Heading into this season, the Knicks knew there were going to be some issues on the defensive end. But nobody could have seen this coming.
The New York Knicks have yet to win a game this season against a true star, most recently suffering a disheartening loss to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the OKC Thunder. The league’s greatest superstars seem to have field days when it comes to playing against New York. But why is that?
Their offense hasn’t been bad by any means, but the perimeter on both sides of the ball has been a major issue through 13 games. Teams go through shooting slumps all the time, and the Knicks will find their rhythm on offense as the season goes on. But their efforts around the perimeter when it comes to defense are abysmal and inexcusable, especially given that head coach Tom Thibodeau’s team identity has always been about defense.
Look at this crazy statistic, courtesy of Tommy Beer:
Coming into today, the Knicks had given up 247 wide-open three-pointers (no defender within 6 feet of the shooter). NY is one of only two teams in the NBA allowing more than 20 wide-open threes per game.
Been a MAJOR issue this afternoon vs. OKChttps://t.co/VYND5wkwiq
— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) November 13, 2022
Their effort around the perimeter has been lackadaisical, allowing opponents to make 14.1 threes a game, ranking 29th in the league, trailing just the Minnesota Timberwolves for worst in the league in that category. It’s likely no coincidence that the majority of the Knicks’ wins this season were against lottery teams, ironically with the Timberwolves as the lone exception, as they allowed Julius Randle to stick eight threes in a road win for New York.
If the Knicks wants any chance of even qualifying for a play-in spot, they have to make an effort out there. While their pace has significantly improved in comparison to last season, the miscommunications on defense are canceling out their offense, hence the 145 points they allowed to a Thunder team only averaging 116.3 a night on Sunday.
At the end of the day, it’s not fair to put the blame on one particular person, whether that’s a player, coach, or someone in the front office. It’s a team game, and sometimes things don’t work out the way that they’re supposed to. But it’s clear that going forward, the Knicks will need to make changes in order to get back on track. There are various different approaches to take, a few of them being more enticing than the rest.
Here’s a look at three ways the Knicks can address their issues around the perimeter.
Change Up The Rotations
The Knicks have already started experimenting with personnel, starting Cam Reddish over Evan Fournier and toggling between Isaiah Hartenstein and Jericho Sims with Mitchell Robinson out. But Thibs may need to go further to tighten up their defense. No, I don’t mean that the starting lineup should be shaken up again, but the Knicks should favor guys like Quentin Grimes and Miles McBride on the perimeter if they want to limit opponents from behind the arc.
While their offense can be limited at times, the Knicks have guys that are capable of handling offensive duties to pair with these guys. Their peskiness on the defensive end will lead to more activity and hopefully more deflections. With the Knicks ranking eighth in pace this season, it shouldn’t be a problem putting McBride and Grimes into the game, especially if they can generate turnovers and run the fast break.
More importantly, Immanuel Quickley should see a significant increase in minutes. His frame won’t tell you how good of a defender he is, but his numbers will. Though 13 games, Quickley has posted a defensive rating of 102.3. Per Cleaning the Glass, he’s in the 90th percentile for guards in points allowed per 100 possessions played, 94th percentile for steal rate, a stunning 99th percentile for opponent effective field goal percentage, and, most importantly, the team is -3.6 opponents points per possession worse with him off the court.
He continues to fly under the radar as a good defender, but for some reason, his role hasn’t significantly increased. While he isn’t a household-name defender, Quickley at least deserves a chance to be out there on the floor and give his best effort. The worst thing that can happen is that his current numbers as a defender don’t accurately represent his effort on the defensive end. Either way the ball rolls, this can serve as a quick fix for the Knicks without making a major roster change.
Immanuel Quickley has been a VERY valuable piece for the Knicks this year even with his shooting struggles.
Would be a ginormous mistake to trade him. pic.twitter.com/EC6I6dxRpx
— KnicksMuse (@KnicksMuse) November 12, 2022
Another rotation adjustment that should be considered (though it most likely won’t happen) is decreasing Julius Randle’s minutes. Yes, he may be the Knicks’ leading scorer, but his defensive efficiency has been awful as of late. His defensive rating of 117.7 ranks as one of the lowest for any starter league-wide, and the starters that rank worse than him all play on teams that are currently rebuilding.
