Why Knicks Fans Should Have Their Eyes on the Oklahoma City Thunder

Read Kris Pursiainen's take on why fans of the New York Knicks might want to give some Thunder games a watch once the NBA returns this summer:
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The Knicks are not in the playoffs. You saw this coming. Everyone has their own idea of what they'd like to see happen this offseason and next season, but none of that will matter for months. What you have now? An NBA that is returning to play in late July - and will not include the New York Knicks

Most Knicks fans were going to be tuning into playoff games anyway, as most NBA fans and I assume many sports fans will be this summer, but with all of the extra time, fans might be able to watch more games than they were expecting. If you're looking for a few teams to keep an eye on throughout the conclusion of the regular season and then the playoffs which will be occurring right after, I suggest that the Oklahoma City Thunder be one of them.

Why? Two reasons: Chris Paul and Danilo Gallinari. These are two good veteran players who have now both been linked to the New York Knicks this upcoming offseason. Gallinari will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, and the team has been rumored to have interest in Paul since early March.  

Using BPI, ESPN predicted before the season that the Thunder had a 99.8% chance of missing the playoffs this year; at 40-24, they are currently tied for the fifth seed in the Western Conference with the Houston Rockets. The team that achieved this unlikely outcome was commandeered by none other than one of the best floor generals of all time: All-Star point guard Chris Paul. 

The rumors regarding Paul and the Knicks stem from new team president Leon Rose's apparent desire to bring in veteran talent to surround the young core with in order to teach them how to win some basketball games. This was the goal of the 2020 season, but the veterans chosen by Scott Perry and now former-POBO Steve Mills did not exactly fit well together - with each other, or the young players. Bringing in not just Paul, but Gallinari, would certainly qualify as adding experienced and quality veteran talent that will greatly benefit the development of the team's young core. 

Paul's ability to turn around organizations is top tier; Knicks SI's own Jonathan Macri discussed many of the benefits (and drawbacks) of bringing in someone of Paul's ability, age, and pay-grade here. In just under 32 minutes on average this season, Paul averaged 17.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, 6.8 assists, shot almost 49% from the field, and ran the offense that resulted in sophomore guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander averaging 19.3 points per game as the team's leading scorer. Having Paul spearhead an offense involving players such as RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, and whomever the Knicks select in this year's lottery certainly has its appeal.

Gallinari is averaging 19.2 points this year, also contributing 5.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per contest. His FG% of 43.9 isn't as stellar as Paul's, but the fact that he's converting his 7+ attempts per game from beyond the arc at an almost 41% rate is remarkable - and representative of exactly the type of floor spacing ability the Knicks are reportedly looking for in a forward. Chip Murphy made the case for bringing back Gallinari here on Hoops Habit. A starting lineup involving Paul, Barrett, Gallinari, Robinson, and a fifth player, preferably a floor-spacer such as Reggie Bullock, is one I would have no problem watching next season. The possibility also exists that the Knicks could make a move for Paul and then draft a rookie point guard, such as LaMelo Ball, for Paul to mentor - similar to what the Thunder have done this year with CP3 and Gilgeous-Alexander.

The direction the Knicks are going in next year remains unclear. The rumors that Tom Thibodeau is the organization's first choice of a head coach certainly indicate that Leon Rose did not come here to "tank". Going after Paul, via trade, and signing Gallinari this summer would show a desire to make a playoff appearance as soon as possible; Paul's history, despite his age, makes me think that that isn't so far-fetched. It also doesn't hurt that both Paul and Gallinari are represented by CAA, the agency from which Leon Rose just departed.