Last Wednesday, the Knicks' dream season came to an unfortunate end against the Hawks in game 5 of the first round in the NBA playoffs. As tough as it was, the team gave fans a reason to smile for the first time in years. They went from being one of the worst teams in the league over the last five years, to winning more games this season than the last two combined. Let's look at how successful their season has been.
Despite the praise the Knicks received for hiring head coach Tom Thibodeau, expectations were low to begin the season. It looked like the losing would continue when the Knicks lost their first two games. But then they showed signs of what was to come with a stunning blowout over the Milwaukee Bucks, which set the tone the season. On many occasions, the Knicks looked like they might've peaked, only to prove fans wrong and go on another winning stretch. In early April however, it really seemed as though their magic was out after losing five out of six games. But like earlier in the season, New York wasn't done yet and proceeded to go on an amazing nine game winning streak. Even after their streak ended, they ended the season on an impressive note, winning three straight games to clinch the fourth seed before Atlanta ended the dream.
There are many people who deserve a ton of credit for the Knicks' success, starting with president Leon Rose. He made some smart, low-profile free agent signings, such as Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel, that significantly helped the team. Trading draft bust Dennis Smith Jr. as well as a second round pick for Derrick Rose was another fantastic move that brought more scoring and leadership to the team. His best move however, was hiring this season's Coach of the Year, Tom Thibodeau, the primary reason for New York's success. Night in and night out, Thibodeau always got the Knicks to play hard through working together on offense and defense. Their defensive in particular was amazing all season because all five players worked together to stop their opponents rather than one guy making a defense better. It's why they were the number one defense in points allowed. Thibodeau also got the best out of his players, most notably Julius Randle. After a rocky first season with the Knicks, Randle responded by leading the team in points, rebounds, and assists. He was rewarded with his first career all star appearance and the Most Improved Player award. RJ Barrett became a more polished player in his sophomore season, upping his scoring average from 14 to 17, while improving his three point shooting percentage from 32 to 40. Derrick Rose was a great midseason acquisition who gelled immediately and gave an offensive boast. Other key contributors included Noel, Burks, Immanuel Quickly, and Reggie Bullock.
As for the team's future, they don't have to rely on the draft lottery anymore. They have two first round draft picks, and with Quickley looking like a reliable scorer, fans can trust management to draft wisely. In addition they have lots of cap room to sign free agents. While most upcoming free agents have been extended by their teams, there are still some available free agents such as Kawhi Leonard, Mike Conley, and Demar Derozan who could make a difference.. They should especially be interested in signing with the Knicks after the Garden crowd was rocking in every home playoff game. The Knicks can also use the money they have to bring back Rose, Noel, Burks, and Bullock among others. Giving Julius Randle an extension is another important priority. While they don't have to rush it, and his play fell off in the playoffs, he deserves the money for getting the Knicks in that position to begin with. The only exception might be giving him the max, but any other deal would work for both sides. Randle has previously said that he wants to stay in New York so there seems to be little obstacles in the way.
Although the Knicks season came to an end, this teams has a lot to be proud of. They finally look like a competitive team with players who play for one another, and got more out of this season than anyone could've thought. Fans have also taken notice and are excited to watch a good team for the first time in awhile, with celebrities such as Spike Lee. Fat Joe, Tracy Morgan, and Chris Rock filling the front rows. Although the Knicks didn't win a playoff series, the fact that some people predicted they'd win says a lot about their season. This team was fun to watch and more importantly, they have the foundation to be a great team.