Frank Ntilikina, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, David Fizdale
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

It’s still early, but these New York Knicks are a far cry from what was originally expected following the offseason.

New York Knicks fans, as a rule, do not expect or ask for much.

It’s become the new normal in the seats at Madison Square Garden. For one reason or another, any year in which the Knicks make the playoffs is an anomaly. More often, fans have become more satisfied with a nice draft position (or just a first-round draft pick) than they are championship contention.

But despite accepting the 2019-20 season would not result in the playoffs, nobody could have expected this. New York looks completely lost on the court, sporting a 1-7 record while occupying the darkest depths of the NBA cellar.

And yet, these Knicks were supposed to be different. This was supposed to be the year the culture changed, the start of a slow turnaround.

Rather, these Knicks do not look like what was expected. This is not our card. These are not the droids we’re looking for, but we won’t just go about our business.

Something needs to change in New York, and fast.

Cautious optimism

Ask any Knicks fan what they hoped for last offseason, and the universal answer would probably be Kevin Durant. Kyrie Irving would be a close second. New York had two max slots available following the Kristaps Porzingis trade, so perhaps the trying times would finally come to an end.

Except, they didn’t. Durant, despite tearing his Achilles tendon in the NBA Finals, signed with the Brooklyn Nets and so did Irving. New York native Kemba Walker picked the Boston Celtics, and NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard went home to the Los Angeles Clippers.

Cut to the end, and the Knicks built around rookie RJ Barrett with some mid-tier players. Julius Randle inked a three-year deal. Marcus Morris, Bobby Portis, and others signed short-term deals.

Morris and Portis also established a competitive nature not seen in New York for years. For example, a preseason game versus the Washington Wizards got testy. Morris, on a pivot, bounced the ball off of Wizards wing Justin Anderson‘s head before being ejected. When asked about it, Morris was blunt.

Make no mistake, ladies and gentlemen. Even in a non-playoff year, the Knicks planned on making some noise.

More underachieving

And the Knicks have made noise in this young season. They’ve managed to hang tough against some high-quality teams, but three blowout losses have caused an uproar.

There’s just one problem. Whatever noise the Knicks make on the court is drowned out by the fans’ cries of exasperation. For whatever reason, this Knicks team has issues communicating and executing some of the game’s basic fundamentals.

For context, New York’s team free throw percentage is a league-worst 66.3%. The Knicks also are second-worst with a team field-goal percentage of 42.5%. Adding to the communication issues, the team ranks 28th with just 19.8 assists per game.

The Knicks’ overall play is not what was promised, nor advertised in the offseason, and it’s a noticeable problem.

What to do?

Granted, the Knicks haven’t had it easy early on. Of their seven losses, six have been against teams that made the playoffs last year. Their next four games come against squads who did not, including a pair of grudge matches against Porzingis and his 5-2 Dallas Mavericks. For all we know, this could be when the Knicks finally get the special sauce done right.

But playing to the level of competition is not the point. The goal is for the team to set itself up for future success, both on the court and in the front office. Mini-winning streaks here and there, much as the fans appreciate them, do not a winning team make.

Rather, the Knicks need to get back to what made them interesting in the offseason. Guys like Morris, Portis, and even second-year center Mitchell Robinson projected swagger. So did second-year forward Kevin Knox, who currently is playing the best basketball of his career despite the rough start.

This means coach David Fizdale needs to hit the reset button and remind this team what it’s all about. This is a return to vintage Knicks basketball when bodies were bruised in the paint and defense reigned supreme. The Knicks need to move forward but, hopefully, this small step back will be the last.

Final thoughts

Mind you, none of this is to say the Knicks need to start playing dirty, a la the Detroit Pistons Bad Boys of the late ’80s. There’s a big difference between playing hard and turning the hardwood into yet another reboot of “American Gladiators.”

All the Knicks really need to do is stand up for themselves in games. If the gameplan goes south, adjust accordingly. If you’re getting pushed around by a player, push back. Don’t panic when the defense is smothering, but rather try and go forward to draw a foul.

Behind this shell of a team, the real New York Knicks do indeed exist. They even made a brief cameo in the team’s sole win, a victory at the expense of the Chicago Bulls on Oct. 28.

Moreover, the Knicks who showed up that night were fun to watch. It was the hottest MSG has been in a long time.

Isn’t it time it became the new normal?

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.