New Look Knicks

The Knicks look to advance their playoff efforts with a trade for Raptors OG Anunoby.

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By Carmen Gomez-Villalva

Ending 2023 with the first big splash of the NBA trade season, the New York Knicks acquired Toronto Raptors forwards OG Anunoby and Precious Achiuwa and guard Malachi Flynn in exchange for Knicks guards Immanuel Quickley and RJ Barrett and the Detroit Pistons’ 2024 second-round pick. However, the trade can be simplified to its centerpieces: Anunoby for Quickley and Barrett.

Though Anunoby’s 15 points, three assists, and four rebounds per game may seem lackluster, he is still playing at a Defensive Player of the Year-caliber level. In his seven years with Toronto, Anunoby has been their main defender. Given his seven-foot-two-inch wingspan, footwork, and basketball IQ, the Raptors used his versatility to guard the opposing team’s best players. Per NBA University, Anunoby was in the 99th percentile for matchup difficulty last season and players only made 21 percent of their shots against him in isolation situations. In that same season, Anunoby was a part of the NBA’s All-Defensive Second Team and was the league leader in steals.

Anunoby is also the epitome of a ‘three and D’ player as he can work off the ball and shoot threes at a 37 percent rate. Given New York’s isolation-heavy offense through guard Jalen Brunson and forward Julius Randle, Anunoby’s skill set will be valuable for the Knicks’ system. The Knicks trading away Barrett allows them to space the floor more as his offensive game relied on drives to the basket without efficient shooting. Brunson and Randle now have more opportunities to carry the load of the offense while creating more ball movement.

Through his first four games with New York, Anunoby has already demonstrated the large impact he can have on the team. Though having just arrived, he is quickly gelling with his new teammates, having a plus-85 in his first four games—the highest in Knicks history and second highest all-time in the NBA. “OG’s fit in seamlessly. He doesn’t force anything. He plays the right way, makes the right plays,” Randle said after a win against the Chicago Bulls. In this new OG era, the Knicks are undefeated, as of January 10, with a win against the Western Conference’s top-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves and a 36-point blowout win against the Eastern Conference’s third-seeded Philadelphia 76ers. During that stretch, the Knicks’ defensive rating improved from 115.4 to 103.1 points, making them the second-best defense in the league, and their offensive rating improved from 117.3 to 120.8 points, placing their offense in the top 10. A versatile wing, Anunoby has proven to help bring new life to both sides of whatever team he is on.

Even though Anunoby has typically gone under the radar, his time in New York will certainly increase his marketability to other teams this offseason. Per Bleacher Report, Anunoby is expected to decline his $20 million player option and could garner a contract worth more than $30 million. However, the Knicks could get a hometown discount given Anunoby’s love and connection to the team. “When I found out it was the Knicks, I was definitely excited. I’ve always liked the team. I grew up a fan of basketball, so I always watched the Knicks,” Anunoby said. In addition, his agent is Sam Rose, the son of Leon Rose, the president of basketball operations for the Knicks and former head of the basketball division at Creative Artists Agency (CAA). Given the CAA connections—the likes of players Brunson, Randle, Isaiah Hartenstein, and Josh Hart and coaches Tom Thibodeau, Johnnie Bryant, and Rick Brunson—it is no surprise that Anunoby is reported to be willing to compromise with the Knicks about his future contract.

However, the Knicks are not done just yet. Given that they lost Quickley’s significant 15 points per game from off the bench, the Knicks will have to look to the trade market to find a replacement. Many have seen Portland Trail Blazers guard Malcolm Brogdon as a strong option with his 15 points per game, but there are concerns about past injury issues. Another possibility is Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell who was heavily linked to the Knicks in trade talks last season, but with all the injuries the Cavaliers are suffering and their high playoff hopes, it seems unlikely they will give up such a valuable player. A likelier option seems to be Atlanta Hawks guard Dejounte Murray. The Hawks’ trade for Murray has been a large disappointment as almost halfway through the season they are still on the outside looking into the play-in. Thus, the Hawks have allegedly already made Murray available to trade, and the Knicks have the assets to make the trade work with five first-round picks and an expiring $18 million contract to make the money work.

With a relatively young core, the Knicks should continue to slowly build their team by making smart depth-filling moves that strengthen their skills and chemistry. By being patient, the Knicks can make the best move possible while seeing how a core of Brunson, Randle, and Anunoby could work out in the playoffs. “If you use your assets on the wrong guy, you’re stuck. New York has an opportunity to wait out the market, and that player may become available for them,” NBA analyst Adrian Wojnarowski, who has ties to CAA, said. After decades of struggle, the Knicks should wait and avoid making an impulsive trade that could hinder their bright future. 

The Knicks will be looking to continue the playoff efforts, no matter what trade talks hold. With a strong group of players who are building chemistry, the team believes they can win it all. “We genuinely feel like we have a chance to win versus anybody we play against,” Randle said. Currently in the fourth seed, the Knicks will be fighting to move up the rankings and potentially make a deep run in the NBA playoffs.