The New York Knicks are exceeding expectations this year and eyeing the playoffs. With over a third of the season played, they are currently sitting among the Eastern Conference playoff seeds. After being written off by many NBA experts prior to the season starting, they have come together as a team and have made significant progress. Much of this can be attributed to the great work Tom Thibodeau has done coaching this team. At this stage, it is fair to discuss if they can continue their performance levels and sneak a playoff spot.
New York Knicks Making Playoff Push
Prediction: New York Knicks Notch 8th Seed in Playoffs
New York Knicks are currently sitting in the 7th seed at 15-16 after sneaking past the Minnesota Timberwolves Sunday night. After blowing a double digit lead in the fourth quarter, it took key stops from veteran Taj Gibson to end a spirited Timberwolves comeback. This win can also be attributed to another strong performance from leader Julius Randle. This in a way, is a microcosm of this Knicks team. They get key contributions through out the roster, and continue to show tremendous resilience. They are well coached, and accomplished on the defensive end to overcome their offensive short-comings.
New team President Leon Rose has added astute basketball minds from an operations stand point, and clearly hired the right coach. Tom Thobodeau In terms of player development and engendering belief in this squad, has made all the difference. I feel their improvement is likely to yield a playoff appearance for the first time since 2013.
Tom Thibodeau Preaching Defense
According to ESPN.com, the Knicks currently have the best defence in the league in terms of points allowed. They rank first in a range of defensive categories. We can contrast that with last season, where they ranked 18th in points allowed. These stats speak for themselves with the difference he’s made with this team. They work extremely hard, fight for every rebound, and do well at closing down shooters on the perimeter. This Knicks defence has been exceeding all expectations this year.
Emerging Star Julius Randle
Randle is one of the key Knicks exceeding expectations: Written off in pre-season as a trade candidate after struggling last season, he’s come back with a vengeance this year. He’s worked extremely hard in the off-season to improve his game. He changed his diet, and worked tirelessly with the coaching staff.
Credit can also be attributed to Kenny Payne, the Knicks development coach from Kentucky University. Payne previously worked with Randle at Kentucky, and is credited with playing a huge part in his early development.
Randle is having a career year. He leads the Knicks in all major statistical categories: Points per game (23.2), Rebounds (11), Assists (5.5) Field-goal percentage (48 percent). Making a clear case for an all-star inclusion. He’s also developing a solid perimeter shot hitting at a 40 percent clip, which is a remarkable improvement from 27 percent last year.
Last week, Randle posted a monster 44 point game in a big win against the Atlanta Hawks. One shy of his career high. Prompting a teammate to exclaim: “If this man is not an all-star, there is a problem.” Few can disagree with that assessment.
This may be the draft steal of the first round. Viewed by some media experts as a second-round calibre player, New York selected Immanuel Quickley 25th in the first round and he’s proven to be a steal. Quickley has quickly (pun intended), exceeded expectations and perhaps has star potential. This is due in part to his ability to shoot off-the-ball from range. He has speed, vision, and an ability to make shots off-the-dribble. After a string of great displays off the bench, Paul George described Quickley’s scoring ability as “crazy.” Immanuel has all the intangibles to be a real building block for the Knicks going forward.
Derrick Rose Trade has Helped
While Derrick Rose is somewhat diminished as a star player in this league, this was still a great trade for the Knicks. He still has remarkable speed in the paint, especially at cutting to the basket. He’s increased the speed of the offense when he’s on the court, and has created easier looks for his team-mates. Principally, he’s a been a huge help to rookie’s Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley. In Mark Berman’s NY Post aricle last week he states how he’s an ‘absolute benefactor’ to both. Both players scoring, and field goal percentage have increased playing with Rose in the second unit. Its not a coincidence the Knicks have solidified themselves in the playoff hunt since acquiring Rose.