Considering the Knicks don’t have any intentions of tanking for top prospect Victor Wembenyama, these numbers are concerning. Whether it’s due to scheme, effort, or instincts, when he’s on the court, it seems that Randle can never properly mark his man without bleeding points. While benching him may not be the best option considering that Obi Toppin is not a great defender himself, it could serve as a wake-up call to Randle.
It’s not that Julius is incapable of being a good defender – in the 2020-21 season, Randle’s versatility allowed him to be one of the more impactful defensive forwards in the league – but his discipline and effort aren’t there right now, which is similar to what happened last season. The Knicks are capable of doing great things on the defensive end, but another lineup change could be beneficial for this group.
Hopping On The Train
As many fans have suggested, the Knicks could benefit from the dismissal of Tom Thibodeau. As a defensive-minded head coach, he isn’t currently getting the best defense out of his players or putting them in schemes that offer any resistance. Defense is now a weak link for the New York Knicks, and something has to be done to improve it. Is firing Thibs the move? It’s unlikely given the direction of the team, the relationship between him and the front office, and the current coach market, but it’s worth considering.
It seems from the standpoint of fans and the media that Thibodeau has lost the locker room. The players and coaching staff do not seem on the same page, as evidenced by the team’s lack of any real identity on either end of the floor. From the Knicks’ poor defense, specifically on the perimeter, to their questionable rotations, Thibodeau had to anticipate the hot seat coming. Nothing seems imminent as of right now, but if the Knicks can’t win a game on their road trip, we could be saying goodbye to the coach that took us back to the playoffs for the first time in 8 years.
Acquiring Perimeter Defense via Trade
A backcourt of Jalen Brunson and Evan Fournier was a recipe for disaster that the front office and coaching staff were willing to take a risk on as the season began. Now with that plan falling apart, it’s time to look at a couple of players who would fit alongside Jalen Brunson and carry the tough task of guarding an opposing teams’ best players. There are a variety of different players who could fit what New York is looking for, but a couple stand out from the rest.
The obvious one is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Shai is more of an offensive than defensive player but he’s taken real steps forward this year and has the size and length to bother guards on the perimeter. Ever since breaking out in his first year with the Thunder, he has only gotten better. SGA currently is one of seven players averaging over 30 points per game on the season. Watching him against the Knicks may have been demoralizing, but seeing a guy like him get anything he wants on the floor and play solid defense is mouth-watering for Knicks fans. It may be an expensive price to go out and get him, but given how the season has started for New York, it makes sense to go all in, even if it means shedding a couple (okay, more than a couple) picks in the process. SGA is currently 26, so he fits the Knicks’ timeframe and could be the missing star that they need to turn heads in the Eastern Conference.
SGA’s last 5 games:
33 PTS, 7 REB, 5 AST, 4 BLK, 56% FG
39 PTS, 4 REB, 4 AST, 2 BLK, 52% FG
20 PTS, 3 REB, 4 AST, 3 STL, 57% FG
37 PTS, 5 REB, 8 AST, 3 STL, 59% FG
37 PTS, 4 REB, 8 AST, 2 STL, 50% FG
MVP Shai. ⭐️ pic.twitter.com/7ewBjPZYD1
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) November 15, 2022
While they may be in the same division as the Knicks, 76er’s Matisse Thybulle is another intriguing option, albeit a much less impactful one. He is one of the best defenders the league has to offer. The trade rumors surrounding the fourth-year forward only seem to increase, now that he has fallen outside of the rotation in favor of DeAnthony Melton. What Thybulle needs is a fresh start, and New York could be an ideal destination for both parties. While his offense has been subpar thus far in his NBA career, his efforts on the defensive end are truly special. Because of how limited his offense is, the Knicks may not and probably should not be willing give up much to get him. Thybulle is a great defender, but he would be a fallback option if anything unless they can acquire him in a worthwhile deal.
The last player that comes to mind is Nassir Little. With a 7’2 wingspan, he is a lanky, energizing presence that can disrupt another team’s offense. He’s an interesting player to look out for, as a raw prospect who has grown into his role as a disruptor and versatile defensive presence. His numbers in his first few seasons don’t look the best, but it is notable that he has missed significant time each season he’s played in for his career. If the Knicks were to trade for him and get him back to full strength, he could provide New York with some much-needed defense to push the team back to where they’d like to be: the playoffs.
There are many ways the ball can roll for the New York Knicks, and it will be interesting how the next few weeks unfold as tension seems to be building within the franchise.