Julius Randle is the no-doubt MVP, but who else takes home midseason hardware for the new-look New York Knicks?
It’s the back end of the All-Star Break, and the New York Knicks aren’t automatically tanking for a spot in the NBA Draft lottery!
No, I’m dead serious. This isn’t me hosting the new online print edition of Punk’d, nor are Johnny Knoxville and Bam Margera waiting to blast air horns in everyone’s ears. Here, I’ll say it one more time just so it’s loud and clear and not a cruel prank.
The New York Knicks are a modest 19-18, good enough to be the No. 5 team in the Eastern Conference. Julius Randle is in the midst of a career season and fresh off his first All-Star appearance. Tom Thibodeau’s coaching has been impactful across the board and the results have Knicks fans begging for more.
Now, seeing as how we’re at the midseason mark, let’s make like The Office and have our own personal Dundies.
Or, in this case, let’s do some ESNY New York Knicks midseason awards.
Most Valuable Player: Julius Randle
This goes without saying, but Randle is having that good a season for the New York Knicks. The former five-star recruit and later lottery pick has finally broken out in New York much to the delight of fans and teammates alike.
On the year, Randle is averaging 23.2 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game, all career highs. He has not missed a single one of New York’s 37 games. Without him, the New York Knicks would absolutely not be as good as they have been this season.
Randle has also improved his defense and is posting a career-high 2.1 VORP on the year. This number is only going to climb higher and higher as the season progresses.
He isn’t an elite scoring guard and may have to put in some extra work in the second half to enter the actual MVP conversation. Given how bad the Knicks have been the last 20 years, the fact that Randle isn’t being discussed as an MVP candidate is almost criminal.
Rookie of the Year: Immanuel Quickley
Immanuel Quickley went from being a name who made New York Knicks fans groan on Draft Day to the sleeper of his draft class. The former Kentucky Wildcat has wowed fans with his seemingly unlimited three-point range and his knack for hitting floaters in the lane.
On the year, Quickley is averaging 12.2 points per game despite meager 38.9% shooting. That number isn’t ideal, but he’s also 21 and still learning how to be an NBA point guard. He’s still shooting 38.1% from three-point range while being a fiery spark off the bench.
Plus, he’s completely outperformed fellow Knicks rookie Obi Toppin despite being picked 17 selections later.
Sixth Man of the Year: Alec Burks
Alec Burks has gone from random free agency signing to a beloved boost off the New York Knicks bench. Even after missing nearly a month of action due to injury, Burks has remained a valuable asset in New York.
In 25 games, Burks is averaging 11.1 points in 24.7 minutes per game, not bad for a bench player at all. Even better, he’s shooting 40.2% from three with a true shooting percentage (TS%) of 55.2%. More often than not, when the Knicks’ offense gets stagnant, he turns the tide with either a well-timed shot from downtown or fadeaway jumper.
It remains to be seen whether Burks will remain in New York all season or be traded at the deadline. Still, at midseason, the Knicks really couldn’t ask for a better sixth man.
Defensive Player of the Year: Nerlens Noel
In the past month, Nerlens Noel has gone from New York Knicks backup center to elite defensive anchor. Since starter Mitchell Robinson went down with a broken hand, Noel has averaged eight points and 8.1 rebounds per game, plus 2.2 blocks.
Not only that, but Noel also leads the NBA in defensive box plus/minus (DBPM) at a respectable 3.4 clip. Noel has also averaged 32.5 minutes per game in Robinson’s absence, well above his career mark of 22.1.
Even if his role as a starter is temporary, the man is bringing the goods when it comes to his defense.
Coach of the Year: Kenny Payne
Hear me out on this one. Yes, Tom Thibodeau is the head coach and is the hands-down front runner for NBA Coach of the Year. He came in what was supposed to be another rebuilding year, and the New York Knicks are instead a playoff team.
But let’s not discount what Kenny Payne brings to the table either. Remember, he was one of John Calipari’s assistants at Kentucky for ten years, so he knows how to build winning teams.
Yet, Payne’s greatest contribution has been simply being there for the players. He motivates them to be their best, and having four former Wildcats on the roster helps the rest of the team buy into what he’s selling.
“The biggest thing about ‘KP’ is he wants to see you be the best version of you,” Randle told Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated. Not to discount Thibodeau’s incredible efforts, but it’s interesting to wonder just how different this team would be without Payne being everyone’s cheerleader.
Most Improved Player: RJ Barrett
We all saw RJ Barrett’s potential as a rookie last year. Now, as a second-year wing, he continues to blossom as a cornerstone of these new New York Knicks.
Though his scoring has only seen a modest increase, up to 16.5 points per game from 14.3 as a rookie, Barrett has improved where it matters. His field goal percentage has risen over four points to 44.3%. He has gone from shooting 32% from three as a rookie to 35% now. He’s still just 20 years old, so the elite potential is still there.
All this to say RJ Barrett is the New York Knicks’ most improved player for one reason: confidence. He has found multiple ways to do his signature left-handed drive to the basket. Incorporating a mid-range jumper into his game has done wonders for him. Most important of all, he no longer rushes his threes.
It may not seem like it but just be patient. Barrett will look like a legitimate star sooner than we think.
FOR FULL STORY ON STANDARD WEBSITE: ESNY hands out the New York Knicks 2020-21 Midseason Awards | Elite Sports NY