New York Knicks 18-17: A Team on the Rise

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2021 Knicks Core
James Lawrence Allcott’s video on West Ham presents great parallels with this year’s Knicks team.

James Lawrence Allcott recently released a video titled “HOW WEST HAM BECAME GREAT AGAIN”. In it, he discusses the change in direction West Ham have taken in terms of recruitment, coaching and culture and how this has made them a force to be reckoned with this season. The video will be linked in the article for those that are interested. Whilst the initial reaction of an NBA fan to this may be ‘Why is he writing about West Ham in an article about the New York Knicks?’ but there is perhaps an interesting parallel between the two teams

The New York Knicks are off to their best start to a season since 2012-13 and currently sit as the 4th seed in the Eastern conference, above the likes of, last years finalists, the Heat, the Celtics and the 2019 champion Raptors. As a Knicks fan, this an incredibly welcome surprise considering the product on display for the last seven years. You ask yourself, ‘where has this come from?’. Well, that’s what we’re here to discuss. So, buckle your seatbelts as we take you on a tour of how we’re now doing things at The Garden.

Knicks Coach Thibodeau
New York Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau reacts during the first quarter of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in New York. (Brad Penner/Pool Photo via AP)

Coaching

When the Knicks decided to part company with David Fizdale, I (like many Knicks fans) were in the camp that supported former Brooklyn Nets coach Kenny Atkinson as his successor. Atkinson proved during his tenure with the Nets that he was a fantastic, development focused coach and that seemed to be what the Knicks young roster was crying out for. It also seemed like the direction that new President Leon Rose was going in.

However, he favoured the experienced, defensive minded, drill sergeant-like Tom Thibodeau. The anxiety amongst many fans was that Thibs would overload the Knicks young talent with minutes and they’d either burn out or suffer injury, or, that he’d simply favour playing veterans ahead of them altogether.

Neither of those things seems to be true. Only one player is averaging upwards of thirty-six minutes per game and that is new all-star Julius Randle. The likes of RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson have both seen marginal increases in their minutes with bigger increases in performance. Barrett, for example, is averaging fifty-one percent true shooting, a whole twenty-three percent higher than his average last season.

This is on top of the team playing Thibodeau’s calling card defence, ranking second in the league for defensive rating. There has been a clear and obvious cultural shift in the Knicks locker room that is in no small part down to Tom Thibodeau.

Recruitment

A point that Allcott makes in his video on West Ham is the shift away from ‘star players’ – such as Marko Arnautovic – towards hungry, dedicated players with more diverse skillsets and something to prove. I see a similar dynamic unfolding in the Knicks recruiting strategy. The Knicks haven’t spent big on players that wouldn’t have offered a value-for-money return as they have done in the past (sorry Joakim Noah). Instead, they’ve made a conscious effort to build from the ground up. No shortcuts, no acceleration, just the organic growth of a promising young team.

Whilst the lottery selection of Obi Toppin may not have had the early return that some fans were hoping, the acquisition of Immanuel Quickley with the twenty-fifth pick in the draft has proven to be an absolute steal. This, along with the signing of quality role players like Nerlens Noel has made the Knicks a younger and hungrier team. The team has also acquired a number of draft picks and, as it stands, have arguably won the much (and rightfully) criticised Kristaps Porzingis trade.

Immanuel Quickley goes for a layup against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Knicks this season have pivoted away from their typical way of doing things. They’ve swapped signing unappreciative stars for collecting a bunch of young and hungry players and created a culture that is meant to win. Tom Thibodeau has brought the Knicks back to what made then effective in the golden days of the 1990’s, a gritty, unapologetic team that possesses a togetherness about it that makes them a formidable unit to beat. To me, they’re quite reminiscent of the post-Lob City, Tobias Harris and Lou Williams lead Clippers team of 2019. That is, a unit lacking in traditional star power that still finds ways to be an effective and winning team.

This team looks, barring injury, like it’s headed to a middling seed in the Eastern Conference meaning playoff basketball is potentially back at the Garden for the first time in over half a decade. What is this Knicks team’s ceiling? Could you see them upsetting anyone in the playoffs? Will they acquire a ‘star’ at the deadline? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and don’t be afraid to share!

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The source of stats in this article: https://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/NYK/