The New York Knicks of last season are nowhere to be found.
There will be no New York Knicks Player of the Week today, and we all know why.
What the hell happened? The greatest city in the world started coming back last year and so did Knicks basketball with it.
At long last, the fans’ endless suffering was over. Tom Thibodeau, Leon Rose, and Scott Perry changed the team’s culture, set a new team identity in place, and retained a core that made the playoffs last year. All signs pointed to a bright future.
Now, however, it’s deja vu all over again. After a 5-1 start, the New York Knicks have gone 2-4. Julius Randle’s meteoric rise to an MVP-caliber player has regressed hard to the mean. Kemba Walker, New York’s favorite son, seems little more than a 3-point shooter. Nerlens Noel has been hampered by injuries.
All of this has led to the Knicks doing one of two things in games: playing to the level of their competition or simply failing to close games.
This is all shaping up to be a tease, a la the 2012-13 season, all over again. Any New York Knicks fan worth their weight in gold, yours truly included, should be seriously concerned.
The Knicks can’t close games
Even if the Knicks have mounted good comebacks in the fourth quarter recently, there’s a bigger problem. Over their last seven games, either stumbling out of the gate or having a bad third quarter have sunk them.
There might not be a better example of this than Friday’s 104-96 loss to the Charlotte Hornets. New York lit up the first quarter behind a hot start from Walker and led 55-46 at halftime. Charlotte then came out hot in the third, while the Knicks didn’t even make a basket until just past three minutes into the quarter.
All in all, the New York Knicks made seven baskets in the third and scored 21 points in the frame. That isn’t that bad, except nine of those points came via three-pointers in the last two minutes.
Whatever the team’s current approach is, it simply is not working.
This season was always going to be tougher
Not to mention, teams are wise to the Knicks’ style this year and have plenty of game tape to study, including New York’s awful playoff loss to the Atlanta Hawks last postseason. Given how Rose and Perry just re-signed most everyone and added Evan Fournier, preparation for playing the Knicks probably isn’t overly difficult.
We saw it regularly last year and even more so this season. If you want to stop the New York Knicks in their tracks, throw up a zone defense or play aggressive man-to-man. It freezes the offense in its tracks and forces everyone’s shots, and the game basically becomes luck of the draw.
On the opposite end of the court, what was last year’s best defensive team now ranks 22nd in points allowed per game. Granted, Noel’s defense is a big loss, but this type of regression is simply mind-boggling. Even without Noel, the effort just isn’t there.
But it’s okay. They’re the New York Knicks who shocked everyone last year and kept the core to run it back. Why change anything at all, right?
There will be no fun pop culture references, peeks at my music collection, or fast-talking New York quips today. It is time for fans to get serious along with our beloved New York Knicks. The system is broken and needs to be changed before this supposed rebirth becomes yet another punchline.
Thankfully, the players are well aware and not just brushing it off as an early season slump. Randle, who continues to grow as a leader despite not performing well on the court, is probably the most aware and the maddest of them all.
“I definitely think there’s games where we’re being outworked, outrebounded,’’ Randle said. “Our identity’s not our defensive end [like] how it has been. But we know that. We know we got to fix it. We just got to keep working at it, just keep coming together and stay together’’
Kemba Walker showed even more urgency, stating he and his teammates had to figure things out “or else.”
And yet, 13 games in, the New York Knicks are still in a better place than last year, when they were 5-8 at this point. Even so, the tailspin only seems to be accelerating.
Something has to change soon, lest we want Bing Bong to become Bing Bust.
Get it together, be better, and, most importantly, be the New York Knicks. Because we all know how special this squad is at its best.