The New York Knicks have started the season at .500 or above for the third consecutive season. But these aren’t your same old Knicks.
Do not fear Knicks fans, this is not Groundhog’s Day. The New York Knicks have a record of 9-7 after the first 16 games of this NBA season. Currently, that’d make them the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. This is the third year in a row that the Knicks have started .500 or better after the first 16 games of the season. New York has failed to make the playoffs in each of those previous two seasons.
According to the “experts” and basketball soothsayers, the Knicks are projected to win less than 30 games this year and again miss the playoffs. While it is too early in the season to declare a trip to the playoffs, there’s enough evidence to proclaim that this is a brand new Knicks’ team, fully equipped with a brand new attitude.
Numbers Never Lie
There are a couple of reasons that prove that this is not your older sibling’s Knicks. The first statistic that jumps off the page is the estimated percentage of possessions on offense that end with an assist. That number this season is 57.5 percent. That is good for 12th in the league. The last two seasons they finished in the bottom third of the league in the category.
New York also ranks 11th in the league in assists per game (22.8). In the 2016-17 season, they averaged 21.8 per game, which was good for 19th in the NBA. The year before that, they averaged 20.5. That ranked 26th out of 30 teams.
The final statistic that sticks out is New York’s net rating. The Knicks have a net rating of 0.0 this season. That is only good for 15th in the league. But, it is a vast improvement over the previous two years. Last season a net rating of minus-4.1 had them ranked 24th. The year before that, they were dead last in the league with a minus-10.1 rating.
New Team, New Attitude
The Knicks’ roster this season looks quite different from the rosters of previous seasons. The three biggest departures from the organization were Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose and Phil Jackson. Gone are the days of iso basketball and lackluster defense. No more shoving a particular shape down everyone’s throat or deciphering cryptic posts on social media. This is a new team with a new attitude.
The return that New York received in the Anthony trade was underrated and has shown to be productive. Enes Kanter has slid right into the starting center position and has flourished. He is averaging a double-double on the season with 13.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. He is leading the team in field goal percentage (64.0) and free throw percentage (90.3). After getting into it with LeBron James a week ago, Kanter is changing the culture of this Knicks team on and off the court. Doug McDermott is the other player that New York received in that trade. He is a sharpshooter who provides some much-needed depth and scoring off of the bench.
This season’s squad has already shown a difference in the heart and hustle categories compared to previous seasons. There have been games where it would have been easy to just give up and move on to the next game. I have said to myself at least five times this season, “last year’s team would have checked out by now.“ Instead of losing by 20-plus points like in previous seasons, they are battling back and either winning the games or at least making them competitive.
Again, it is too early to guarantee a playoff appearance. It is not too early, however, to see the culture change that is happening in New York. It started in the front office and has trickled downhill to the coaches and players. So, the next time you hear someone say “These are the same old Knicks. They will fail”, you can explain that this is a brand new team with a brand new attitude.