Last Word On Basketball

Eastern Conference Playoffs Dark Horse: New York Knicks

Don’t look now, but the New York Knicks are in the top half of the Eastern Conference playoffs standings. It may be hard to conjure that thought, they are the Knicks after all, but it’s true. Head coach Tom Thibodeau has reinvigorated the franchise with his elite defensive schemes and strong player development. New York isn’t a complete product, but they’re going to cause plenty of problems for whoever they face in the playoffs this season.

The New York Knicks Are an Eastern Conference Playoffs Dark Horse

The Rise of Julius Randle

A lot of the Knicks’ success must be attributed to Julius Randle. He completely flipped his image of being a good player on a bad team to being a leader on a legitimate playoff team. That, of course, came along with his first career All-Star appearance this season.

He’s averaging an astounding 23.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game. Randle leads the entire team in all of these categories. He’s also shooting 42.3 percent from deep.

Besides being a statistical monster, Randle is showing major improvement in his leadership. It’s clear he’s the emotional leader of the team any time they’re on the floor, and he constantly fights until the very end. His winning attitude is infectious, and it’s spread through the Knicks roster.

Last season everyone would’ve scoffed at the idea of Randle being the best player on a playoff dark horse team, but this season it’s a reality. He’s that good now.

The Two Young Guns are Ready for the Eastern Conference Playoffs

New York’s success also stems from the play of two of their youngest stars – RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley.

Barrett’s success should be expected, as he was the third overall pick in the 2019 Draft, but it often gets overlooked due to the success of Zion Williamson and Ja Morant. This season he’s averaging 17.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game. He’s looking more and more comfortable as a reliable second-option, which will definitely be needed in the playoffs. He’s still only 20-years-old, so the sky’s the limit for the often forgotten youngster.

Quickley has become a stud quicker than anyone could’ve expected. He was selected with the 25th overall pick in the 2020 Draft but is already putting up averages of 12.8 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game. He’s also shooting nearly 38 percent from deep and 89 percent from the line. Quickley is now a focal point on offense, and a player opposing defenses absolutely must pay attention to.

The Supporting Cast is Better than it may Look

At first glance, the Knicks’ supporting cast may not look special, but Thibodeau has them competition night-in and night-out. A few of the names to highlight are Alec BurksDerrick RoseElfrid PaytonReggie Bullock, and Nerlens Noel.

Burks is quietly enjoying an excellent season. He’s averaging over 13 points per game on a strong 42-41-86 shooting split. In addition, he’s also hauling in five rebounds per game and bringing in tough defense.

Rose and Payton are a solid rotation at the point guard spot. Rose, of course, is a former MVP and the main veteran of this team. He’s averaging 13.5 points and 4.3 assists per game under the tutelage of his former coach Thibodeau. Payton is averaging 12.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game.

Bullock offers solid defense and shooting. His nine points per game are largely attributed to his 39 percent shooting from deep. Noel is also a defensive beast, averaging six rebounds and two blocks per game in a little over 20 minutes on the court. New York just lost Mitchell Robinson, averaging 8.3 points and 8.1 boards per game, to a fractured foot so Noel will have an extended role.

For the Knicks to truly compete, they’ll need a little more rookie Obi Toppin and veteran Taj Gibson as well to fill Robinson’s void.

The team’s defense-first attitude, however, will make them a nightmare to play against in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Main Image: Embed from Getty Images

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