The 8-9 Knicks got off to a surprisingly good start on their west coast trip by beating the Utah Jazz and the Denver Nuggets. However, they followed those games up with a pair of disappointing and uninspiring efforts against the Golden State Warriors and the Phoenix Suns. While the trip overall, at least record-wise, has been decent, their up-and-down nature — especially with their effort — has been concerning at best. And Monday’s date with the Oklahoma City Thunder, who embarrassed the Knicks quite recently, could be another key game. A win would get the team to .500 on the season and over .500 on the west coast trip, but another loss would likely lead to the already loud crowd clamoring for change to get louder.
And while fans would like to be surprised at the team being in this position, the sad reality is this is who the Knicks just are right now — a very mediocre team with no real direction or plan. They have an inconsistent roster that isn’t good enough to contend but isn’t bad enough to get a top 3 pick. It’s a franchise that seems desperate and is consistently looking they are on the verge of some major change. It’s not all bleak, and it could be worse somehow, but if the team wants to turn the season around, they need to start stringing together wins, especially against teams they can beat.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (6’6”, 180 lb.), who just burned the Knicks for an efficient and effortless 37 points on 13-22 from the field and 9-10 from the line will lead the Thunder once again. To the be fair to the Knicks, Gilgeous-Alexander has torched the entire league. He is currently averaging 31.1PPG, which is good for fourth in the league, and is doing so with a mind-boggling 53.4% FG%, 40.9% 3P%, and 90.7% FT%. He isn’t and probably won’t get the same attention Steph Curry got when he had his 40/50/90 season, but SGA is having a Curry-like season where he is seemingly doing whatever he wants, wherever he wants, whenever he wants.
He’ll be matched up with Jalen Brunson who is coming off of one of his bet offensive games as a Knick. In just 29 minutes, he torched the Suns for 27 points on 11-21 from the field. Brunson was rather passive in his last game against the Thunder, shooting just nine times in a 24-minute outing that included a fourth-quarter benching, so hopefully he can actually stay on the court this time and be more aggressive. Brunson may not necessarily win the matchup, but they’ll need all the offense they can get from him to cancel out Gilgeous-Alexander to his best ability.
Starting in the backcourt alongside the SGA, will be Josh Giddey (6’8”, 210 lb.), who had one the best games of his young career the last time these two teams met up. Giddey, who only averages 13PPG for his career, poured in 24 points (just four shy of his career-high), and did so while shooting 10/14 from the floor and 2/3 from 3 (career 26.7% shooter from 3).
With Cam Reddish still out, Quentin Grimes, who looked like the second-best player on the team yesterday against the Suns, should draw the start once again. The sophomore wing was incredibly impressive playing a team-high 32 minutes and scoring 10 points, grabbing 5 rebounds, and dishing out a team-high and career-high 8 assists as well. Grimes, who is mostly known for his shooting and defense, displayed a refreshing level of decisiveness and decision-making that fans want more from the starting lineup. The Knicks, who have struggled both defensively and shooting the ball, should benefit greatly from another Grimes start.
Luguentz Dort (6’3”, 215 lb.), who is coming off of a 4-point, 2-8 dud against the Grizzlies, will get the start once again. Dort joins Giddey on the list of players who have struggled shooting the ball this season but excelled against the Knicks. On the season, he’s averaging just 14.7 PPG on 40.9% from the field but dropped 24 points on 8-11 from the field against the Knicks.
He’ll go face to face with fellow Canadian, RJ Barrett, who is in the midst of having the worst stretch of his four year career. During his recent five-game stretch that started with the game against the Thunder, he is averaging a measly 12.6 PPG on a horrendous 26.3% from the field and an abysmal 8% from three.... 8%!!! There’s reports of him being sick and feeling under the weather recently, but if he is going to be out there, he needs to be better.
Jalen Williams (6’6”, 195lb), who has started two of the Thunder’s last three games, will most likely get the start once again. While the averaged of 9.2PPG, 3.1APG, and 2.9RPG don’t necessarily wow you, he’s a unique player who does a bit of everything and has been pretty efficient in the limited non-three-point shots he’s taken. He was actually one of the few Thunder players that didn’t have a career night against the Knicks, so there’s that.
He’ll go up against Julius Randle who, outside of yesterday’s game against the Suns, is having a pretty good offensive season. While his shots doesn’t always come within the offense and can sometimes be forced and come at the cost of his teammates’ rhythm, he is averaging 20.5 PPG on 46.1% from the field and 33.3% from 3. The Knicks have struggled to keep up with high-scoring teams that last couple of games due to their inability to consistently create and make high quality shots. With how easily the Thunder scored against the Knicks last Sunday, they may need Randle, who had 25 points against them, to have himself another good night scoring the ball.
With Aleksej Pokusevski out, the Thunder will likely turn to Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (6’9”, 230lb.) to fill in for him. Despite currently averaging just 8.4PPG, and 4.2RPG on the season, he was another one of the Thunder youngsters to kill the Knicks in their last meeting. He scored 17 points (one off of his career-high) and shot 7/9 from the field.
With Mitchell Robinson seemingly still working himself back into shape, it’ll most likely be Isaiah Hartenstein getting his eight start of the season. Hartenstein, who is regarded around the league as a very solid big man capable of starting for some teams, has been somewhat underwhelming as a starter likely due to the misutilization of his talents. Despite being a skilled center who excels in dribble handoffs and being a secondary playmaker, he’s being forced to consistently play like a traditional rolling big man, something he can do, but is not best suited to do. Regardless, he’ll get the start again, but look for Robinson to get a solid chunk of minutes if his minutes aren’t hampered by the back-to-back games issue.
Lost within the frustrations of what ultimately might have been the most embarrassing defensive showing by a Thibodeau-led team ever, was the fact that the Knicks got whatever they wanted in the first quarter as well. The Knicks should be able to bounce back, to a degree, from their recent offensive struggled in this one. Brunson, Randle, Grimes, Toppin and Quickley all have the potential to have big games but it will ultimately come down to Barrett offensively. If he cannot get it going, this team is nowhere near as good as they can be or should be and with his recent struggled being very well documented, he should once again, be the x factor for them. With neither team being great defensively, expect another high paced, high scoring game, with a lot of 3 pointers being hoisted up.
That being said, the Knicks’ defense will be the thing everybody will be watching in this one. The fans aren’t asking for the team to score 120 points every night or for them to keep everyone to 90 points but there’s just been too many nights where their effort, passion and competitiveness have come into question. With the players fresh off of back to back stinkers and their recent failure against the Thunder still in their mind, the hope is that the team shows up with some urgency. Gilgeous-Alexander will most likely get his 30-somewhat points regardless, but the Knicks have to do a better job of limiting the easy looks for the other guys. Giddey, Dort, Robinson-Earl, and Muscala cannot get the quality of looks they got last time.
The Knicks find a way to come through with another to win giving fans more false hope and delaying what seems like an inevitable collapse. But it’ won’t be pretty basketball, maybe even more so the Thunder losing it than the Knicks winning it. Final score 118-112.