With a record of 41-31, these indomitable New York Knicks not only defied the odds to clinch a playoff berth for the first time in eight years, but the 4th seed. Thus achieving home-court for the first round.
Being one of the top 6 seeds is an impressive feat. It’s also far from fools gold, as they are legitimately one of the best defensive teams in the entire NBA. Ranking in the top 3 in the league by playing an unremitting style defensively. This Knicks team plays hard every night. Although they may have been unfancied from the outside, that wasn’t the case inside the building. They believed in themselves from the outset and set out to prove it. Going into this season, the odds-makers had them around 22 wins, they have completely eclipsed that in defying the odds.
Defying the odds: New York Knicks clinch playoff berth for first time in 8 years
This stems from the excellent work of head coach Tom Thibodeau. Since taking the reigns this year, Thibodeau has preached a culture of discipline, hard work and a team-first mentality. He has instilled an offense based on ball-sharing and continuity, contributing to their high shooting percentage from range. Defensively, the focus being on protecting the rim, and closing down perimeter shooters. As one of the very best defensive head coaches in the NBA for around two decades, this team has responded to his teachings.
Despite his success in previous coaching stints, including playoff appearances for Chicago and Minnesota, he still had something to prove. Namely, that his tough methods of accountability would work in the modern player-power NBA. However, this young team have responded, and many players have raised their levels massively under his tutelage. This job has always been his dream job, and he has taken it and ran with it by establishing a winning culture in the organization.
A very strong case has to be made that he is the deserving coach of the year. Certainly the Phoenix Suns Monty Williams and Utah Jazz Quin Snyder are also in the running for the honor. However, few have turned their franchise around more than Thibodeau.
King of New York: How he helped the Knicks clinch playoff berth
Julius Randle. Enough said.
Little did the Knicks know going into this season that they already had a star on their hands. Initially, he was linked to early trade rumors going into the season. However Thibodeau came away very impressed with his initial impressions of Julius. Randle in turn, devoted his entire offseason determined to master his craft and put in an intense workout regimen through the summer. It paid off massively.
This year, he’s having one of the best seasons in this storied franchises history. He is expected to win the league’s Most Improved player, likely to be selected in one of the three all-NBA teams, and top 5 consideration for NBA’s Most Valuable Player. If you look at the definition of the term, few have done for their team what Randle has done for this Knicks team.
Randle is averaging 24 points 10.3 rebounds and 6 assists, with 41.5% shooting from 3. Not only are these career highs, he is setting franchise records. His multiple 40 point games is the most by a Knick since all-time great Carmelo Anthony in 2014.
His 44 point/10 rebound/7 assist night against Dallas in April was the most since legend Bernard King in 1985. He’s also now the first ever Knick to average 20/10/5 over a full season. Records are flying, buckets are dropping, Randle carried this team each night. Look no further when assessing how the Knicks cliched a playoff berth.
Reggie Bullock has been a sniper this year from range shooting 40.5% from 3, whilst playing very solid defense.
Alec Burks also exceeded expectations. One of President Leon Rose best acquisitions this off-season, signed to a team-friendly 1 year $6mill deal, Burks is proving quite the bargain. Shooting 40% from 3 while providing solid ball-handling and playing excellent defense. Capped off by Burks impressive 30 points, 10 rebounds showing against the Spurs. Rose will surely look into retaining him.
Nerlens Noel: With starting centre Mitchell Robinson out injured through most of this year, alot of pressure was on Noel. Signed to an absurdly cheap 1 year $5million deal, he’s been another great signing from the front office. Acquired to hold the fort at that position and provide rim protection, he’s done that and more. On a nightly basis you will see some gravity-defying blocks each night from him. Indeed he ranks 2nd in the NBA in blocks per game. Although quite skinny in build, he times his jumps to perfection. Closing out this year with 5 blocks and 4 blocks these final two games.
Taj Gibson: Signed at the start of the year on a minimum deal due to his knowledge of Thibodeau’s system. He’s been immense this season at 35 years old as the quintessential intangibles player. Often the stats don’t often cover the immeasurable positives he provides on a nightly basis. He is the perfect Thibodeau player. Hard working, tough providing incredible defensive intelligence on the court. He’s also one of the better players in the league at setting high screens. It’s great to see the Brooklyn-born Taj finish off the tail-end of his career on a high in front of a home crowd.
Development of Youth
One of the main reasons why this Knick team has been so successful has been the coaching staff’s ability to develop the key young players on the roster. Namely RJ Barrett in his second year out of Duke University, and Immanuel Quickley selected 25th in this years draft from Kentucky Wildcats.
Quickley was unheralded coming out of the draft, yet he’s made NBA analysts eat their words. According to sources with knowledge of draft day, the recommendation to draft Quickley actually came from executive William Wesley who pressed Rose to draft Quickley. With the organization’s strong ties to the university programme through assistant coach Kenny Payne, this was an ideal situation for Quickley. He’s been a revelation, providing instant offense and perimeter scoring throughout the year.
