The Knicks Are Off to a Respectable Begin. Is This a Drill?

The final time the Knicks received a minimum of half of their first 10 video games was through the 2017-18 season, once they have been 6-4. They completed the marketing campaign 29-53.

This season, the Knicks began 5-5, and a few followers are daring to hope that possibly this Knicks workforce is totally different. Possibly this one can break the playoff-less streak that started in 2013-14. The unhealthy information is that the season is headed within the flawed route. The Knicks have dropped three in a row to place them at 5-6, with a number of blowout defeats.

Coach Tom Thibodeau has this workforce taking part in arduous, and the Knicks have crushed good opponents, together with the Utah Jazz and Milwaukee Bucks. Getting into the Charlotte Hornets sport on Monday, the Knicks had the eighth best defense in the league. They’re now all the way down to 13th after dropping to Charlotte, 109-88.

The Knicks haven’t fielded a top-10 defensive workforce since the 2011-12 season, when their fifth-ranked protection took them to the playoffs. The unlucky flip facet: This 12 months’s workforce has one of many league’s worst offenses.

The Knicks have additionally struggled with accidents: Alec Burks, Austin Rivers and Obi Toppin have all missed time — three offensive-minded gamers.

One thing the Knicks have of their favor is that this season has produced plenty of unusual outcomes, and never only for them. Night time after night time, partly due to the shortened season, no crowds, the pandemic and minimal time in coaching camp, plenty of groups are dropping massive or to opponents who didn’t appear to be threats. Some groups, just like the Toronto Raptors (2-8), who’re based mostly in Florida due to the virus, are underperforming. A number of prime gamers, like Boston’s Jayson Tatum and the Nets’ Kevin Durant, have missed a number of video games as a result of they examined constructive for, or have been doubtlessly uncovered to, the coronavirus.

The shortened season helps the Knicks in one other means. Banking wins early on offers them cushion in opposition to the losses which are virtually unavoidable because the season grinds on. However it’s nonetheless early, as Knicks followers discovered in 2018.

Here’s a have a look at what’s gone proper and flawed for the Knicks up to now.

The most important motive the Knicks have been aggressive this 12 months is Julius Randle, who has began off robust. Randle is averaging 22.1 factors, 11.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists per sport — all on tempo to be profession highs — on 49.Four p.c taking pictures. He’s averaging extra assists this 12 months than his final two years mixed. If he retains this up, Randle ought to deservedly make his first All-Star workforce.

He appears to be like extra comfy on the ground, and Thibodeau has been adept at profiting from Randle’s versatility — for instance, ensuring he’s getting the ball on totally different elements of the courtroom, quite than merely attempting to bulldoze opponents within the submit. Randle is expert at creating for his teammates. The difficulty is that the Knicks don’t have many playmakers or shooters round him to ease his burden.

RJ Barrett, 20, is taking part in numerous minutes this 12 months — 37.9 minutes per sport, vs. 30.Four his rookie 12 months. Barrett is, nonetheless, taking pictures a dismal 36.5 p.c from the sphere and 18 p.c from deep, each down from his rookie 12 months, when he also struggled.

Watching the video games, you possibly can see Barrett’s enchancment in different areas. He performs extra aggressively, has developed into a powerful rebounder (7.6 rebounds per sport for a guard is spectacular) and has improved his passing. He’s a strong defender.

The consistency will not be there, although, and the inefficiency is problematic: Barrett is averaging extra photographs than factors. On opening night time, Barrett shot 11-of-15 from the sphere for 26 factors in opposition to the Indiana Pacers. The following sport, in opposition to the Philadelphia 76ers, Barrett shot 2-of-15 from the sphere for 10 factors. After which he shot poorly once more for the next three games.

His incapacity to shoot places extra strain on Randle. Barrett is making solely 26.5 p.c of his photographs when there isn’t a defender within six feet of him. He’s additionally hitting solely 17.Four p.c when he catches the ball and shoots it.

However Barrett remains to be impactful for the Knicks, regardless of his scoring woes. His internet ranking (basically a measure of how significantly better or worse a workforce is with a participant on the ground) is minus 2.8. This isn’t superb, however it’s among the many finest on the workforce amongst those that obtain critical minutes. When Barrett isn’t on the ground, the Knicks’ internet ranking is minus 13.8. That’s a much bigger hole than the one for Randle, who’s their finest participant.

It’s virtually time for the Knicks to decide to an extension with Mitchell Robinson, who’s now in his third 12 months. It’s tough to gauge his true worth. He’s a extra conventional heart who can’t unfold the ground and principally will get his factors on dunks.

And like Barrett, Robinson is a blended bag.

By means of 11 video games, Robinson’s manufacturing in a number of classes has decreased at the same time as he has performed extra minutes (30.1) than ordinary, although the additional time appears to have given him room to seize extra rebounds than earlier than (8.1 per sport). He’s additionally under his per-game profession averages in blocks (1.9) and field-goal proportion (68.2 p.c; nonetheless very environment friendly).

The most important enchancment for Robinson is that he’s been capable of keep on the ground. Earlier than this 12 months, he struggled with foul bother, however now he doesn’t bounce for up-fakes as usually, making it more durable for defenders to attract fouls. That was his largest weak point. Now, not a lot.

The Knicks don’t have many gamers who can break down defenses, which is what makes Elfrid Payton important for Thibodeau. The Knicks lower him within the low season and re-signed him to an affordable one-year deal. He’s most likely not part of the Knicks’ future plans. However he has been a gradual, veteran presence on the ground, which they’ve wanted.

He’s not a lot of a shooter, however he’s expert at stepping into the paint. This 12 months, he’s scoring above his profession common with 14.5 factors a sport, and is tallying 4.three rebounds and 4.5 assists per sport.

Payton, 26, now in his seventh season, additionally doesn’t make many errors on the ground. For essentially the most half, he stays inside himself and takes care of the ball. (His turnover proportion is an below-average 14 percent this season.) He’ll almost definitely by no means be a starter on a championship workforce, however he’s been a pleasant pickup for the Knicks.

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