Injuries have ended the NBA MVP race, but the Knicks are threatening to make a run at the championship with their recent form.
How seriously should we take the Knicks?
Jalen Brunson is the real deal. He arrived in New York as a very good player and one that would ensure improvement at the very least. What has transpired is a rapid rise towards superstardom.
The Garden Factor plays a part in all of this. Where Brunson might be behind some of the biggest names in the game from a statistical point of view, he’s lighting up the most iconic venue in the NBA every time he steps foot on the floor. That means something in the superstar discussion.
Still dropped 36/6/10 on 48.4% FG.
FYI, Jalen Brunson is a superstar. pic.twitter.com/ASdyBDtwRj
— Big Knick Energy (@BigKnickEnergy_) February 4, 2024
Still, averaging 27.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game while shooting 48.1% from the floor and 41.3% from beyond the arc, Brunson has led the Knicks to a 32-18 record for 4th in the Eastern Conference. They’ve only just had a nine-game winning streak snapped and are demanding at least some consideration in the Eastern Conference Winner market at $21.
But how real is all of this right now?
The Knicks are deep. Julius Randle is putting up All-Star numbers at 24 points, 9.2 rebounds and 5 assists per game. The introduction of OG Anunoby has provided the Knicks with efficient shooting, an elite defensive presence, and more size and versatility on both ends of the court. Donte DiVincenzo is playing career-best basketball; every team can use a Josh Hart. They lack the bonafide second star, though.
Plenty have successfully argued that Brunson can lead a team to a title in recent weeks. Can that team be with Julius Randle as the second guy?
It’s worth noting New York’s record against teams over .500 sits at only 11-16. While their overall record impresses and shows their upward trajectory, their record against good teams flattens it somewhat. Beating the bad teams is a crucial step to becoming a good one. It’s the first step. It’s not often teams start to make the second and become championship contenders in the same season.
They have beaten good teams of late. The Knicks finished on top of the Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat throughout the winning streak and beat the Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers earlier in the year. Their current record against teams over .500 isn’t a death kneel on their championship chances. The record can improve, and it will if they keep their current level of play up.
Trading for Anunoby raised eyebrows for some at the time but it is proving to be a masterstroke. Since his arrival in the new year, the Knicks have played with the best record in the NBA to rank 1st in net rating, 1st in defensive rating and 6th in offensive rating.
They have arguably been the best team in the NBA to start 2024.
I’m not kidding the Knicks are legit title contenders if they can get back Julius Randle at full health this season. They’ve been that good since the Anunoby trade pic.twitter.com/ChSElK1vWF
— NBA Memes (@NBAMemes) January 29, 2024
The Knicks are on the right path. They’re one of the most exciting teams in the NBA, and Brunson is quickly becoming one of the brightest stars. However, until they beat the good teams around the league more consistently, they won’t rise into the conversation of genuine championship contenders. Going seven minutes without a point in the 4th quarter against the improving Los Angeles Lakers in their last game captures the relative shortcomings of this group.
Still, by beating the bad teams and piling up wins, the value is in the Knicks to finish with Over 48.5 wins.
Embiid injury & the MVP conversation
Joel Embiid is injured again and the conversation around the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award is over for now.
Embiid has a displaced flap in the meniscus which is bad enough that he is considering surgery. Should he opt out of surgery and hope to play on, it’s still unlikely that he will play the required number of games to be considered for the award.
In a typically reactionary nature, the NBA implemented new rules this season that require players to feature in a minimum of 65 games in the regular season to be a candidate for major awards. Given that Embiid has already missed 13 games and is currently sat on the sidelines, his MVP campaign is all but over.
He perhaps should have been already, but Nikola Jokic is the overwhelming favourite to win it with Embiid out of the way. Jokic is the best player in basketball right now, and while the Denver Nuggets aren’t at their very best, he is still dominating to put up 26.3 points, 12.3 rebounds and 9.1 assists per game. On the advanced stats side, he leads the NBA in win shares, box plus-minus and value over replacement.
With Embiid now out of the picture and no clear number two in the market right now, the MVP conversation is over.
It’s Jokic’s to lose.
LaVine Out For The Season
There had been enough noise around to suggest that Zach LaVine was on the trade block ahead of the deadline.
Given their struggles, the Los Angeles Lakers were a team mentioned as possible suitors. However, with LaVine now out for the rest of the season and the Lakers playing relatively well of late, that ship has sailed.
Bulls guard Zach LaVine will undergo surgery on right foot and be out the rest of the season.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 3, 2024
The Lakers are still expected to do something before the deadline. LeBron James didn’t elaborate on his cryptic hourglass tweet, and the front office ruled out trading him away, so the Lakers are still fighting for contention. They have to improve the team around James and surely haven’t been sucked in by a good two or three weeks from D’Angelo Russell.
While they’re way out at $31 to win the championship, you can never entirely rule them out so long as James is healthy and Anthony Davis is defending in the way he is right now.
With a lengthy home stand coming up at the end of the Grammy road trip, now is the time to consider the Over on 42.5 wins at $1.93.
Steph Curry joined Kobe Bryant as the only other player over 35 years old to drop 60 points in a game in NBA history this week.
He has kept the Golden State Warriors above water throughout the first half of the season.
They’re now slowly starting to look like their old selves…
STEPH CURRY TONIGHT:
58% FG pic.twitter.com/oR4AOCNDY5
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) February 4, 2024
While the Warriors are only 3-3 in their last six games, two of those losses are by a combined two points.
Like the Lakers, they’re getting there and have one of the easier remaining schedules in the league.
NBA Draft News
We don’t often start to cover the NBA Draft at this point of the season but recent changes have pointed us to the markets.
The NBA this week announced it will run the draft across two days. Much of the first round remains the same, but teams are given more time to make their selection in the second round. Of course, there are the benefits for broadcasters with this decision.
Tankathon ranks the Detroit Pistons ($6.50), Washington Wizards ($6.50) and San Antonio Spurs ($6.75) at 14% to be awarded the No.1 pick in the NBA Draft. Losers of six on the bounce and unlikely to improve any time soon, the Charlotte Hornets ($7.50) are also putting themselves in the conversation.
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