The New York Knicks are showing why doubting them is a mistake.
The New York Knicks are playing basketball in such a way that their fans haven’t felt this alive in years.
No, seriously. The season isn’t even a month old, yet Knicks fans are already seemingly in postseason mode. Twenty years of misfortune finally seem to be over, so you know everyone’s being as obnoxious as possible. Imagine riding the New York City subway home after midnight after a night on the town and everyone’s taken the party to their respective train car.
Got that visual? Great. Now, imagine dealing with that front and center, every day and nonstop, everywhere and anywhere you go. That’s every New York Knicks fan right now.
The defensive effort is there. The threes are flying. Any major regression after last year’s surprise breakout campaign has yet to arrive. Even after some ugly wins, the team has held firm.
Make it official, basketball gods. You don’t mess with the New York Knicks, and here’s why.
True teamwork at its best
Last year, it was clear the Knicks had new life and were actually enjoying playing with one another. Tom Thibodeau brought not only great coaching with him, but a winning culture that saw everyone recognize each other’s role on the team regardless of individual stardom.
Now, the Knicks’ concept of teamwork is in absolute overdrive thanks to the arrival of native New Yorker Kemba Walker. He has proven the perfect Dani Rojas to Julius Randle’s Jamie Tartt and though we don’t see it quite yet, Randle’s already becoming a better player.
Five New York Knicks players have scored in double figures in three of four wins. When a team has each other’s back like New York does, it’s hard to imagine them not succeeding.
Lord, he was born a Randle-in’ Man
In terms of statistical output, Julius Randle has picked up right where he left off last season. He’s averaging 23 points, 12.2 rebounds, and seven assists per game. Three rough games in a row have him shooting just barely 41% from the field and 29% from three, but they’ll level out with plenty of season left to play.
Simply put, Julius Randle is a man on a mission and with a giant chip on his shoulder. On top of bringing a title to the New York Knicks, the reigning Most Improved Player clearly wants something else: an MVP trophy. He’s been on triple-double watch in four of five games and probably will be all season.
Randle is simply that dialed in, and damn any double-team that dares get in his way.
There’s still work to be done…
It’s safe to assume that some of the best teams in sports history also must have been incredibly self-aware, knowing exactly which areas to work on to ensure a successful season. These New York Knicks are no exception. Though 4-1, two of those wins exposed a key weakness: the inability to hold a big lead and close out games.
Granted, the season is still young and the Knicks are a disciplined enough group that this will right itself. Yet, after Thursday night’s close call in Chicago, count on the team to strenuously up their efforts on defense in the immediate future.
…but things might only get better
What makes the New York Knicks and their hot start all the more impressive is that it has all been done without Nerlens Noel. The young backup center has been battling left knee soreness, but should return soon. Now, time for us to learn yet again just how valuable Noel actually is.
Last season, Noel stepped up so well in wake of Mitchell Robinson’s injuries that his not being a Defensive Player of the Year finalist was a shock. Even with modest numbers at 5.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game, he led the NBA in defensive box plus/minus. His mark that led the league? A resounding 3.5.
In layman’s terms, the New York Knicks were 3.5 points better on defense when Nerlens Noel was on the floor. Now, combine that with Taj Gibson’s rim protection and a healthy Robinson. Suddenly, the New York Knicks are even tougher, and on both ends of the floor if Noel’s mid-range game improved in the offseason.
The 2021-22 New York Knicks are out to prove they aren’t just a reboot of the 2012-13 team that made the playoffs before crashing down again. No, this is a dynasty in the making and a championship or five is the end goal.
They will shoot the three and blindside opposing teams with how effective they’ve become at it. Their defense can and will smother players, as Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers recently learned the hard way. Forget Julius Randle. There are at least four other players any given night who can take over the game alongside him.
All this to say, these New York Knicks remind me of a character from the great HBO cult classic show Oz, Warden Martin Querns. You may ask, what does an iconic role played by the late, great Reg E. Cathey have to do with the Big Apple’s one and true pro basketball team?
Well, whether or not you’ve seen the show, it’s quite simple. Just like Querns, you don’t, er, mess with the New York Knicks.
Now, let’s spend the rest of the season showing teams why.