Reasons for the New York Knicks Success

In the 2020-21 NBA season, against all odds, the New York Knicks success restored playoff basketball in Madison Square Garden. Before the season the Knicks had the lowest chance across the Eastern Conference of making the playoffs. They were coming off of a 21 win season, one of the worst in the league. After another offseason without signing any big free agents and failing to land a top 5 draft pick, fans and analysts were all expecting another ‘tank’ season. This begs the question, what changed within the Knickerbockers that propelled them from 21 wins to 41 wins the very next season?

The New York Knicks’ Successful Season

Coaching and Executives

In the 2019-20 season, coaching proved to be a prominent issue. David Fizdale, the erstwhile head coach had confounding rotations and ran an isolation-heavy offense. This meant many players were used ineffectively. Furthermore, Fizdale drew up easily countered plays out of timeouts that resulted in low percentage shots. As a result, in July 2020, Knicks President Leon Rose brought in Tom Thibodeau as their head coach.

Thibodeau’s defensive philosophies transformed the team. He took them from the 23rd to the fourth-best defensive team in the entire NBA. He demanded grit from his team and encouraged them to play hard every game. The veteran coach conducted daily drills that developed the team’s communication and togetherness, more importantly, he held players accountable. Another highlight of Thibodeau’s year was his ability to maximize the potential of the first-time All-Star, Julius Randle. His coaching excellence has recently been acknowledged as he was named the 2020-21 Coach of the Year.

Bringing in William Wesley was another masterstroke. The Knicks executive vice president played a key role in acquiring Immanuel Quickley late in the 2020 draft. ‘World Wide Wes’, as he is commonly referred to, repeatedly stated “We need Quickley, get Quickley,” on the day of the draft, which resulted in the Knicks swapping picks with the Minnesota Timberwolves and drafting the guard out of Kentucky. This pick was initially criticized by many analysts; CBS Sports graded it a D+. However, Quickley soon proved many people wrong and became known as the steal of the draft.

Moreover, Leon Rose, the President of Knicks basketball was very important. In addition to bringing in the Coach of the Year, he was also responsible for the trade involving Derrick Rose. In this trade, New York merely gave up Dennis Smith Jr., a struggling point guard who averaged 5.5 points per game on 34 percent from the field in the 2019-20 season. As well as a late second-round pick for Rose, who proved to be a key player for the Knicks.

The Successful Knick Bench

The Knicks bench was very impressive, they averaged a combined 48.5 points per game. The most essential piece of the bench was Rose. The former MVP averaged 14.9 points per game and served as a reliable scoring option for the Knicks bench all season. He boosted the Knicks offense and helped to develop the rookies, Quickley and Obi Toppin. When the Knicks were without Rose their record was 17-20. With Rose, their record was 24-11. This highlights the great value that Rose added to the team. The 32-year-old proved that he can be a valuable asset to a playoff team, despite not being as fast and athletic as he was in his MVP days.

Alec Burks was also a key player off the bench. Burks was a great addition to New York’s offense throughout the season. The three-level scorer put up several big performances and was one of the most clutch players on the team, often providing much-needed buckets in the late game.

Lastly, Quickley certainly contributed to the team’s success. The rookie out of Kentucky quickly emerged as a fan favorite. His smooth floater and elite three-point shooting ability often had the Garden crowd on their feet. The 22-year-old showed that he could shoot the ball off the dribble, on the catch, and from well beyond the arc, providing great spacing for the Knicks.

Star Duo

The 2020-21 Knicks team was led by the duo of RJ Barrett and Julius Randle, who both made huge leaps in their games from the prior season. Barrett was coming off an underwhelming rookie season, his confidence was low and his shooting was poor. However, the sophomore out of Duke made a big improvement in his three-point shot, Barrett shot a sub-par 32 percent in his rookie season, compared to 40.1 percent in the recent season. The third-overall pick became an all-around more efficient player, even increasing his free throw percentage by 15 percent.

Even more impressive than Barrett was the improvements seen in Randle. The All-Star forward looked like a completely new player this season. He averaged career highs in just about every stat and became one of three players in NBA history to average 20+ points, 10+ assists, and 5+ rebounds on 40 percent shooting from downtown in a season (Larry Bird, Nikola Jokic). Randle also led the Knicks in points, rebounds, and assists. His vast improvements were recognized when he won the most improved player award and made it onto the All-NBA Second Team. There should be no doubt that this duo played a pivotal role in New York’s successful season.

Knicks Success Ignites Excitement

Although the Knicks success was a surprise this season, they did fall short in the playoffs, losing in just five games to the Atlanta Hawks. Despite this, the Knicks have established a winning culture that has been lacking since 2013. Fans should certainly be excited for the future of this franchise. The Knickerbockers have a strong duo in Randle and Barrett, a young core that contributes to winning, and a respected coaching staff and front office.

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