New Year, new Knicks.
At least, that’s what they’re hoping for. It looked like New York found a second life coming off a resounding Christmas Day victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
Led by Julius Randle and the newly minted Eastern Conference Player of the Week, Kemba Walker, the Knicks thought they reached a turning point in the season as a competitive and cohesive basketball team.
After what was their more bizarre game of the year in a victory over the Detroit Pistons, the Knicks are right back where they started.
The Knicks’ starting lineup was putrid, as the bench ended up playing the entire fourth quarter, resulting in one of the most dumbfounding box scores and +/- you’ll see.
What is going on with the Knicks?
In addition to their various woes on the court throughout the season, whether it’d be their defense, inconsistent three-point shooting, offensive rebounding, New York’s victory of Detroit showed that their biggest issue this season has been their vibes.
New York’s chemistry going into the season was never a worry. They ran back almost all of the team from last season, adding Evan Fournier (who looked like he’d fit right in) along with the universally beloved Kemba Walker.
After the first game of the season, the vibes couldn’t have looked better. Walker and Fournier fit right in, adding versatility to New York’s previously predictable offense. The team played inspired, resulting in a thrilling victory in double OT over the Celtics.
But after their 5-1 start, things fell apart for the Knicks. Their identity last season was staked on their defense and effort from every player on the team. A big 15.
We’ve seen that consistently from the bench this season, as Alec Burks put up a season-high 34 points against the Pistons, seamlessly taking over for the injured Derrick Rose as the 2nd unit’s leader. He pushed the pace and led the way on defense. The calm veteran Taj Gibson and feisty Immanuel Quickly’s pick and roll game looked better than any two-man game to come out of the starting five all season.
Obi Toppin continues to electrify while making a more than compelling case for more playing time.
However, the excitement that the bench brings has been outweighed by the top-down pessimism that has plagued New York’s most important figures.
While a regression from Julius Randle was expected (and accounted for), the lack of effort on the defensive end, careless turnovers, and reliance on iso ball has killed the vibes in New York. The same can be said for Evan Fournier, who like Randle, exhibits a visual frustration that can kill the momentum for the team. (While Fournier did not play against the Pistons due to a sore ankle, rookie Quentin Grimes was seen trying to rally the starting five after going down in the fourth quarter.
Not a good look for Randle as a leader). Randle’s struggles rub off on the rest of the starting five, killing any chance for the team to get into a rhythm. Thibs’ leash with Randle continues to run too long.
While the Knicks were able to rally around Kemba Walker after he returned to the lineup, he struggled against Detroit. He was helpless when double-teamed. Looking exhausted in his first back-to-back game of the season, it was a reminder that there must be a contingency for when Kemba doesn’t have it.
Their victory against the Pistons showed that the only real way to get their identity back is to win. And as we’ve seen, their bench and young guns have become the best way to do so.
But If Julius Randle and the rest of the starting five keep killing the vibes this season, we can start looking at some draft boards.