One of the NBA’s hottest teams, the Knicks are coming off their eighth straight win against their crosstown rivals. The Knicks are just 1.5 games away from winning home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs for the second time in three seasons as of Thursday. They are currently ranked fifth in the Eastern Conference.
A stunning turnaround has occurred considering that they were 10-13 three months ago, their head coach was under fire, and the makeup of their roster was in doubt. What has changed since?
The crucial day that New York supporters cite is December 4 because it was then that Tom Thibodeau changed up the lineup and inspired a furious rally from his squad. Veterans with better salaries but poor skills were benched in favour of younger, friskier alternatives.
The outcomes have exceeded the expectations of the fan base. From that point on, New York went 27-14, going from a 23rd-ranked defence and an average offensive to a top-five offence and a top-seven net rating.
A new rotation started an eight-game winning run, although several of those performances were questionable. Several of these games were very close, with the Hawks, Warriors, Hornets, and Bulls all suffering from injuries.
A five-game losing run signalled some adjustment was necessary, but the Knicks showed they had changed after narrowly losing those games and then going on another rampage of seven victories in eight games. Soon after, starting centre Mitchell Robinson was injured and forced to miss over a month of play, posing a real threat to New York’s recent winning streak.
Not important. Josh Hart, who was acquired at the trade deadline, helped the Knicks stay strong throughout his absence, as they went 8-6 overall. Since Hart’s addition, they have not lost and have a +67 in their last four games.
They have accumulated some noteworthy victories. It’s no small accomplishment to defeat the 76ers, the Cavs, and the Celtics twice.
From Leon Rose’s roster construction through Thibodeau’s midseason adjustment and all the way down the roster, there are lots of people who deserve praise, but we must start with Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson. It wouldn’t be accurate to state that the two had performed like All-Stars.
After the rotation adjustment, Randle is scoring 27.2 points, pulling down 11.6 rebounds, and dishing out 4.6 assists on 46.2 percent field goal and 35.3 percent three-point shooting. Throughout that time, he has played every night and has had 15 30-point performances, including three that over 40. He is still the NBA’s iron man.
His leadership, particularly on the defensive side, has perhaps been most remarkable. The fact that he’s in such great form and is working so hard on defence has maximised his ability as a stopper and set the bar high for the rest of the team. It’s a total 180 from last year’s pout fest.
Randle has consistently filled in well for RJ Barrett and Quentin Grimes when they falter, suppressing players with names like Jayson Tatum, Brandon Ingram, and Kawhi Leonard only in recent games.
In terms of offence, Brunson has been a one-man army, averaging 25.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 6.1 assists while shooting 48.5 percent from the field and 45.1 percent (!) from three since December 4. Although though he didn’t make the All-Star squad, he just won Player of the Month after scoring 28.4 points per game in February, including two 40-point outbursts.
The small guard has become a riddle for opposing teams when he began hitting almost half of his threes, often off the bounce, and adapted to more aggressive plans thrown his way. He is able to obtain whatever shot he wants and nothing seems to phase him.
Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein, two of New York’s big guys, have done a fantastic job of controlling the paint and holding down the boards on both ends. Their presence on the offensive glass deflates rivals who must reset their defence after eventually stopping one of the most physically demanding teams in the league.
While Barrett and Grimes, who play the wings, have their good and bad weeks, they are still doing an excellent job of guarding and making enough catch-and-shoot threes to spread the offence and set up opportunities on closeouts. Barrett is essential since he can generate something when their primary choices aren’t working. He had a strong December and January before faltering a little.
When Derrick Rose was benched, Immanuel Quickley has been the x-factor, reversing a sluggish start with more playing time and ball handling. He has established himself as a contender for Sixth Man of the Year because to his outstanding defence and dynamic shooting.
In his previous 33 games, Quickley has averaged just under 16 points per game, shooting 48.3 percent from the field and 39.7 percent from 3-point range while pursuing rebounds and bothering ball handlers. It’s hardly surprising that he has one of the top point differentials on the team since he often settles close games for Thibodeau.
The newest acquisition is Hart, who seems to have come from Thibodeau’s dreams and hasn’t dropped a game while wearing a Knicks jersey. When he is on the floor, New York scores 25.7 more points per 100 possessions than opposing teams do.
Expect automatic enthusiasm when he checks in. With Hart flying in from the three-point line to attempt to deflect or steal it, no opponent’s defensive rebound is secure. By obviously wanting it more than anybody else and regaining confidence in his jump shot, he has been able to average 12.4 points on insane shooting splits.
The outcome is the greatest Knicks squad we’ve seen since 2012–13, a combination of individual skill buying into a high-effort strategy. After the rotational shift, the Knicks have continued their 54-win pace.
We won’t know how much of this is true until the postseason, but these Knicks seem prepared for the battle. While it may not signify much, the current run in the franchise’s history is one of the finest; yet, it has been amazing to watch.