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The Knicks Are Off to a Decent Start. Is This a Drill?

The final time the Knicks gained no less than half of their first 10 video games was through the 2017-18 season, once they had been 6-4. They completed the marketing campaign 29-53.

This season, the Knicks began 5-5, and a few followers are daring to hope that perhaps this Knicks workforce is completely different. Possibly this one can break the playoff-less streak that started in 2013-14. The dangerous information is that the season is headed within the fallacious course. The Knicks have dropped three in a row to place them at 5-6, with a number of blowout defeats.

Coach Tom Thibodeau has this workforce enjoying onerous, and the Knicks have crushed good opponents, together with the Utah Jazz and Milwaukee Bucks. Getting into the Charlotte Hornets recreation on Monday, the Knicks had the eighth best defense in the league. They’re now all the way down to thirteenth after shedding to Charlotte, 109-88.

The Knicks haven’t fielded a top-10 defensive workforce since the 2011-12 season, when their fifth-ranked protection took them to the playoffs. The unlucky flip facet: This yr’s workforce has one of many league’s worst offenses.

The Knicks have additionally struggled with accidents: Alec Burks, Austin Rivers and Obi Toppin have all missed time — three offensive-minded gamers.

One thing the Knicks have of their favor is that this season has produced numerous unusual outcomes, and never only for them. Night time after evening, partially due to the shortened season, no crowds, the pandemic and minimal time in coaching camp, numerous groups are shedding large or to opponents who didn’t look like threats. Some groups, just like the Toronto Raptors (2-8), who’re primarily based in Florida due to the virus, are underperforming. A number of high gamers, like Boston’s Jayson Tatum and the Nets’ Kevin Durant, have missed a number of video games as a result of they examined constructive for, or had been probably uncovered to, the coronavirus.

The shortened season helps the Knicks in one other approach. Banking wins early on offers them cushion towards the losses which can be nearly unavoidable because the season grinds on. However it’s nonetheless early, as Knicks followers discovered in 2018.

Here’s a have a look at what’s gone proper and fallacious for the Knicks to this point.

The largest cause the Knicks have been aggressive this yr is Julius Randle, who has began off sturdy. Randle is averaging 22.1 factors, 11.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists per recreation — all on tempo to be profession highs — on 49.4 % taking pictures. He’s averaging extra assists this yr than his final two years mixed. If he retains this up, Randle ought to deservedly make his first All-Star workforce.

He appears to be like extra comfy on the ground, and Thibodeau has been adept at benefiting from Randle’s versatility — for instance, ensuring he’s getting the ball on completely different elements of the courtroom, reasonably than merely making an attempt to bulldoze opponents within the publish. Randle is expert at creating for his teammates. The difficulty is that the Knicks don’t have many playmakers or shooters round him to ease his burden.

RJ Barrett, 20, is enjoying plenty of minutes this yr — 37.9 minutes per recreation, vs. 30.4 his rookie yr. Barrett is, nonetheless, taking pictures a dismal 36.5 % from the sphere and 18 % from deep, each down from his rookie yr, when he also struggled.

Watching the video games, you’ll be able to see Barrett’s enchancment in different areas. He performs extra aggressively, has developed into a robust rebounder (7.6 rebounds per recreation for a guard is spectacular) and has improved his passing. He’s a stable defender.

The consistency isn’t there, although, and the inefficiency is problematic: Barrett is averaging extra photographs than factors. On opening evening, Barrett shot 11-of-15 from the sphere for 26 factors towards the Indiana Pacers. The subsequent recreation, towards the Philadelphia 76ers, Barrett shot 2-of-15 from the sphere for 10 factors. After which he shot poorly once more for the next three games.

His lack of ability to shoot places extra stress on Randle. Barrett is making solely 26.5 % of his photographs when there isn’t a defender within six feet of him. He’s additionally hitting solely 17.4 % when he catches the ball and shoots it.

However Barrett continues to be impactful for the Knicks, regardless of his scoring woes. His internet score (basically a measure of how significantly better or worse a workforce is with a participant on the ground) is minus 2.8. This isn’t perfect, however it’s among the many greatest on the workforce amongst those that obtain severe minutes. When Barrett isn’t on the ground, the Knicks’ internet score is minus 13.8. That’s a much bigger hole than the one for Randle, who’s their greatest participant.

It’s nearly time for the Knicks to decide to an extension with Mitchell Robinson, who’s now in his third yr. It’s troublesome to gauge his true worth. He’s a extra conventional middle who can’t unfold the ground and principally will get his factors on dunks.

And like Barrett, Robinson is a blended bag.

By 11 video games, Robinson’s manufacturing in a number of classes has decreased at the same time as he has performed extra minutes (30.1) than traditional, although the additional time appears to have given him room to seize extra rebounds than earlier than (8.1 per recreation). He’s additionally beneath his per-game profession averages in blocks (1.9) and field-goal share (68.2 %; nonetheless very environment friendly).

The largest enchancment for Robinson is that he’s been capable of keep on the ground. Earlier than this yr, he struggled with foul hassle, however now he doesn’t soar for up-fakes as typically, making it more durable for defenders to attract fouls. That was his greatest weak point. Now, not a lot.

The Knicks don’t have many gamers who can break down defenses, which is what makes Elfrid Payton important for Thibodeau. The Knicks minimize him within the low season and re-signed him to an inexpensive one-year deal. He’s in all probability not part of the Knicks’ future plans. However he has been a gradual, veteran presence on the ground, which they’ve wanted.

He’s not a lot of a shooter, however he’s expert at entering into the paint. This yr, he’s scoring above his profession common with 14.5 factors a recreation, and is tallying 4.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists per recreation.

Payton, 26, now in his seventh season, additionally doesn’t make many errors on the ground. For essentially the most half, he stays inside himself and takes care of the ball. (His turnover share is an below-average 14 percent this season.) He’ll most certainly by no means be a starter on a championship workforce, however he’s been a pleasant pickup for the Knicks.

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