The good and bad reflection of the Knicks
Albeit very early on into the 2021-2022 season, the New York Knicks’ campaign hasn’t quite panned out for them yet. They rest at a measly 12-14, which is good for 12th place in the Eastern Conference. Julius Randle, Derrick Rose, and the rest of the Knicks weren’t considered to be a championship favorite at any point. But, after entering last year’s playoffs as the fourth seed, this team has not met expectations so far. There are some bright spots to hold onto this season. Let’s get the bad out of the way first.
No Number One Option
Julius Randle’s performance so far hasn’t been enough. Just to be clear, I don’t mean not enough to be a star power forward who gives great production. I do mean not enough to be a leader, or a number one option on a championship team. This isn’t necessarily Randle’s fault. As the team’s highest-paid player, the largest workload rests on his shoulders. Whether or not he has enough help isn’t up to him. When the next five highest paid players are nowhere near stars at this point, and one of them has recently been fully eliminated from the rotation, roster construction becomes a glaring issue.
A lot of it does fall on Randle. His three-point percentage has dipped by 8% compared to last season, marking the most drastic margin between two seasons in his career. Number one options need to be consistent at the least, and that isn’t it. There’s also a lack of inspiration among his play, which eventually trickles down to your teammates. A prime example of this was at the end of the third quarter, during their game against Milwaukee today (12/12/21).
Randle was given the ball with no more than 5 seconds left in the shot clock. He was wide open on the left wing. This scenario essentially gives him two options: either pull up the wide open three-pointer, or use your ability to get to the rack, which is one of Randle's staples in his game. Randle decided to take a few steps, then kicked it out to a teammate. At this point there was less than a full second on the shot clock, which forces his teammate to shoot a bad shot. Randle has to understand the situation, and which decision will help his team win. As a leader, you need to put your team in the best situation to win. Either taking an open three or driving strong can do that, but giving it to a teammate with less than a second cannot do that. Leaders have to possess the IQ to put their teammates in the best position, not the worst.
A similar instance occurred in the same game, just moments later. From the respective elbow, Immanuel Quickly delivered a bounce pass to Randle on the left block. Randle eventually draws a double, drops off the ball back, and creates a mismatch with him and George Hill. Randle then curled, to not only receive the ball, but to also get in position. Being only a few feet in front of the free throw line, Randle can either shoot over a guard or he can drive, considering he has someone much smaller on him. Instead, he launches an elbow into Hill drawing a charge. A turnover is the last thing they needed when they clearly had a mismatch in the paint. These types of decisions happen way too often for a number one caliber guy. Randle’s inefficiency and inability to make smart decisions this year has been a huge detriment this season, not only to his own stats but the team’s play in general. It stagnates the offense and ruins any rhythm or fluidity. Guys like Evan Fournier (who was given 17 million) and Kemba Walker haven’t helped Randle’s case much either. It isn’t all Randle’s fault, but his basketball IQ and leadership are two things that absolutely need to be improved.
The Knick’s defense has been especially bad this season as well. Last season, the Knicks reigned as defensive kings, allowing a league-lowest 104.7 points. This season, they allow approximately 107 points, which is 15th in the league.
One of the most exciting bright spots has been Obi Toppin, the New York native. Obi Toppin has one of the most insane motors in the game. This allows him to provide an intangible energy to the Knicks that is obvious when he’s on the court. He can block a shot, get back on offense, get back on defense, and then dunk the ball on the other end while sprinting the whole time. It’s like he never gets tired.
He also has an incredible vertical, which not only allows him to be a dangerous pick and roll threat, but can also allow him to close gaps on defense on the weak side. He’s an extremely underrated defender. While most fans are aware of his dunking ability, many are also not aware that he played point guard in his early years. This allows the big man to stretch the floor and find open teammates. All of these attributes combined with his screen-setting abilities create a monster on the court, and something Knicks Nation should be ecstatic about.
Other notable young stars include Immanuel Quickly, Quentin Grimes, who has shot the ball very well (at least a 50% clip from deep his last three games), and Mitchell Robinson. While Grimes is a rookie, Robinson and Quickly are more established in their roles. Robinson is an athletic big, who spends much of his time active in the paint. Rebounding and blocking shots are by far his most dominant abilities. Quickly is a very explosive guard who not only shoots very well from the line, but protects the ball very well too. His floater and ability to score makes Quickly special.
With 46 games left, there is still plenty of time for the Knicks to turn things around. The NBA season is long, and a game of runs. New York is only 6.5 games back from the one seed (12th in the East) and 2.5 games back from the eighth seed. However, if they don’t change things or improve, they will not be a playoff team by the end of the season.