The Knicks Hype Is Out of Control, And Here’s Why
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Immanuel Quickley #5 and Jalen Brunson #11 of the New York Knicks.
Break up the New York Knicks!
Those scrappy Knickerbockers have won nine in a row after a double overtime win against the Boston Celtics. They’re currently up four games in the loss column for a playoff spot outright and look headed back to the playoffs.
It’s an exciting time. The Knicks have the fourth-best offense in the NBA, schedule-adjusted.
Tom Thibodeau’s team has the fourth-best offense! Miracles abound!
As a result, there is starting to be conversations about various awards. Most notably, Jalen Brunson now has the second-shortest odds for Most Improved Player at +350, and Immanuel Quickley has absolutely skyrocketed up the board for Sixth Man of the year all the way to -110.
What a feel-good story!
I want to stress that the Knicks are not paper tigers. They’re legitimately good; the defense is middling but has some upside. They have depth, versatility, and execute at a high level.
Julius Randle has been phenomenal a year after he struggled so much Knicks fans booed him, and Brunson has proven to be worth the $120 million contract he signed with the Knicks.
New York might even make a ruckus in the first round vs. Cleveland.
OK, now that I’ve said enough nice things about the Knicks, let’s get to the point of the matter: Under no circumstances does it make sense for Brunson or Quickley to be this high up on the oddsboard for those awards. This is pure New York exceptionalism playing out in a narrative media structure. I’ll explain.
Most Improved Player
Let’s start with Brunson. Here are the numbers, both base level and advanced, for the leading candidates for Most Improved Player:
So what exactly has Brunson been better at?
If Shai Gilgeous-Alexander were on the Knicks, we would have already sent the trophy to the engravers with his name on the order. If Lauri Markkanen were on the Knicks, we’d be talking about next year’s award already.
Brunson has been terrific, but his overall impact hasn’t been the same as the other guys. With Brunson on the floor, the Knicks have a +2.3 Net Rating. That’s good! They win by a decent amount for a team with their tier. But they’re +3.4 with him on the bench.
That’s not a bad thing; the bench plays mostly against bench players, and the starters play against starters. Brunson is, again, perfectly good. With SGA on the floor, the Thunder are +3.6 with a much worse roster, and with Markkanen, the Jazz are +3.9. Those two players’ teams are better with their guys on the floor than the Knicks are with Brunson, despite a better overall roster.
So the numbers don’t lean towards Brunson. The impact doesn’t lean towards Brunson. It’s certainly true that players from playoff teams have won the award in recent years, so there’s precedent for Brunson. But when we look at the success of the Knicks, it’s tied to Brunson but not so much as to deserve the majority of it.
Brunson is shooting basically the same as last season, his assists are only slightly up. Essentially he just has higher usage. I wouldn’t argue Brunson hasn’t improved; he has. He’s the main guy on a playoff team now, and especially in New York, the pressure is different. But the key part being “MOST” improved is tough to argue here.
Meanwhile, SGA is putting up MVP-level numbers, and that kind of leap, even after a great half-season last year, should matter, even if SGA is minutes-restricted in the final 18-or-so games. Either that or Markkanen’s incredible efficiency and move from a bit role player on Cleveland to an All-Star on a team that was supposed to be rebuilding should be recognized.
Sixth Man of the Year
This is where things get flat-out ridiculous.
Here’s the brief history of this award: The best scorer on a good team wins.
Doesn’t have to be a great team. Just a good team. Can’t be a bad team. But he has to be a bucket-getter on a pretty good team.
There’s a pattern here.
Now here’s the scoring for the four best candidates (I’m throwing in Bennedict Mathurin because he belongs):
Quickley has started more games (11) than any of those players, which is going to boost this production, and yet he’s averaging the fewest points per game of the group.
Now, I want to be clear, I wish this weren’t how the award was decided. And if this is the start of a new era where the overall impact on both ends matters more than points per game, I’m all for it.
Even if we go that route, Boston’s Malcolm Brogdon, the co-favorite at many books, has better advanced metrics (particularly VORP, and the Celtics have been better with him on the floor.
Meanwhile, there’s this:
The problem with awarding a player Sixth Man based on his impact, and not his production, is that oftentimes it’s combinations or lineups that make a difference.
Again, Quickley has been awesome on both ends of the floor and a huge reason for the Knicks’ success.
But for Quickley to be voted Sixth Man of the Year, you have to:
A. Ignore the precedent of the award (which I don’t mind, but it certainly feels like a one-year exception for a New York player)
B. Reward impact but not the most impactful bench player
C. React almost entirely to this nine-game winning streak from the Knicks in late February and March as if it matters more than the rest of the season.
All of that is bad logic.
And yet the odds have moved significantly, so clearly, either the money in the market thinks these players will have pull or the oddsmakers are concerned they will.
Immanuel Quickley has hijacked the NBA's 6 Man Of The Year race.@IQ_GodSon 6MOY odds @PointsBetUSA this season:
+175: March 3
+600: March 2
+1500: Feb 28
+10000: Feb 24
+25000: Feb 27
+50000: Nov 17 pic.twitter.com/38zO5QUe6J
— Sam McQuillan (@sam_mcquill) March 6, 2023
In 2021, Tom Thibodeau earned Coach of the Year honors mostly for making the Knicks relevant. We’re seeing a similar effect. This isn’t new. Being a “star” in New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago will always carry more weight.
If anything, it’s a sign of how broken Sixth Man of the Year is that there are no real candidates that fit the obvious “gunner on a playoff team” candidate. Most Improved is compromised by various intentions from the teams with the best candidates toward their longterm goals.
Who knows if voters will be swayed by the New York media blitz about the first time the Knicks have been relevant in a very long time. But while the Knicks are fun and good, their candidates for the awards are neither worthy of winning nor of the market movement they’ve seen in the last week.
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