His initial burst on the scene prompted all-star Paul George to comment on his scoring ability as “crazy.” Best suited off-the ball as not a strong ball-handler, he has a unique ability to find different ways to score.
RJ Barrett’s development
RJ has arguably made the biggest leap from his previous season. He has made vast improvements across the board. His dogged, determined personality and poise enables him to handle the pressures of playing in New York.
Last year scouts pointed out RJ had a hitch in his jump shot which needed major work. With credit to the coaching staff and the young player himself for being open to instruction, RJ redoubled his efforts in the gym working tirelessly day and night and it has paid dividends. Since last season his perimeter shooting has increased from 32% to 39.3% which is significant. Whilst he’s always been good at rebounding and playmaking, he’s taken strides in both departments. He’s also played major minutes, and is among the league leaders in minutes per game.
He has areas of his game he needs to work on. He still has flaws in his mid-range game and he also allows himself to be beaten along the baseline, getting caught backdoor defensively.
However, few would have predicted the sheer rise that RJ has had in almost every department which is a testament to his attitude and work-rate. He very much is a franchise-keeper going forward.
One of the best trades in the league
Last but not least, Derrick Rose. If a single event happened to propel this Knick team toward their first playoff berth in 8 years, it’s been the trade of this crafty vet.
Former MVP Rose, has matured like a fine wine with age. He pushed to be traded from the doldrums in Detroit to play for his former boss Thibodeau. This deal came through as a massive steal for New York. Denis Smith Jr and a 2nd Rd pick for the former MVP, and few trades have been more impactful for their franchise than this one.
Elfrid Payton much maligned by the fanbase, has been a net-minus on the floor. If there is one major criticism of this team, it is the look of the offense when Payton runs the floor in the starting unit. It often looks like they are moving in quick sand due to his immense struggles. Thibodeau still likes Payton to start due to his size and defense, but its quite obvious that he wants Rose or Burks to close out games.
Rose noticeably speeds up the offense. With his creativity off the dribble and masterful ability at picking the right spots to get to the rim, he is still elite at finishing in traffic. He has also been a terrific mentor for the younger players who all excel with Rose leading the offense. He’s been immense during the Knicks run to the playoffs. Most impressively he produced a masterful 25 points 8 assists and 6 rebounds on the road against the Clippers a few nights ago. Essentially clinching their first playoff berth in 8 years.
Huge winning streak helped New York Knicks clinch spot in playoffs
The Knicks 9 game winning streak in April, was the most by the team since 2013 and longest streak in the NBA this season. This truly catapulted this team from looking like they may have to settle for a spot in the play-in tournament, into being on the of the better teams in the league. During this streak they found ways to win. From gritty overtime wins to beating the reigning world champion Lakers.
However, many view the overtime rally win over the Memphis Grizzlies 133-129 as the turning point. Coming from 13 points down late in the 4th quarter to come back and win it. This started the streak and showed their mettle in clutch spots, and fighting spirit. Not least they showed an ability to beat a strong team. These indefatigable Knicks refuse to quit, and they show that on a nightly basis.
New York Knicks Playoffs Matchup
Looking ahead at the upcoming playoff series, they now face the Atlanta Hawks. By clinching the 4th seed and homecourt advantage, the famous Garden crowd could play a part in tipping this in the Knicks favor. Despite only 10% due to Covid restrictions, the fans made the ‘Worlds most famous arena’ sound full this year. With attendance promised to increase further by the playoffs, this could be a factor.
Atlanta are very well coached though, having a terrific year themselves. Particularly they are loaded offensively, and have a lot of shooters. However, defensively the Knicks hold an advantage. If they can make it a gritty affair in these games, forcing Trey Young in to tough shots or to give up the ball, I like their chances.
Regardless of what transpires the rest of the way, this has been a great year for the team. For several years they were seen as a punchline to the league. Although they were expected to modestly improve under their excellent coach, no one in their wildest dreams could imagine this improvement.
This is still technically a rebuilding year, and a step by step process, so its important they remain grounded. Thibodeau to his credit has been preaching this. Namely good habits. Preaching a commitment to getting better every day, propelling the Knicks to clinch their playoff berth.
Loaded with draft capital, a franchise star, and a ton of cap space the Knicks will be major players for available star talent in the near future. There are already rumblings of star players looking in the Knicks direction as a potential destination.
First priority in the offseason will be to tie Randle down to a new deal. Secondly, to find a franchise corner stone point guard- as this has been the teams major weakness.
Similar to the cross-town Nets; smart drafting and development and a playoff push put them in position to acquire their 3-headed monster. Now the Knicks, as one of the marquee names in Sports, have put themselves back on the leagues radar in a similar way. As Lebron James commented this season- ‘the league is better off when the Knicks are winning.’
It’s been 8 long years for their suffering fanbase waiting for the Knicks to clinch a playoff berth, but the wait is over. To quote Julius Randle on the achievement, “Check it off the list, we are not close to done.” Exciting times promise to be ahead for the New York Knicks.
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