Few NBA fan bases have suffered more losing, ridicule, and poor management decision-making than the New York Knicks, particularly over the last 15-20 years. It’s a meme team and franchise – there’s simply one head-scratching and face-palming moment after the other. While they’ve made it to the playoffs more recently than some squads like the Sacramento Kings, The Knicks’ status as a big market team ensures that there’s always a spotlight when things aren’t going well.
That what makes their current run pretty interesting. People have been clowning on the team so much for so long that seeing them win feels refreshing.
The Knicks are 5-3 and currently sitting in the middle of the Eastern Conference standings. They’ve actually won four of their last five, with the previous two also showcasing resilient 18-point and 15-point comebacks against the Atlanta Hawks and Utah Jazz, respectively. New York basketball hasn’t looked this encouraging since the 2012-13 season, the team’s lone contending and 50-plus win campaign in the 21st century.
The current team is clicking together, and plenty of guys deserve credit, but there are two main factors that are leading the way.
The arrival of head coach Tom Thibodeau is among the key reasons for the slow-but-steady progression. He’s a proven and highly-respected defensive guru, and has brought discipline and a new brand of basketball to New York. Thibs himself is probably extra pumped for the grind, as he was an assistant on the team back in the day, where he experienced being a playoff contender and a lottery-bound squad.
The influence has made the unheralded roster more active on both ends. They’re particularly working hard on defense – getting hands on the passing lanes, being quick on closeouts, hounding the ball-handler, and staying aggressive in the paint. All that are guiding the Knicks into allowing the lowest three-point percentage (29.8%) and third-lowest points per game (104.5 PPG). It’s classic Thibs ball, and even though he has a reputation of losing locker rooms after a few seasons, he’s proven that he can always come in and make squads play harder and better.
The thorough effort on D, meanwhile, is usually resulting in easy baskets on offense, as well as a more smooth-flowing half-court attack.
Julius Randle’s stock has consistently dropped for the past couple of seasons. He was let go by the Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Pelicans despite solid campaigns, and he made no significant impact on the Knicks last year while playing under a massive contract. Up until two weeks ago, Knick fans saw him as a mere trade chip.
That has most likely changed by now as Randle is simply balling, far from the lethargic play and empty stats he previously put up. In eight games this season, he’s posting team-highs of 23.4 points, 12 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game, plus a career-best 1.4 threes – showing off that he’s also extending his range. As evident in those averages, he’s beyond being the post offense and rebounding machine, he’s also the most prolific playmaker.
Such are basketball workhorse-like numbers, but Thibodeau may have described it better:
“He’s our engine. … He’s doing everything … Playing big minutes, comes in the next day and works, takes care of his body, great with recovery, great in the film sessions. It’s the type of leadership that’s invaluable to a team.”
If the Knicks keep their momentum up and Randle maintains his current impact, he’ll have a shot at becoming a first-time All-Star.
The influence goes beyond
Thibs and Randle are also factoring into the development of the young guys, namely second-year swingman RJ Barrett (17.1 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 3.4 APG), who has an uptick in his production, third-year defensive big man Mitchell Robinson, and rookie two-guard Immanuel Quickley. Other key rookie Obi Toppin is currently out with a calf injury, but he’s a bouncy forward that’s also bound to learn a ton from his veteran coach and teammate.
The Knicks return to the court on January 9 when they play host the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder. We’ll see if they can stay the course and extend the run.