Areas of Improvement: Another Scorer Needed
Offensively, the Knicks rank a putrid 29th in points scored, they are particularly among the slower teams offensively. Often their second unit, led by Rose and Quickley, improves their tempo and they look much more effective. This can be an area the coach could look to consider moving forward, increasing their minutes.
Primarily, their main issue is they need to give Randle some help on the offensive end. Alec Burks has been in a shooting slump recently. Elfrid Payton has had one of his poorest seasons running the point. Their offense has been carried by Randle, with streaky but solid contributions from RJ Barrett. Barrett has developed a lot this season, and is unafraid of taking big shots down the stretch. This is a great sign as a young player. His perimeter shot and lack of a consistent mid-range game, is still too inconsistent to be relied upon as a secondary option. There are concerns that the Knicks may not have enough scoring when it’s all said and done to make the playoffs. They should look at upgrading the shooting guard spot to address this.
Obi Toppin’s Development
Obi Toppin, their 8th Overall pick in the draft has struggled at times. He only averages around 11 minutes per game, and he has areas to improve. For instance, he needs to develop a post-up game. He could also benefit from modelling his game around former great Amare’e Stoudemire; who possessed a similar skill-set at a young age.
In fairness, it’s difficult for Toppin to break into the team playing behind Randle’s career year. He’s also a player who relies on a point guard to help provide easy looks in space around the basket due to his athleticism. Payton has struggled in that department, but Rose has a better compliment for his skillset. In their short time working together, he has doubled Toppin’s offensive output.
It’s fair to wonder what the Knicks plan at power forward is in the future. They have invested a top 10 pick in Toppin, yet Julius Randle is in his prime and is developing into an all-star, and leader. He looks to be a player to build around. What this could mean for Toppin depends on how much he improves.
Trade Options to Consider
To ensure a playoff spot, they may need to consider the trade market, especially at the guard spot. Flush with draft assets including two first round picks in 2021, they have the cap space to absorb a big salary also.
According to inside media sources, they would love to make a deal for current NBA scoring leader Bradley Beal. However there is no indication he is presently available. They also are monitoring superstar scorer Zack LaVine’s situation. If either player becomes available, expect the Knicks to pursue these options. It would take a significant haul to make these deals. It also remains to be seen if the Knicks would be willing to include young franchise pieces RJ Barrett or Mitchell Robinson in trade talks.
General Manager Scott Perry is a huge fan of Victor Oladipo of the Houston Rockets, having originally drafted him in Orlando. Of the three names mentioned, he is the only one considered to be available due to being an unrestricted free agent next year.
If I were the Knicks, I would avoid a deal for Oladipo. Since being traded to the Houston Rockets, he’s been inefficient on the offensive end and his all-round offensive game has declined. Due to his injury history, I would be reticent to invest draft capitol on him at this point.
A move that may be realistic in the short-term, is checking-in on the availability of Terry Rozier. New York have been interested in him for a few years now, and Charlotte Hornets have a lot of options at guard. Perhaps if they fall out of contention, Terry could become available. Averaging around 21 points per game, he’s had a strong season so far.
With the free agency class thin this coming year, it makes sense to pursue trade options now.
Conclusion: New York Knicks Make a Playoff Run
As the Brooklyn Nets have proven before acquiring their 3-headed super-team; any team is exponentially more attractive to stars by making the playoffs. This was the Knicks major problem previously. They had cap space to sign players, but were stuck in a continual loop of being among the worst teams in the league, hurting their appeal around NBA circles. They also previously made mistakes in the draft, in player development and made poor coaching hires.
Thibodeau and his staff have already done so much in helping the Knicks in exceeding expectations. Quickley’s selection has proven the Knicks have the right scouts in charge also. Things are looking up for the organization, and they are in a good spot to make a playoff push. There is no arena quite like Madison Square Garden, the ‘Mecca of basketball’ With a limited number of fans due back in the arena, it promises to be electric at the Garden for the rest of the season and their potential playoff push.
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