Why the New York Knicks won’t have a “defensive drop-off” this season

The New York Knicks are just a few days away from preseason basketball. The energy surrounding the team has been largely positive.

With a fully vaccinated team and a roster that added new talent this offseason, expectations are going to be high coming out of the gate. The New York Knicks have a favorable schedule over their first ten games and want to come out hot.

There are still some question marks that will need to be answered.

New York Knicks: Will Payton and Bullock departures hurt the defense?

The upgrade from Elfrid Payton and Reggie Bullock to Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier will be massive. Two players who struggled mightly to be initiators of offense to two who have been hubs of offense at a very high level for years.

However…

There have been some concerns that because Walker and Fournier aren’t “known” defenders that the team may have an incoming dropoff in their defense.

I’m not so sure that’s the case.

Defense is always much harder to quantify on the stat sheet than offense.

Starting with Payton, the perception of him being a “tone-setter” because of his physical presence was always a bit overstated. Sure, coach leaned on him, but he underperformed. The actual defensive output wasn’t ever consistent.

Payton is a solid role player who was a victim of the large starting point guard he was given. He actually appeared to be a point of weakness to attack for many opposing teams over the course of the season.

Kemba Walker is quite the polar opposite in playstyle from Elfrid Payton but is drastically different also from a physical standpoint as well. He may not be the “tone-setter” that Elfrid Payton was but he sure can play to his responsibilites as a defender in Tom Thibodeau’s defense.

Tom Thibodeau’s scheme should hide any individual defensive deficiencies just as it did last season. When it comes to guards, this team loves their ice coverage, where they can funnel ball-handlers into tight, heavy-traffic areas. 

Going into last year, were any Knicks players known as elite defenders? Are there any Knicks players on today’s roster known as “elite” defenders?

Even without the talent, many Knicks players landed near the top of defensive metric stats due to the high level at which they executed their team defense.

Reggie Bullock absolutely earned his title as the best perimeter defender on the New York Knicks last season. That doesn’t mean he was one of the best in the entire NBA or an irreplaceable player.

Where Bullock thrived was defending wing players. That’s where he could utilize his strength and wingspan to the fullest.

It was when he was tasked with defending guards where he could really struggle. He can’t keep up with speed. He’s not someone you just “stick” on the opponent’s best player.

He simply doesn’t have the same lateral quickness and athleticism as Kawhi Leonard, Mikal Bridges, OG Anunoby, Dillon Brooks, and other high-end defensive wings who can switch onto multiple positions.

When it comes to Evan Fournier stepping into Reggie Bullocks’ role, I’m not so sure there is going to be much of a dropoff on defense. We may even see Fournier and RJ Barrett switch off some defensive responsibilites.

From a physical standpoint, Fournier isn’t all too different from Bullock. He’s frequently been tasked with guarding elite wing players in his NBA career.

At the end of the day, the Knicks’ changes on offense should catapult them forward in their scoring output. Their defense should remain about the same and at the very worst, be a top-10 defense in the NBA.