Bing Bong? More like Ping Pong for the New York Knicks

New York Knicks star Julius Randle
Spread the love

The New York Knicks’ 2021-22 campaign started with a bang – or more notably – a BING BONG. They beat the Boston Celtics in a thrilling double-overtime game in front of 20,000 rabid Knicks fans at Madison Square Garden on opening night. Julius Randle led the Knicks to victory with 35 points, 8 rebounds, and 9 assists. 

After the game, this was the scene outside of MSG. The Knicks were back. Knicks fans were soaring with excitement. The Knicks would cruise to a 5-1 record to begin the year. “BING BONG” was seared into the NYC Zeitgeist. By all accounts, the Knicks appeared poised to build on their success from last season.

Things have since taken a sharp turn in the opposite direction. They’ve lost 9 of their last 10 games and currently sit in 12th place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 25-37. With 20 games remaining in the regular season, they’re 4 games out of qualifying for the play-in tournament. The East is far deeper this season than it was a year ago. 

Bing Bong. The Knicks’ playoff hopes appear to be dead.

Bing Bong? More like Ping Pong. The New York Knicks Are Lottery Bound Again. 

How We Got Here

Last year during the NBA’s shortened 72-game regular season the New York Knicks finished 4th in the Eastern Conference with a 41-31 record. They secured their first playoff birth in 8 seasons and only their third top-4 seed in 21 seasons. Despite an ugly 4-1 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs, Knicks nation embraced a resurgence of optimism. After sweeping changes to their front office and the emergence of Julius Randle as the NBA’s most improved player, the Knicks appeared to be poised for another playoff run this season. 

The Knicks made only a few minor roster adjustments in the offseason. Evan Fournier signed as a free agent to replace Reggie Bullock on the wing. Kemba Walker was brought in on a relatively team-friendly deal to bolster the Knicks’ backcourt. Randle signed a 3-year extension with a 4th-year player option.

The plan seemed straightforward. Bring back the core from a season ago and build on last year’s success. So what went wrong?

Higher Expectations + Better Opposition

The Knicks haven’t won an NBA Championship since 1972. The last time the Knicks made the NBA Finals was 1999 – when the San Antonio Spurs demolished them 4-1. Last season was a wild ride. It’s exciting when the Knicks are good. It’s even good for the NBA on the whole. This bing bong thing is fun! But is it possible our expectations for the Knicks season year were too high, especially in a loaded Eastern Conference? 

Their success last season was an actual statistical anomaly – specifically Julius Randle’s ‘breakout’ season. We don’t even need to get into advanced metrics to realize this (although they’re equally as telling). 

Julius Randle Is Who We Thought He Was

Usually, by the time a player is 26 years old, we have a pretty good idea of who they are and who they can become. Last season Randle played a career-high 38 minutes a game and his efficiencies ballooned. For a player entering his 7th season, this combination of higher usage + higher efficiencies is a rarity.

Randle has averaged 17.6 points per game during his 7-year career. Last season he scored 24 ppg. This year he’s hovering around 20 per game. 

Randle is a career 33% shooter from the 3-point line. Last season he shot 41%! If you remove last year’s number from his career average he’d be at 28%. This season he’s shooting 30% from 3. 

Same for free throws. Randle for his career shoots 74% from the stripe. Last season he shot 81%. This year he’s back to 76%. 

In a sense, Randle has simply regressed to the mean. This season he’s performing at an even higher level than many of his career numbers – just nowhere near last year’s totals. 

New York Knicks Backcourt Issues

Most of the NBA’s top teams have their point guard position shored up. It makes sense to invest in the position through which your offense will flow, right? 

The Knicks re-signed 32-year-old point guard Derrick Rose (he’s 33 now) to a 3-year deal at about $14 million per season in the offseason. Kemba Walker signed for 2 years at $9 million per season. He’s 31. Both have a long history of debilitating lower-body injuries. Of the 62 games the Knicks have played this season, Rose has appeared in only 26 of them, Kemba in 37 – mostly in a reserve role before being shut down for the remainder of the season. 

Last year’s first-round pick Immanuel Quickley hasn’t been given consistent minutes by coach Tom Thibodeau. Rookie first-round guard Quentin Grimes showed promise in limited minutes before going down with a knee injury. Second-round rookie guard Miles McBride has barely seen the floor. 

Instability in the backcourt has forced Randle, Fournier, and Alec Burks to play the role of primary ball-handler far more frequently than they should be. Should we be surprised by the results?

Wait, There’s Good News

Well, sort of. 

This season is lost, but the Knicks have a reasonable amount of flexibility moving forward, unlike for much of the last decade. They own all of their future first-round picks in addition to the Dallas Mavericks’ pick in 2023. 

Randle is 27 and his contract extension is consummate with his performance this season. The Knicks didn’t have to offer him the supermax. He’s not a superstar, but he’s the best veteran piece the Knicks have had to build around since Carmelo Anthony

And remember – he’s not being paid like a superstar. Not anywhere close. 

RJ Barrett has taken a leap in his 3rd NBA season. He and Randle form a solid foundation for the future.

PING PONG. All Eyes on the Draft Lottery for New York Knicks

The Knicks find themself in a familiar position approaching this year’s lottery. Maybe this was the plan all along for this season and we’ve been too blinded by the taste of last year’s flukey success to realize that there is a plan. If the ping pong balls bounce their way, they’ll likely have their 6th top-10 pick in the last 7 years. 

The Knicks have not taken advantage of their draft position in recent years. Most recently in 2020, the Knicks selected Obi Toppin #8 overall over Tyrese Haliburton, one of the league’s best young point guards and a player who would certainly have filled their void in the backcourt. 

Except for selecting Kristaps Porzingis 4th overall in 2015 and Barrett 3rd overall in 2019, the Knicks have used high draft picks on players who have failed to develop into meaningful roster pieces. Worse, there’s a long list of players they’ve passed on who have developed. 

The forthcoming draft lottery will have significant implications on the Knicks’ future. Maybe this time they’ll land a top pick and use it wisely. 

Grab your paddles. It’s time for some ping pong.

Main Photo
Embed from Getty Images