These damn Knicks. In less than a week they showed us two sides — one that can come back from a large deficit against a championship team and win by double digits. Another which lays bare the defensive weaknesses of the starting line-up; and to a certain extent, the entire team.
The Wednesday night loss against the Bucks was an especially pulverizing one. How the hell did Coach Tom Thibodeau not make the necessary adjustments on defense to force his perimeter players to fight through screens and avoid leak out corner threes from Pat Connaughton and Grayson Allen? In the last four minutes it was deja vu. The same play over and over. Each time the Knicks perimeter players refused to adjust, getting trapped behind a screen, and allowing the Bucks role players to kill them from deep.
Bucks Coach Mike Budenholzer is a champion but he is not an elite coach. He tuns simple action offensively. If something works, he runs it to death. As he did against the Knicks. What was more troubling was Thibodeau’s lack of adjustments. The overall lack of communication. It was another omen of the Knicks failure to close put games. And when the failure is strategy and based on adjustments — it falls on the broad shoulders of Thibs.
WHEN LAST THEY MET
These two teams last met at the end of last season, May 15. The Knicks were already a lock for home court in the playoffs but Julius Randle still played over 40 minutes. That’s the Thibs way. Not much room for change. Play until the wheels fall off. The Knicks ended up winning by 11. This Hornet team is much improved as we are about to see.
WHAT’S NEW IN CHARLOTTE?
The Hornets are exciting, healthy, and full of potential. Sound familiar? The Hornets are this year’s Knicks, finally out of NBA purgatory, where they have been for two decades on the back of Michael Jordan FINALLY winning a draft pick in franchise star LaMelo Ball. Not since Kemba Walker has a player come to the Hornets with a winning pedigree and endless potential. Ball is the truth and already a top five passer in the NBA. Sketips doubted him because he was flashy, loud, and attached to an even bigger bagadocious father. But Lavat Ball was right on this one. LaMelo is the future of the point. He has already made his teammates better and impacted winning.
Speaking of teammates, the squad is finally healthy. Wing Miles Bridges is averaging an insane 21ppg and has grown into one of the best two-way wings in the NBA. Imagine him on this squad instead of Kevin Knox. This miscue remains Scott Perry’s most glaring resume blemish. Bridges can throw down on anyone and thrives on defending the best perimeter player. So he should see much time facing Barrett.
Kelly Oubre Jr. is a microwave off the bench in the role he was born to play. As the focal point of the offense off the bench, his suspect shooting is less of a worry, which allows him to focus on torching in isolation and drives.
And with Gordan Hayward finally healthy, he adds the point forward the Hornets have thrived on in transition. His ability to find cutters, act as a secondary facilitator and score off the dribble has made the Hornets one of the most dynamic offenses in the league and a game under .500.
It’s hard to lean hard into Kemba Walker’s recent play but it’s at the heart of the Knicks troubles. Walker is extremely likeable and seems to be the kind of veteran championship teams always have in the locker room. The problem is once he’s on the court. The last three games have looked especially depressing. Walker has looked ill-suited for the starting gig. Now that his hot shooting has simmered he has little impact on the court for the positive. He can’t guard anyone, nor take even bench units off the dribble. His body appears bent and broken. Reflexes are two steps behind what’s happening in front of him.
And now he has to face off against the biggest and most dynamic point guard in the league. Thibs will employ constant switching, pushing Barrett on Ball as much as possible. The goal is to see Walker on Hayward as often as he can. A less mitigated disaster, perhaps? However, Walker’s Inability to impact either side of the floor has put the Knicks starting five into an Elfrid Payton-style funk. It’s been four on five on both ends of the court. And if this continues, and treatment, rest, and minute reduction don’t show signs of improvement, we could be back to where we were last year.
The Knicks have been inconsistent and are still trying to figure it out on both ends. With a devastating moral loss to the Bucks behind them, expect them to bounce back against the Hornets.