As ABC/ESPN's top NBA game day analyst, Jeff Van Gundy has witnessed … or perhaps been subjected to … many nationally televised New York Knicks games. Does he expect any of those contests to earn the national treatment in May?
Van Gundy, best known for his days at the helm of the team from 1996 through 2001, was warily optimistic about the Knicks' 2022-23 postseason fortunes in an interview with the New York Post. While he warned that the team was "not even close to a lock" for the Eastern Conference Play-In Tournament involving the seventh through 10th seeds, he countered the idea of further disappointment by teasing the possibility of earning bigger and greater affairs.
"They could shock the world and be a playoff team, but I look at the East and I’d have to say eighth to 13th is where they should be predicted (to finish)," Van Gundy told Marc Berman. "The Knicks have good players, but you line it up against the competition in the East, and this roster is not on the same level."
Even with the new nine-figure deals bestowed to RJ Barrett
Van Gundy, possibly trying to extend any sort of good vibes his former employers' way, does lay out a clear path to contention: Barrett, Brunson, and Julius Randle must graduate from the "fringe All-Star" status Van Gundy has placed upon them.
"(If) the Knicks are to make a jump in the standings, they have to have a guy, or two guys, to build around. They still don’t have that building block, from a star player’s standpoint," Van Gundy said. "They still don’t have that building block, from a star player’s standpoint.’’
Pressure will undoubtedly be high on Barrett and Brunson, each of whom will have to maintain some strong performances teased at the end of last season: Barrett became the youngest Knicks to average at least 20 points per game while Brunson rose to the occasion during the Dallas Mavericks' run to the Western Conference Finals.
Van Gundy, however, believes that the Knicks' fate could instead mostly rely upon the redemption of Randle. The veteran was a major part of the Knicks' return to the postseason in 2021, earning an All-Star nod and the Most Improved Player Award, but saw his statistics take a drastic dip last year. He's likewise playing on a nine-digit contract, having earned a $120 million extension for his MIP efforts.
“Randle's bounce-back is the No. 1 factor and it’s how he addresses last season,’’ Van Gundy said. “Has he looked inward or (is) he still going to be funky?"
The Knicks are currently slated for 10 games on the networks of ESPN this year, including their season opener on Oct. 19 in Memphis.
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