Damn, that was fast. I predicted a better season for our Knicks than last year. And to an effect, our record isn't that bad. But the record doesn’t reveal just how horrible we have been on defense and how iso-heavy our offense continues to be. I thought Jalen Brunson would alleviate much of the issues this team has had, fielded with mostly non-self-starters on offense. Brunson has been worth every penny we signed him to, but he has yet to gel with the team enough to make the game easier on Julius Randle and RJ Barrett. Guys still struggle to get open, make shots, and create synergy.
Part of that reason is poor spacing, but it’s also about Thibodeau’s refusal to play Randle and Obi Toppin together for extended stretches. Our coach is stuck in 2010 and refuses to let go of rim protection to shore up our perimeter defense by starting Randle at center and Toppin at the four.
This post isn’t the place to rant about all the fucked up things this team is afflicted by. But we can all see a change needs to be made. This game against the Jazz starts a brutal road trip that should necessitate that change ASAP as the losses pile up. We can all see a change needs to be made. This game against the Jazz starts a brutal road trip that should necessitate that change ASAP as the losses pile up.
Nobody expected the Jazz to get off to such a hot start. Danny Ainge ripped the roster apart after a failed showing in last year’s playoffs, hoping to rebuild through a brutal tank. But the guys they got in return from Cleveland, specifically Collin Sexton and Lauri Markkanen, decided to live up to their full potential once they arrived at a team in a vacuum.
As the first guard off the bench, Sexton has paired with Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson in a slightly worse version of what the Jazz had with Donovan Mitchell. Albeit, even a worse version of that powerful trio is pretty damn good. Sexton is averaging below his career average but on much more efficient splits of .473%/.378%/.797%, all dramatic increases from his injury-plagued season last year. All three guards are interchangeable, providing Utah with a potent guard attack in the backcourt, where Clarkson and Conley are shooting .39% and .37% from three, respectively. Teams in rebuild mode typically don’t have three above-average scoring guard vets at their disposal. Ainge will likely trade one or all three by next year’s deadline. But until they do, they employ a devastating point of attack.
Markkanen has finally lived up to his pre-draft hype as Dirk Nowitzki-lite. It's unlikely to sustain as Ainge retools the roster, but he’s almost averaging career-highs across the board: 21.8 ppg, 2.2 apg, 2.1 orpg, and 0.9 bpg. At 7’0, Markkanen brings guard skills to a big’s frame, creating devastation on the perimeter with his high-arching shot and tight handles. Markkanen has done more with less in Utah, feasting on opponents with efficient outings. His average of 21 ppg is coming on just 15.5 attempts per game. Part of this is how well Utah moves the ball. Markkanen is the engine by his ability to play the three through the five while displaying improved attention to defense. The offense flows freely with no true focal point, finding the best shot available. Pretty much the opposite of how the knicks run theirs.
Finally, there’s the bulldog defense of their frontcourt pairing, Kelly Olynyk, and Jarred Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt was the best piece acquired in the Rudy Gobert trade. He’s one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA and can guard all five positions on switches. While his offensive game is limited, He’s been shooting an efficient 58.9% this season, finding his spots in and around the basket. Likewise, Olynyk is experiencing a renaissance. He has suffered in mediocrity these past few seasons, but with the Jazz, he found a team needing his hard-nosed intangibles. While he’s not the net return Jazz fans wanted for departed sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanovic in the Pistons trade, he is shooting .50% from three on three attempts per game, helping to stretch opponents' defense, allowing for their three-guard line-up to cook.
Their most extensive get of the off-season was rookie head coach Will Hardy, who came to the team from the Boston Celtics, where he worked under Ainge previously. Hardy has been a breath of fresh air, playing the combinations that work the best while allowing the newly-acquired pieces a chance to shine in expanded roles. He's precisely the kind of coach the Knicks need after firing Thibodeau.
The Knicks are at a crossroads. Not just for this season but for the Leon Rose-led era. Our President of Basketball Operations needs to make a move now. Not just one, but two. First, he needs to fire his good buddy Thom Thibodeau and elevate Lead Assistant Johnnie Bryant to Head Coach. Next, he needs to work the phones and ship off Julius Randle for the best possible package, There are plenty of teams who are off to a rough start (Chicago, Miami, Golden State, and both Los Angeles teams) who should be willing to make a deal. But, until then, this team will lack the effort and chemistry needed to beat the good teams.
Tune in tonight at 9 PM EST on MSG. Jazz by double digits.