level. With only one year of elite production, it might be premature to offer him a long-term deal immediately, but Randle wants to stay in New York for the rest of his career.

“I love playing in New York,” Randle said on the Victory Podcast. “I want to retire as a New York Knick.”

Overall, Julius is only 25 years old and could play elite basketball for the 5-6 seasons. If he continues to play at this level, the Knicks shouldn’t hesitate to retain him, as acquiring stars players in free agency has become increasingly more difficult with player options and big money.

The Knicks have a secret weapon for the playoffs:

One of the more underappreciated players on the roster is Alec Berks, who returned from contracting COVID-19 several days ago. After sitting out against the Lakers, Burks bounced back with a vengeance, willing his team to victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday evening. Scoring 30 points and recording 10 rebounds, Burks was unstoppable on offense and was helping his team retain the ball on defense.

Burks is averaging 12.6 points per game this year, including 2.2 assists and 4.5 rebounds. He shooting .416 from the field and .409 from beyond the arc, one of his better success rates over the course of his 10-year career.

Having Alec healthy and available during the playoffs well prove to be a significant boost, as he offers immediate offense and the ability to hit clutch shots down the stretch.

Knicks keep up in race for No.4 with comeback win over Spurs

The New York Knicks are already in the playoffs, but they just don’t want to crash the party. They want to host a first-round series for their fans.

With Miami (39-31) and Atlanta (40-41) costing to easy victories earlier, there was immense pressure in New York. And with their backs against the wall, the Knicks delivered just like they always did for the most part of the season.

Down 17 late in the third quarter, RJ Barrett rediscovered his shooting touch as the Knicks turned back San Antonio Spurs, 102-98, Thursday night to stay in the hunt for a top-four finish.

“We definitely want that fourth seed,” Barrett said. “We want that homecourt (advantage).”

Barrett waxed hot with 12 points in a 21-2 Knicks run, bridging the last 3:45 of the third quarter and the first minute of the fourth period.

Alec Burks punctuated that run with a 3, finishing off what Barrett has started.

Burks scored 16 of his season-high 30 points in the fourth quarter. There was no sign of rust in his return from a three-game layoff due to contused knee. His three-pointer with 3:16 remaining broke the 90-deadlock. He hit another one to extend the Knicks’ lead to four after a DeMar DeRozan basket.

Burks’ explosion off the bench cushioned the impact of Derrick Rose‘s absence. Rose (ankle), who played a season-high 39 minutes in their previous game, was a late scratch. But Tom Thibodeau later revealed it’s nothing serious.

“[He] just needed a day [off],” Thibodeau said about Rose’s situation. “It’s day-to-day. We knew we’re getting a couple of guys back. So we thought it would be good to give him a rest.”

They almost regret it with the Spurs staggering them behind DeRozan’s sweet midrange game and Dejounte Murray hunting the Knicks’ backcourt.

Then Barrett decided to take over and kept the Knicks’ homecourt bid alive.

”He hit big shot after big shot to help make up ground for us,” Thibodeau said of Barrett’s bounce-back performance. 

Julius Randle clocked in his usual all-around game (25 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists) and knocked down a clutch jumper with 56.4 seconds left for a 98-94 Knicks’ cushion.

After Keldon Johnson’s three-point play closed the gap, 98-97, Burks and Barrett sealed the win with four free throws.

Barrett finished with 24 points, nine rebounds, and five assists to bounce back from his eight-point dud against the Los Angeles Lakers. He was 5-for-9 from the three-point zone.

Burks added 10 rebounds for his third double-double of the season.

”He’s like a swiss-army knife. We could use him in multiple positions. You can run him to catch-and-shoot. He can run the pick-and-roll. He can post up. There are so many things you can do with him. And he fits wherever you want. He can start or play with the bench,” Thibodeau said of Burks. 

Taj Gibson was also exceptional off the bench as he tallied nine rebounds, four blocks, and six points in 22 minutes.

“We have the right veterans. Those guys have been great for our young guys. They made this team function at a very high level,” Thibodeau said.

Aside from minor hiccups, the Knicks have been playing their best basketball in the homestretch.

They are looking to sweep their back-to-back matinee games against the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday and Boston Celtics on Sunday while hoping for a Heat loss to jump back to No. 4. But on top of that, they aim to stay sharp as they brace for their first playoffs appearance in eight years. 

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks News: Alec Burks COVID update, Rockets must be crushed

New York Knicks, Alec Burks

After a few days of rest, the New York Knicks are gearing up to take on the Houston Rockets on Sunday, and veteran guard Alec Burks is available to return. However, the Knicks are taking it easy with the former first-round pick in 2011, as he fights his way back from COVID-19 in the fatigue that comes with it.

Head coach Tom Thibodeau wants to make sure that Burks is 100% healthy and his stamina is up to par before utilizing him in one of the most important road trips of the year for New York. The Knicks will take on the Houston Rockets on Sunday and take their talents to the West Coast shortly after, where they will play the Phoenix Suns, LA Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, and San Antonio Spurs.

Having Burks available will be extremely influential, and while the Knicks managed to win without him while he recovered from Covid, he has played a massive part in their success this year.

“He’s got to get his conditioning up to speed,” Thibodeau said. “When he’s comfortable, we’ll get him in there.”

Burks is averaging 12.6 points, 2.2 assists, and 4.5 total rebounds per game over 25.8 minutes. He is shooting .414 from the field and .408 from beyond the arc, the best success rate in his entire career. As not only a veteran mentor for the youngsters, he curates instant offense for a team that has lacked in the category at times.

Despite his loss the past few weeks, Thibodeau understands that his team is extremely deep, and they managed to win games without him, but gaining him back is important.

“I think it’s one of the strengths of our club in that we do have a deep team,” Thibodeau said.

Not only do the Knicks have an extremely deep team, but they all also have the same mindset and mentality towards victory. They understand that every single game has significant importance toward their playoff hopes, as they currently said, 1.5 games ahead of the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference.