The Knicks got their point guard last summer, but they still haven’t figured out what kind of team they want to be.
The Knicks are tough… to watch. You never know what you’ll get on any given night. They beat up on really bad teams and while they can occasionally play up to the competition, it rarely results in a win. It’s very difficult to put a finger on the kind of team they are or want to be because they aren’t consistent in any way, outside of their own particular brand of mediocrity. What’s most frustrating about this team is in the third year under coach Tom Thibodeau they have no clear identity on either end of the floor.
Offensively they are 23rd in league rankings and are trending toward the bottom of the league on defense. Under Thibodeau, a “defensive guru”, you’d think the Knicks would at the very least be a gritty defensive team that’s going to wear you down, but it is quite the opposite this season. What’s clear is the Knicks need more from their players.
New York rotations are strange – sometimes players play and sometimes they don’t. It’s a very clunky roster with too much of one thing (midrange over-dribblers) and not enough of other things (shooters, ball-movers). Whether the head coach is trying to compete or trying to grow his younger players is a mystery. His offensive scheme is limited and what usually carries them is whoever has the hot hand. If it wasn’t for Jalen Brunson’s creativity with the basketball the Knicks would be a disaster on offense dependent entirely on Julius Randle.
You hear players constantly talking about the coach putting them in situations to succeed and it’s only a matter of them executing, leading to the question: why can’t they execute on a consistent basis? Randle has constant lapses on defense, not closing out on three-point shooters or making timely rotations, but he isn’t the only culprit. The Knicks are one the worst teams when it comes to defending three-pointers, allowing the most attempts and the second-most makes. A head coach who made his bones off his defensive mindset being unable to figure out how to defend the three-point line is unacceptable, especially considering that in his first season in New York, the Knicks ranked as one of the better teams defending from behind the arc.
24 games into the year, the Knicks still don’t seem to know what they want to be or what kind of team they are. Even with the current changes happening there’s an aimlessness apparent to any who follow them even casually – they throw things at the wall hoping something sticks.
The Knicks have tried to solve their identity crisis by benching some players thought to be significant pieces in what they were trying to do. First, they shelved Evan Fournier who hasn’t played since November 13th. Then, in another surprising move by Tom Thibodeau, it was reported yesterday that he has also benched one of his most reliable players, Derrick Rose, who was already in limbo about his role on the team.
In a strange decision, Cam Reddish, who’s been a steady contributor this season has also been relegated to the pine. The Reddish move is a head-scratcher due to the fact that he was starting games not long ago and was often used in game-closing lineups. It’s understandable to shorten the rotation, too many players getting court time can stop the team as a whole from developing rhythm and cohesiveness on the court. But, when it looks like you’re moving away from the veterans to go young, removing one of the more polished young players in Reddish seems questionable. When Fournier was finally removed from the starting lineup and Quentin Grimes was dealing with injuries early in the season it was Reddish that was elevated to start; now he’s not playing because there aren’t enough minutes in this new nine-man rotation. So what exactly is the plan for Reddish, who took full advantage of his opportunity to be one of the more productive role players only to have it stripped away because the coach hasn’t figured out a rotation that works over a quarter into the season?
Considering the expectations, the Knicks have underachieved but according to their roster construction, they are exactly what their record says they are: a .500 team that can be either good or bad depending on who and when they play. They are simply average. While the Knicks continue to try and figure out who they are and whether they’ll be a club that is sub-.500 or over they might have to come to some difficult conclusions. Whether it’s a coaching change or players being traded it’s clear that a shake-up is needed. With a record of 11-13 the season is far from lost but something is lacking. The Knicks clearly have talented players but the pieces may not fit or the coach’s message may have gotten stale.
It’s very easy to point at Thibodeau as the source of the Knicks’ woes but the truth is they don’t have a bonafide star player they can lean on or give them an identity like many teams around the NBA do. New York obviously missed a golden opportunity this past summer to acquire the player that could’ve taken them from whatever it is they are now to be good or even great. As the front office once again looks to add elite talent they must be realistic about who is available because the player they are looking for might not be there.