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Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Do the Knicks even realize what’s wrong?

The New York Knicks have a problem that’s staring them, the fans, the front office, and everyone in between square in the face.

It isn’t a postseason hangover, since losing to the Atlanta Hawks in five games in the first rounds means the team barely got to drink as it is. Adding Kemba Walker didn’t work out, but he’s out of the rotation and the team still struggles.

Now, some of the issues have gone public now that coach Tom Thibodeau has called out RJ Barrett’s shooting woes and supposed lack of effort in improving them compared to last year.

“Last year, he got going when he started coming in every night to shoot,” Thibodeau said, per Marc Berman of The New York Post. “So there’s no notion that you [work] sometimes, you got to do it all the time. So get back in the gym, get back to grooving your shot. Shoot a lot of 3s and you’ll start making more.”

Read that back, because Thibodeau is right. Being an NBA team chasing a playoff spot means working all of the time, not only when it’s convenient.

If you ask this writer, these New York Knicks have gotten complacent and unless they wake up now, the team might as well resort to being a punchline again.


Not just one thing is wrong

If the Knicks’ woes could be boiled down to one issue, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. No, we’d be having our usual Player of the Week on Monday and all would be right with the world.

Except, it isn’t. A defense that was first in points allowed last year and rivaled Colossus is now such Swiss cheese, that saying so is an insult to Swiss cheese. New York ranks 18th in both total defense and team scoring, 24th in team field goal percentage, and 16th in free throw percentage.

Yet, aside from ranking first in defense last year, that’s where the New York Knicks also ranked in the other categories. Either at the middle of the pack or below.

And yet, because of that defense, they were considered one of the toughest, hardest-playing teams in the league. This year, the narrative has changed.


Adjusting to adjustments

Let’s call it like it is, because we all see it on the court. The New York Knicks play to the level of their competition and just expect the ship to right itself as it did last season. Remember, they were 10-13 this time last year and are now 11-12, so there’s still time.

But is there really? Getting shellacked 113-99 by an undermanned Denver Nuggets team is borderline unacceptable. Two home losses to the tanking Orlando Magic is even worse.

It’s almost as though the rest of the NBA has watched the season’s worth of game film of last year’s New York Knicks and adjusted their respective approaches accordingly. The Knicks, meanwhile, are just trying to run it back doing what they did last season.

Simply put, that’s not going to work. Thibodeau is a great coach and surely knows opponents have adjusted to the Knicks. Why haven’t the Knicks done the same?


Looking forward

Mind you, that last question was serious. Opposing teams aren’t treating the New York Knicks as a throwaway game anymore. Last year showed how good the team can be with simple focus, discipline, and hard work. Now, teams have learned zone defense and taking away the paint might as well be New York’s kryptonite.

What’s worse is that we all saw this coming. The best teams are the ones that grow and evolve. These New York Knicks, even with adding Evan Fournier as a scoring boost, have yet to do that all season. Injuries to Nerlens Noel and Taj Gibson aside, the overall play has ranged from exciting to unacceptable.

The Knicks have three road games this week against the San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers, and Toronto Raptors. These are all winnable matchups and what New York needs after getting booed off the court in Saturday’s loss to Denver.

Let’s see which version of the Knicks decides to show up.

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.