NYC will always be a Knicks city!
From an outside perspective, it may seem a bit hyperbolic to claim a team has been resurrected from the dead while they currently stand with an 8-9 record. To those people, it may also appear a bit naive considering another team within their city has arguably the best roster on paper in the entire NBA. I am here to tell those people two things…
- Shut up and let us have our shine.
- New York was, is, and will always be a Knicks city forever and always.
Before I get into any analysis, I would like to quote myself and make one thing very clear to all the Brooklyn Nets fans out there.
“It does not matter if you have the 1992 Dream Team roster, you will always be on the second page of the New York Post behind whether or not Julius Randle should be an all-star, whether or not Immanuel Quickley should start, or whether or not Frank Ntilikina deserves more minutes.”
Let’s be real here for a moment… I don’t know one Knicks fan who was genuinely excited when they heard that we hired coach Thibs. Personally, I thought Kenny Atkinson was the best choice. The job Kenny did with the Nets below-average roster over the past few years was very impressive, and he had previously spent time within the Knicks organization. Seemed like a home run to me. I had the same reservations about Thibs as everyone else.
“Sure he can help the defense, but will it be enough to carry a bad offense?”
“Sure we’ll win some games, but will he overwork our stars?”
“Sure he’s won games before, but do we have star players like those teams?”
I have never been so happy about being so wrong in my life. The way Thibs has transformed the culture of Knicks basketball is unprecedented! The Knicks, who have been known for atrocious defense as of late, currently stands at #1 in the NBA in points allowed (102.8), opponent FG% (43%), and opponent 3FG% (31%).
Although the statistics are spectacular, I am more impressed with the buy-in from guys who were previously uninterested in defense like Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton. Coach Thibs has these boys playing awe-inspiring “swarming Knick D” as Clyde likes to say, and he deserves 100% of the credit.
Julius Randle: Julius Randle has been nothing short of a miracle for Knicks Nation this season. Every Knicks fan this offseason, including myself, was begging the front office to ship this dude as far away from this organization as possible. Randle and Payton were public enemies 1A and 1B coming into this season. Picked up one offseason prior, Randle was what we got instead of Kevin Durant, which doomed him from the start in the eyes of the common Knicks fan. When the season started it only got worse. Not only did Randle not play up to his expectation, but he did not come anywhere close. He was ball-dominant, inefficient, turnover prone, had a terrible shot selection, and would frequently ice out young gun R.J. Barrett with the assistance of Elfrid Payton. This season on the other hand has been a complete 180. Randle is playing team basketball, he is bought in defensively, and he is averaging a stellar 22-11-6. This far into the season, Randle is guaranteed an all-star appearance, has a possibility of reaching all-NBA status, and dare I say… he is a dark horse MVP candidate!
R.J. Barrett: Drafting R.J. Barrett in 2019 was bittersweet. On one hand, we drafted our best player since Kristaps Porzingis. On the other hand, we missed out on the two clear-cut top prospects Zion Williamson and Ja Morant. Barrett has seen a linear incline in his play since he was drafted which is encouraging, but his inconsistency is a bit worrisome. That being said, he has taken a tremendous step forward in regards to his defense, and his offense is starting to take shape. He may never be the 3-point shooter we hope he will be, but his ability to hit the midrange and get to the rim is astounding for a player at his age. He is currently averaging 18-7-3 and he is only getting better. He will no doubt be a franchise cornerstone in the years to come.
Mitchell Robinson: Of all the players I was excited to see improve under Thibs, Robinson was no doubt the top guy, and he has not disappointed thus far. Mitch went from a shot blocker and nothing else to a fundamentally sound defender who can grab rebounds and rack up the points in the paint. He also seemed to crack down on those unnecessary fouls, which hurt his defense in the past. Thibs deserves a lot of credit for Robinson’s giant leap forward, but some credit has to be handed to Nerlenes Noel as well for mentoring the young buck. Robinson could very well be this team’s franchise center going forward.
Immanuel Quickley: The Knicks drafted Obi Toppin with the 8th pick and Immanuel Quickley with the 25th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. So far, we have gotten 8th pick level play from Quickley, and 25th pick level play from Toppin so I am content nonetheless. Immanuel quickly thrust himself into the hearts of Knicks fans everywhere, and he is steadily becoming that point guard the team has been longing for. From his solid defense to great facilitating ability, to his shot highlighted by that gorgeous floater, IQ might be the point guard we have been seeking all these years.
Austin Rivers: I did not understand the Rivers signing at first, but I immediately began to see his impact on games with his veteran leadership and bucket-getting ability. I’ll let this tape speak for itself.
Elfrid Payton: Elfrid Payton is not the typical pleasant surprise. Knicks Nation is pleasantly surprised because he, like Randle, is not anything like the player he was last year. Payton transformed himself from a turnover machine who loved to take bad shots to an above-average defender who distributes and can put the ball in the basket (sometimes). The job will most definitely be Quickley’s in the future, but Payton’s defensive prowess will keep him in that spot for the time being. Elfrid went from a severe net negative last season to a real net positive this season. Even if he loses the starting spot, he can be a valuable trade asset or a more than capable leader of the second unit.