Until the defense becomes consistent, the New York Knicks are playing a dangerous game.
The New York Knicks are skywalking so far this season, but not in the way you might think. They are off to a 6-4 start and the offense has looked like a different animal from Tom Thibodeau’s first year as the bench boss of the Knicks.
The orange and blue rank fourth in offensive rating per NBA.com, fourth in three-pointers made per game, 11th in three-point attempts per game, and fifth in three-point percentage.
Offensively, the Knicks look like a completely different team from last year. The continuity across the roster combined with free agency additions like Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier has the offense blossoming into one of the most dangerous units in the NBA.
However, this offensive improvement comes with a catch. The defense is non-existent at times and it’s forcing the Knicks to walk a tightrope in almost every single game. When they outscore their opponent with a barrage of threes, they make it from one building to the next while onlookers cheer.
Unfortunately, when you live by the three, you will sometimes die by it. They slipped off the tightrope on Sunday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Cavs were led by Ricky Rubio, a constant thorn in New York’s side, as the Spaniard connected on a career-high eight of nine three-pointers. On a night where Cleveland hit 19 threes on 35 attempts, the Knicks only canned nine of their 31.
When you’re the first player in NBA history with 30+ points, 10+ assists, 8+ threes in a game off the bench ? pic.twitter.com/YP3ZCl0HjN
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) November 8, 2021
It’s tough to pinpoint exactly where things have gone wrong for the Knicks defensively this year. By playing at a faster pace and launching more threes, their points per game average was bound to go up.
But that doesn’t explain New York sitting at 27th in defensive rating (110.5) and 27th in points per possession. Those are two metrics that take pace out of the equation.
Although the early calls for All-Defense were a bit premature, RJ Barrett looks the part of a top wing defender. Mitchell Robinson and Nerlens Noel are rim protectors who can anchor the defense. Even Immanuel Quickley has shown off his ability to be a pesky defender at the point of attack.
There are positive things to take away from New York’s defense from an individual perspective, but the team concept is lacking.
Despite the regression on Sunday, the defense on Friday looked more like that 2020-21 unit that brought the Knicks to the playoffs. After allowing 38 points in the first quarter to the defending champion Bucks, the Knicks only allowed 60 points over the last 36 minutes.
“We’ve kind of been struggling the last couple of games,” Barrett said after Friday’s win. “Tonight we found our defense. We found our defense again. We kept going, we kept pushing the second, third, and fourth quarters. That was good to see. We locked in defensively.”
Make no mistake about it, that defensive identity is still there, but it’s lying dormant for the moment. Until they “find it” for good, the Knicks are going to be walking a tightrope without that safety net below.