Let’s face it, no one saw this coming from the Knicks right?
Even when they surprised everyone and made the postseason a year ago. Even when they locked in homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
They’ve exceeded all expectations, and they’re doing it again to start the 2021-22 NBA season.
Powered by a stingy defense – with a defensive rating of 107.8, good for fourth-best in the league last season – the Knicks scrapped their way to victories, taking on an old school mindset to hold opponents under 100 points 24 times. They became accustomed to winning rock fight-type games but often struggled whenever they found themselves in a high-scoring affair.
In the 24 games they held opponents under 100 points, New York owned a record of 20-4. In 21 games where it allowed 110 points or more, its record fell off drastically, going 7-14.
Randle’s breakout season propelled their offense through some troubles, averaging career-highs of 24.1 points, 6.0 assists and 2.3 3-pointers made per game while shooting 41.1 percent from deep. Aside from him, it was RJ Barrett (17.6 PPG) and Derrick Rose (14.9 PPG) who did the majority of the scoring, with players like Alec Burks, Immanuel Quickley, Reggie Bullock and Elfrid Payton all chipping in double figures, albeit fewer than 13 points per game apiece.
The Knicks’ inability to score came to light in the postseason once Randle went ice cold, posting just 18.0 points per game on an ugly 29.8 percent shooting from the field. Rose became a primary scoring option with Barrett and Burks also stepping up, but New York’s most-known issue was exposed by the Atlanta Hawks in a first-round exit in just five games.
New York was expected to once again rely heavily on its defense to be successful this season, a common notion of Thibodeau-coached teams. And although it has only been six games, that has not been the case this season.
With shot creating scorers and playmakers at the top of their wish list this offseason, the Knicks went out and got four-time All-Star guard Kemba Walker and a crafty bucket-getter in Evan Fournier to try and help solve their problems. And to this early point in the season, it’s paying dividends.
They went from having the 22nd-ranked offense in the league last season to the second-best offense in the league this season with an offensive rating of 114.5.
Again, it hasn’t even been 10 games, but you would have to go all the way back to 2012-13 to find the last time the Knicks owned a top-five ranked offense in the league.
Randle has proved any skeptics wrong, maintaining his offensive numbers from last year to the tune of 20.8 points, 6.5 assists and 1.8 threes made per game. He’s had more help on that end of the floor this year, with Fournier and Walker making an immediate impact averaging 17.5 and 15.0 points per game respectively.
Barrett’s field goal attempts are down to 13.2 per game as a result, but he’s still averaging 17.2 points, while Rose is still thriving in a sixth-man role, averaging 12.3 points per game.
The biggest difference has been their 3-point shooting, averaging a league-leading 16.7 triples per game. Last season, they were in the bottom-10 in the league in made 3s per game, only averaging 11.8 makes from deep.
Walker and Fournier have raised that number, averaging over 3.5 long balls. With Rose, Randle, Barrett and Burks all converting over 1.5 3-pointers per game, the Knicks have relied on 3-point shooting as a major source of offense. There’s no better evidence than knocking down a franchise-record 24 3s in their second game of the season in a win over the Orlando Magic.
New York’s defense hasn’t been as stout as last year’s thus far with a defensive rating of 108.0, which ranks 21th in the league at the time of this writing. But that’s surely far from their worries, as it appears they’ve found an answer to their biggest issue. They already own one of the best records in the NBA, but once the defense starts clicking, look out.