The Knicks needed an iconic “Alec Burks game “ just to beat the worst team in the NBA. And yea, Eric Fournier is finding his rhythm, finally, but the Knicks are still misfiring as a starting unit. As predicted, Tom Thibodeau hasn’t jumped the gun, keeping his lineup and rotations the same throughout this struggle. And it will take probably another month until the Knicks work out the kinks for real, assuming Kemba Walker and eventually mesh with Julius Randle at times playing off-ball. Not to mention the starting five collectively finding their three-point stroke again. Thibodeau is not one to crack under pressure. Instead, he makes the same in-game adjustment mistake ad nauseam. Consistency does count for something, I guess.
This argument becomes nil if Randle can return to last year’s form. If he can, all the long-range missus, Walker fourth-quarter disappearances, and RJ Barrett inconsistencies fade into the background behind Randle’s All-NBA play. But that’s not going to happen until he picks his spots in isolation and gets back to the facilitator he was last year.
WHAT’S HAPPENING IN CHICAGO
Quite simply, domination. Observes knew the Bulls would be better, but few saw this level of early cohesion. The Bulls have been solid on both sides of the ball and have shown an expedited synching with four starters who are all ball-dominant. Nicola Vucevic and Lonzo Ball have had to scale back their touches the most, with the team’s offense running primarily (and to great efficiency) through DeMar DeRozen and Zach Lavine. The Bulls lack depth behind their powerful starting four, with the fifth starter, Patrick Williams out for the season with an injury. But their four-headed monster has shown they can carry the load and play extended minutes, due to their unity on the court and multi-hyphen abilities.
No one player was linked more to the Knicks this past of-season than starting point guard Lonzo Ball. Rumors set the Internet ablaze across Knick channels. The prospect of Ball opening up the Knick's offense with his elite passing and improved three-point shot were the stuff of dreams. Which is exactly what it turned into once he signed a contract with Chicago too rich for the Knicks front office. Ball is reaching full potential in Chicago, showing he is at his best on-ball, after a disastrous experiment off-ball in New Orleans under Stan Van Gundy.
Zach Lavine has gone from trade fodder to one of the best offensive weapons in the NBA. He’s also well-above average in two categories he is not immediately known for: defense and three-point shooting. All of the perceived issues around positional fit have subsided around a well-oiled offensive machine.
With injuries and COVID-related absences ravaging Chicago’s all-ready thin depth, Caruso has had to go from bench microwave to starting forward. To casual observers, Caruso looks like a steal of the off-season, but he benefits from being the fourth to fifth option on a stacked starting line-up. As a starting offensive focal point, like what he was in the Bull's last game against Denver, he had four points.
When players go to San Antonio, they recede into the background of team play, sacrificing individual ability for a system of distribution. DeMar DeRozan is an example of that sacrifice and now that he’s in Chicago, he’s unleashing all that stored-up isolation play not seen since his days in Toronto. DeRozen and Lavine’s perimeter attack is absolutely lethal.
The Bull's depth weaknesses are on display with the absence of Nicola Vucevic. Combo guard Tony Bradley, well past his prime but still effective, is somehow starting at center after a semi-effective stint of Derrick Jones Jr. doing the same under coach, Billy Donovan. Julius Randle and the Knicks big should have a field day on the boards.
Knicks have seen improvements from Fournier but it won't be enough to beat one of the best teams in the league and the current gold standard in the Eastern Conference.