There is no better word to describe the Knicks' season than inconsistent. Following last year's surprising playoff appearance, the Knicks were expected to build upon their success after acquiring Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier, along with extending Julius Randle, Derrick Rose, and Alec Burks. With these moves, the Knicks started 5-1, but have sputtered since, going 9-16. So why has this been the case? Well, their record can be attributed to a few notable reasons.
It is no secret that every good NBA team must have a starting unit that plays as one and finishes the job during crunch time. As for the Knicks, their starters have been extremely disappointing. They went into the season with hope that Walker would mesh with Randle and RJ Barrett, but this hasn't been the case. It only took nineteen games into the season for coach Tom Thibodeau to making major changes to the starting lineup. Walker, their starting point guard going into the season, was such a liability defensively that he was removed from the rotation in late November. He did bounce back with an impressive performances in his last two starts, which will make Thibodeau's decision interesting once their other players get out of COVID protocols. Additionally, center Mitchell Robinson was removed from the starting lineup a couple weeks ago, and it's unknown when he'll get his next start.
Last year, the Knicks were a team that no one wanted to play. On defense, they suffocated opponents holding them to an average of 104 points on 44% shooting: both league lows. This year, the opposing field goal percentage still hovers around 44, but they're now 18th in points allowed. They've constantly allowed guys not known for their scoring to put up a season high total whether it was Ricky Rubio's 37, O.G. Anunoby's 36, or Zeke Nnaji's 21 off the bench. For the Knicks' defense to resemble last year's success, this troubling trend must stop.
The offense, which was supposed to be improved upon this offseason, has also taken a step back. The Knicks' glaring weakness on that end of the floor comes from behind the three point arc. Last year, they finished 27th in three point attempts, but third in three point percentage. This year the Knicks remain in the top ten in three point percentage, but have climbed up to 11th in attempts. Their heavy reliance on shooting threes is a big reason why their offense has struggled to produce at a consistent rate. Their top two players in Randle and Barrett also deserve a lot of criticism. Last year, most of the Knicks' offense ran through those two players and they delivered time and time again. Even if their stats this year were a sliver below last year's stats, the Knicks would've won more games by now.
Finally, there's always one point in a game where the Knicks seem to lose their focus, and it proceeds to haunt them in the end. There were many games where the Knicks dug a deep hole for themselves to climb out of, whether it was against the Bulls earlier this month, or Raptors a couple of weeks ago. There has also been a lack of maturity in some of these losses. Take their loss against the Nets for example: Julius Randle might've had some calls go against him, but he was in the wrong to argue with the referee, which earned him technical foul midway through the fourth quarter. The Nets ended up winning by two in a game the Knicks could've won in regulation or forced overtime had Randle kept his cool.
Now obviously, it's still very early in the season. The Knicks just beat the lowly Pistons in a stress-free game, and will be facing two more teams this week who's rosters have been ravaged by COVID. This is a golden opportunity for the Knicks to get some momentum going. Don't forget that last year, the Knicks had a somewhat similar record earlier in the season, before going on that nine game win streak which propelled them into the playoffs. This team is certainly capable of repeating their success from last year. However, it's best that the Knicks find a way to stop digging a hole to climb out of, because before they know it, their playoff hopes could vanish.
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