It's no secret that the past several years have been trying for the New York Knicks faithful.
The franchise has missed the playoffs in seven-straight seasons, a span in which it's posted a cumulative record of 184-374 (.330), had six different head coaches and even had its misfortunes mentioned in a recent Disney film.
An early-season victory over the Milwaukee Bucks was a reminder that it shouldn't be all doom and gloom in the halls of Madison Square Garden.
In recent years, the Knicks have brought in a bevy of young talent through the draft and now have a proven leader in Tom Thibodeau at the helm and a well-known executive in Leon Rose. New York's roster is completely comprised of players under the age of 30, with 11 players aged 25 or younger.
While "elder" members of the roster, like Elfrid Payton (26), Julius Randle (26), Austin Rivers (28), Reggie Bullock (29) and Alec Burks (29) will have a large hand in the success that comes this year, there's a new core of six young players - all drafted by the Knicks - that will be tasked with bringing the Knicks back to glory.
From youngest to oldest, get to know the group that has shown flashes of being capable of the task…
At 20, Barrett is the youngest member of the Knicks roster despite the fact that this is his second season in the NBA.
He's got the highest upside, too.
Keeping Up With The Canadians 🇨🇦- NBA Canada (@NBACanada) December 28, 2020
RJ Barrett | vs. @Bucks
4 ASSISTS pic.twitter.com/IEeluCnd1S
After missing out on All-Rookie consideration, the former No. 3 overall pick entered the 2020-21 season with a chip on his shoulder. A motivated Barrett is clearly one to be reckoned with, as he began the season by connecting his first nine field goals, finishing with 26 points (on 11-for-15 shooting), eight rebounds and five assists in New York's season opener.
Much of the Knicks' future hinges on Barrett realizing his star potential and the 20-year-old is taking steps in the right direction.
Drafted in 2018, Knox is actually the second-youngest member of the roster having turned 21 in August.
Like most young players, he's exhibited ups and downs but the ups are a reminder for fans to be patient with his development. In a preseason win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, Knox was at his absolute best, knocking down six 3s to finish with 20 points in a win.
.@KevKnox was on fire from deep.- NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) December 20, 2020
52.9% from 3-point range this preseason. pic.twitter.com/zQJaGokLGq
He won't be looked upon to be New York's sharpshooter but Knox has the potential to do a bit of everything once he puts it together.
It didn't take long for Knicks fans to rally around Quickley as their favourite candidate to be the franchise's point guard of the future.
It was in the third preseason game, to be exact.
In the same game that Knox showed out, the 21-year-old rookie from the University of Kentucky put on quite the show himself, finishing with 22 points, five rebounds and five assists.
While he played off the ball last season at Kentucky, Quickley is a natural point guard that shoots the ball well and has a frame that will allow him to guard well on the defensive end. Selected with the 25th overall pick in the 2020 draft, he has shown the potential to be this team's floor general moving forward but as with all rookies, it's okay to temper expectations some, at least for this year.
Ntilikina, who was drafted at the age of 18, is now 22 years old as he begins his fourth NBA season and is another option at the lead guard position.
Defensively, Ntilikina has the tools and, quite frankly, the ability to be a menace but his problems come on the offensive end. With a defensive-minded coach like Thibodeau at the helm, it is important to have a player capable of limiting other team's perimeter scorers but Ntilikina has to find ways to be effective on offence.
FRANK. 🔶🔷- NBA France (@NBAFRANCE) December 28, 2020
4/4 à longue distance
Les @nyknicks l'emportent 130-110 face aux Bucks! #NewYorkForever | #OnlyHere pic.twitter.com/L7F94w2AeJ
He's still young, but this season is pivotal in Ntilikina's development into a bigger offensive threat as a playmaker and as a scorer.
After Barrett, the 22-year-old Robinson might have the highest upside on this roster.
Listed at 7-foot, 240 pounds, Robinson is fleet afoot and has displayed the defensive instincts to be one of the league's best rim protectors. Through the first 130 games of his career, Robinson is averaging 2.2 blocks while appearing in under 22 minutes per contest.
Feels good to be posting Mitch blocks again pic.twitter.com/w27MRoYEDy- NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) December 24, 2020
Therein lies the problem. Foul trouble cannot seem to elude Robinson up to this point in his career, though he's progressively gotten better with time. While defensive improvements can be made in the margins, Robinson's next step is to become a double-digit scorer.
He's displayed the ability to be somewhat versatile offensively, he just needs to remain on the floor to do so.
Toppin, who spent three years at the University of Dayton, is actually the oldest member of this young Knicks core although he was drafted in 2020. 22 is still pretty young, though.
In drafting a seasoned college player, New York knew exactly what it was getting in Toppin, a bouncy athlete with a strong desire to improve and a natural feel for the game. NBA.com's Kyle Irving outlined just how Toppin should be able to put together a campaign worthy of Rookie of the Year consideration.
Obi! 💦🗑️ pic.twitter.com/lH3rtHOKMd- NEW YORK KNICKS ON MSG (@KnicksMSGN) December 24, 2020
Obi with that ARC pic.twitter.com/cXRe0g6Blc- NEW YORK KNICKS ON MSG (@KnicksMSGN) December 24, 2020
Obi Obi Obi 🎯🎯🎯 pic.twitter.com/XY7QgBwi0m- NEW YORK KNICKS ON MSG (@KnicksMSGN) December 24, 2020
Toppin likely has the highest floor of all of his draft counterparts and because of that, will be a part of a formidable trio with Barrett and Robinson in the coming years, and that's not even taking his ceiling into consideration.
It might be too early to gauge his potential to become a superstar but Toppin has done enough to look like a future All-Star.
Early-season injuries have limited the availability of both Toppin and Quickley but still, the 2020-21 season should be a sign of things to come for this franchise, if nothing else.
That New York's future is in the hands of a group of players that were adolescents the last time the team made the postseason brings about a new level of intrigue and, ultimately, excitement. They're young, and it's going to take some time but this franchise is on the right track to becoming successful again.
The magic is on its way back to Madison Square Garden.
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