Coach Tom Thibodeau has historically been known to coach teams that were gritty and hardworking on defense. They play tough, smart and most importantly they play hard. This is why it is baffling for many New York Knicks fans to see how disappointing the team has been on defense to start the season.
After a promising 3-1 start, the Knicks have come back down to earth and sit at 5-5. During their five-game stretch before playing Minnesota on Monday, the Knicks were giving up 117.8 points per game, good enough for 27th in the league in that category.
This poor stretch of defense arrived at its apex when New York gave up a whopping 27 threes to the Boston Celtics on Saturday, a new franchise record.
The three-point shot has been more than an issue for the club so far (on both ends of the floor) as the team also gave up 23 threes to the Cavaliers a few games before playing the Celtics. This isn’t just a case of the other team catching fire, either. All it takes is watching one Knicks broadcast on MSG Network and you will hear Mike Breen say “wide open” more times than you can count when referring to the other team.
Knicks are lacking the defensive grit that Tom Thibodeau-coached teams usually have
Knicks players are late on rotations, flying by their defenders on a poor jump contest, or flat-out losing their assignment on the play because they were too busy watching the ball. These are all signs of undisciplined play. This undisciplined nature also shows itself in the team’s overzealous hands as the Knicks find themselves in the top 10 for most fouls per game as a team.
The Knicks took a step in the right direction in trying to fix these issues against the 76ers when they decided to bench Evan Fournier. He is not exactly known to be a plus defender and often tries to make up for his defensive lapses with over-aggressive plays that either result in free throws or an open shooter after a pump fake.
But individual performances, good or bad, are not what is going to decide New York’s fate on this side of the court. The squad will have to practice discipline and intelligent play if they want to turn this season around defensively.
They have shown signs of life with showings like the game against the Timberwolves on Monday, holding them to 11-for-41 shooting from long distance and just 107 points for the game. But the issue for this team is making the effort night in and night out consistently. Every team around the league can have a good night. The good teams have them every so often and the great teams do it more often than not.
New York has the tools to do it. Mitchell Robinson has Defensive Player of the Year aspirations, Cam Reddish has shown fantastic upside on that end with his good instincts and quick hands, and Knicks forwards such as Julius Randle and Obi Toppin are agile enough to guard the perimeter. These are all tools that can make a great defensive team, but they just have to get on the floor and execute.
Hopefully, they can do it before it’s too late because if they don’t in a league like the NBA, there is a strong possibility Boston won’t be the only team breaking records in Madison Square Garden this season.