knicks julius randle
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time for the New York Knicks to get some tough love.

The New York Knicks are once again looking like, well, the New York Knicks.

Even with plenty of season left to play and Christmas Day just under two weeks away, the alarm has been sounded. No, this isn’t jumping the gun. 20 years of futility means that at the first sign of regression following success, the Knicks and their fans must show urgency sooner than most.

All this to say, the New York Knicks seem to keep reaching new heights in playing completely uninspired basketball. As I write this, the team is mere hours removed from a 112-97 loss to the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks. That isn’t that bad considering New York was without RJ Barrett, Obi Toppin, and Alec Burks, but a rough first quarter meant the Knicks were destined to play catchup all game.

Whatever coach Tom Thibodeau’s plan was for the season, it has gone completely off the rails. The New York Knicks aren’t just unconfident, they’re ineffective. Every game is an exercise in sloppiness and with no seeming end in sight.

It’s time for the team to take a long, hard look at itself. If some of the clearer issues are finally discussed in the clubhouse, perhaps the season can be salvaged before it’s too late.


The New York Knicks have a sense of entitlement

The Knicks are 12-15 on the year and have lost six of seven. To add insult to injury, six of New York’s 15 losses have come against non-playoff teams. Even worse, these six losses were all to the Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers, and Orlando Magic. Orlando is in a hard rebuild and Indiana isn’t far behind, so now the losses look even worse.

And in most losses this season, there has been a common theme with the New York Knicks. Instead of the fiery tenacity that defined them on both sides of the court last season, the Knicks instead look flat. Even with the players getting some good looks with shots and them just not falling, there’s almost no urgency or passion to get points on the board.

But even worse, the Knicks have just stopped taking care of the ball too. Seemingly hoping their game will right itself, they have lost any and all focus. They’ve averaged 13.5 turnovers per game in their last six losses. If nothing’s woken the team up now, then what will?


Julius Randle has the yips

Not helping matters is that Julius Randle, the very man who made the New York Knicks motor go last season, is now running on fumes. He who moved with the grace and flex of a vintage Ferrari a year ago is now a $117 million lemon. Randle’s scoring has plummeted to 19.5 points per game and he’s shooting just 33.1% from three, exactly eight points less than in his career season last year.

There’s also no one to blame for this except Randle himself. In Sunday’s loss to Milwaukee, he passed up way too many open shots and was not proactive with the ball in his hands despite seven assists. Randle hasn’t scored 20 points in four straight games and last scored 30 on Dec. 2.

It’s blatantly obvious that in the Knicks adding Evan Fournier, Randle assumed he wouldn’t be double-teamed as much. Rather, teams are still doubling him because they know how dangerous he can be when he has the rock. Now, Randle has played right into opposing teams’ strategy and lost all confidence, and at the expense of his team.

The New York Knicks need to get their motor running, and that starts with Randle getting his going again.


Tom Thibodeau needs to be more flexible

Let me be clear, Tom Thibodeau should not be fired. Even with his team’s frustrating struggles this season, there’s really no better coach for the Knicks. Yet, like with any coach, there’s room for improvement and it is critical that Thibodeau understand this.

It started with taking Kemba Walker out of the rotation, as his ball-heavy play was thought to slow New York down to its detriment. Well, Walker hasn’t played since last month and the Knicks are 2-6 in his absence. He can still be a good scoring point guard, so why hasn’t he gotten some minutes back?

Granted, this isn’t to say subbing Walker back in will cure what ails the New York Knicks. But maybe starting Immanuel Quickley at the point will since his energy is infectious. Or maybe Quentin Grimes can get some more minutes after scoring 27 points with seven threes on Sunday.

Either way, trotting out the same lineup night after night and waiting for things to gel isn’t an effective strategy.


Mitchell Robinson has peaked

There was a time when more than a few thought Mitchell Robinson had star center potential and would be a great fit for the Knicks. Now, because of his lengthy industry and latest conditioning issues, he has been benched for the equally oft-injured Nerlens Noel.

It doesn’t matter if Robinson throws up double-doubles for the rest of the season. He’s proven a time bomb for something, somehow, going wrong, and his inability to score outside the paint only makes him more of a liability in a game relying more on bigs who can shoot. Whatever extension talks there were need to be tabled in favor of potential trades.


Quentin Grimes needs more minutes

This sort of goes hand in hand with Thibodeau being more flexible, but Grimes’ performance Sunday proved how much of a diamond in the rough he could be. He seemed an odd first-round pick for the New York Knicks, but just look at his highlights. You don’t score 27 points and drill seven threes while notching three assists and steals apiece by accident, particularly against the defending champs.

And prior to Sunday, Grimes had only played 79 total minutes in ten games. Suddenly, he played 40 when the Knicks were short-handed and showcased his fearlessness on the court. It didn’t matter which of the highly talented Milwaukee Bucks was guarding him. He had the ball in his hands, knew what he wanted to do with it, and he did.

It’d be very unfortunate if this game proves to be Grimes’ Moonlight Graham moment, as using him in smaller lineups off the bench could do well to boost the Knicks. Finding him time might be tough but after a career game, Thibodeau owes it to Grimes and himself to at least try.

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.