The season has started and the New York Knicks have not disappointed. Their 5-4 start is one of the best of the century.
This team is young scrappy and showing that they didn’t waste time during the offseason. They are in shape and it shows, they have another gear at another level and it’s been a pleasure to watch.
Several players are showing their upsides and playing with a sense of passion. They all look like they are playing for a cause.
MVP of the first nine games goes to Julius Randle. He’s been one of the better players in the league so far posting All-Star caliber numbers. He’s averaging 23 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists per game. No longer is Randle spinning into double or triple teams and turning over the ball. When he posts in the paint and finds himself tangled up, he now always looks to pass to his teammates. The excessive increase in ball movement has helped the Knicks’ offense progress.
He worked out a lot during the summer. His training regimen was relentless and it shows. He has been a leader and a rock for this team so far nothing but solid.
RJ Barrett has been playing much-improved basketball. You can tell he’s a lot stronger finishing around the basket. Barrett’s free-throw shooting is much improved. His jump-shot slash mechanics are going to be the reason he averages 18 to 22 points per game this season. He’s averaging 17 points, seven rebounds, and 3 assists. He’s playing a lot of minutes and has shown a clutch smooth demeanor. RJ Barrett is also much more improved on the defensive side of the ball thanks to the tutelage of head coach Tom Thibodeau.
For Barrett to have a true breakout season, he needs to be a more consistent scorer. Driving to the rim and drawing fouls is great. But, he has a mid-range jumper in the works and needs to get it going. His shooting beyond the arc hasn’t been great nor consistent. No one is expecting him to be the next Ray Allen but this is a three-point shooting league now. RJ Barrett needs to adjust.
Elfrid Payton continues to remain solid on defense. He’s making more three-pointers this year than around the same time last season. Payton’s three-point shooting has been average, making 35 percent of his threes, which is considered average in the NBA. His scoring is a lot better this season as he is now averaging 14.8 points per game, the highest of a Knicks point guard since Emmanuel Mudiay in 2018.
Austin Rivers has been a bright spot off of the Knicks’ bench on both sides of the ball. This season, he is averaging 13 points per game while shooting 55 percent from the field and 48 percent from beyond the arc. The Knicks lack perimeter shooters but Rivers makes up for that. He has also been a great locker room guy for the youngsters on the team.
Rookie Immanuel Quickley started the regular season red hot but has cooled since the Hawks game. Quickley has been a great pacesetter for the offense and brings lots of energy. He also can draw fouls with ease. He is quick to the rim as well. But, Quickley focused too much on drawing fouls in his last two games. He’s not your prototypical point guard but can be a great sharpshooter off of the bench. Quickley has shown glimpses of special play but will need to heat up once again.
Mitchell Robinson has shown major improvements on the defensive side of the ball. Robinson is no longer finding himself in deep foul trouble to start games. If he does land in foul trouble, he makes adjustments so he doesn’t foul out. He’s showed containment of his overzealousness against big men like Domantas Sabonis and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
It’s actually refreshing to see head coach Tom Thibodeau actually start Robinson and help him work on his technique and make adjustments throughout the game. Robinson is also looking to become more of a contributor on offense. He is becoming more efficient around the basket.
As the season grows I think the guards will incorporate him more in the offense. He’s averaging 8.3 points and 8 rebounds per game and could eventually become a walking double-double.
Kevin Knox has also shown improvement. He isn’t playing starter minutes but when he does he has shown that he can impact the game in a variety of ways. His three-point shooting at times has helped the team win games. He’s averaging 50 percent from three in his last four games. He’s averaging seven points and three rebounds in 21 minutes per game. His defense has also shown improvement and could get better as the season goes on.
I feel Knox isn’t gonna be a starter anytime soon but he’s looking like a solid player. He is looking like a solid role-playing 3-and-D specialist coming off the bench. The Knicks need him to perform like one as they lack shooters on the perimeter. Knox’s progression as a role player can make an impact.
Head Coach Tom Thibodeau
I love what I’m seeing from new head coach Tom Thibodeau. Team defense is something the Knicks have shown improvement from previous years. The Knicks haven’t had a defense-first team since 2012-13 when Mike Woodson was at the helm. Funny enough, he is on Thibodeau’s coaching staff.
The Knicks are exemplifying solid defensive play quick switching and doubling players on the weak side and coming out to guard the perimeter after a pass out of a double team. It’s night and day from last year.
Coach Thibodeau allows these players to be in the best position to succeed on offense. You can see there are no limitations when it comes to scoring opportunities. They have plenty of chances to score. the ball movement has to stay fluent for this team to make its mark. At times, the ball movement has been amazing and sometimes some teams come just to mess up that fluidity. Thankfully the Knicks have a coach that can still draw up a play that his team can execute when playing against a tough defense.
The Knicks aren’t world beaters yet they may stumble through portions of this schedule. But in all fairness they are a very young team and the growth will be worth watching this year. Obi Toppin is a wild card for the Knicks he’s missed 8 games and who knows what the Knicks record would be if he was out there.