Last week, in the wake of the New York Knicks' rollicking eight-game win streak, the idea of a long-awaited Knicks renaissance surged. New York optimism was everywhere.
Jalen Brunson looked like a superstar. So did Julius Randle. The pieces around them suddenly seemed perfectly constructed, a well-fused balance of offense and defense, prodded by togetherness and depth not seen there in a long time.
An offshore sportsbook proclaimed the Knicks' championship odds had gone from 200-1 to 50-1 in a mere five weeks. Immanuel Quickley had become the betting favorite for Sixth Man Of The Year. Brunson and Randle poured in the points. The defense looked better, Thibs-like. The wins added up.
And the haters, doubters and wrongheaded evaluators of what the Knicks and its pieces and additions might add up to this season — count me under the "wrongheaded" category — went in for some serious reflection time.
Following a gutsy double-overtime win in Boston, Knicks mania reached a fevered pitch.
Then the Knicks went and lost three straight games, the euphoria slightly punctured, before beating the Los Angeles Lakers this past Sunday night.
So where does that leave us? What, exactly, are the Knicks? Contenders? Pretenders? A flash in the pan? A spark that could really get going come the playoffs?
To get a feel for how they're viewed around the NBA, CBS Sports asked several people league-wide for their read on the New York Knicks.
Here are some of those reactions:
Top Executive No. 1
The view: The Knicks might just be good enough for a serious playoff run.
The reason: The field is wider open than expected, and the Knicks are markedly better than originally forecast.
This executive breaks the Eastern Conference into four tiers:
- Milwaukee and Boston
- Cleveland, Brooklyn, Miami and the Knicks
- Chicago, Toronto and Washington and the Pacers
But what this executive doesn't see, in either the West or East, is a behemoth that only injury or bad luck can derail. "There are a couple of teams that are a cut above – no great teams but a lot of really good teams. By great teams, I mean Golden State (a few years ago), the Heat at their peak, Jesus Christ-how-do-you-play-them teams. Each conference has 10 or 12 teams that legitimately think they have a chance to make the playoffs, and can win there."
In this view of the current NBA, the Knicks can do it — along with several other teams.
"It's obviously come together at a higher level than any of us really thought for them," he said. "They made free-agent moves, guys got opportunities and took advantage. And then we'll see what it means. The regular season is one standard, and for the playoffs, it's another. We all tend to give greater credence to what you do in the playoffs.
"You don't have that same element of a specific team where you feel they are going to advance – that, if they're at 100%, they basically can't be beat. I don't think there is that team this year."
This executive also thinks the growing parity, and cluster of would-be contenders, might be disguising somewhat who's primed to make a breakthrough. It could be several teams, he said. The Knicks included.
"Of course, when Golden State won that (first) championship, in the middle of that season I don't think anyone saw what they were going to be. Can the Knicks be some version of that? Everyone labeled Brunson just a guy, and he's so much more than that. I was wrong on him too. I thought he was good, but he's taken it to another level. Next is to see what he can do in the playoffs, but a lot of us were wrong on him."
And maybe, in the end, on the Knicks, too.
Top Executive No. 2
The view: Nope. Not yet.
The reason: A different reading of the East, and doubts about Tom Thibodeau.
This executive sees an Eastern Conference with two clear favorites: The Milwaukee Bucks and the Boston Celtics.
"Unless someone's hurt, I don't see anyone beating those teams in a seven-game series," he said. "I see (New York) as a second-round team. Them versus Cleveland would be a good first-round series."
While he likes what New York has built, and also has been impressed with Brunson's time in New York, he's also highly skeptical of Thibodeau. He's worried the Knicks coach is too rigid in the defensive coverages he uses, the adjustments he makes, and what is often a perceived inflexibility for an otherwise celebrated coach.
"The issue will be Thibs will not change in the playoffs," he said.
The Scout who recently got a first-hand look at the Knicks
The view: They're good, but not yet great.
The reason: Milwaukee and Boston are too much.
Like the previous executive, this scout likes the Knicks. He was impressed by what he saw recently and thinks they're building something that could work. But not this season. Not quite yet.
"I think they can win a round," he said. "I don't take them seriously in so far as they're going to beat Milwaukee. I think they can beat Cleveland."
Still, he, like others interviewed, was impressed by the balance of this team. A Thibs team being solid defensively? That checks. But a Knicks team that's just excellent offensively? Now that's something new.
And this Knicks team — fifth in offensive rating, and only 16th in defensive rating — is just that: A welcome surprise.
"They're just plainly good," the scout said. "Brunson they need. Their offensive generation is a lot of Julius Randle doing stuff for himself — though he's good. I think as a team they're good. And shockingly enough, for a Thibs team, their offense is really good. Josh Hart is perfect there. They're definitely building something."
A former top player
The view: If things break the right way, the Knicks can make a deep playoff run.
The reason: Tom Thibodeau is the exact coach they need, and the NBA's quest for parity has finally arrived.
"I think Thibs has done a great job just putting tougher a defensive identity there," he said. "And then the addition of developing everyday players on the offensive side. Signing Brunson, bringing him in, integrating him to what they're doing. All of that has been key."
Bruson comes in for particularly high praise, with this former player and others around the league. He's a big reason why the former player isn't writing the Knicks off come the postseason.
"You have to understand how critical the point guard position is in the NBA," he said. "Having now an offensive identity to go along with the defensive identity, and with how well Brunson has played and fit there. You gotta give Thibs credit for that. That's him."
Another reason to like the Knicks: The view there's room this season for surprises.
"For decades, the goal the NBA has always talked about has been about trying to get to parity," he said. "And you never really could have parity for decades because of LeBron, KD and Steph. But now as those guys are getting older and the new generation is coming up, they can get to parity. And that helps a lot of teams, including the Knicks."
"They're like the Sixers or Cavs," he said. "They're definitely good enough. We know playoff basketball – it's about who's healthy and who's available, and who's playing well in a series. If things go right for New York, they can go far."