After turning the page on what was a very disappointing and frustrating 2021-22 season, Knicks fans tried their hardest to be optimistic coming into this season. The team acquired a point guard fans could finally believe in. RJ Barrett, Obi Toppin, and Immanuel Quickley were all coming off great finishes to the prior season. There was hope that Julius Randle would experience some form of positive regression, and that coach Thibodeau would have changed some things up.
And everything looked pretty dandy and sweet to start the season. The team started the year with a tough loss to a good Memphis team, but bounced back with three straight wins against Detroit, Orlando, and Charlotte. Randle looked closer to the All-NBA version of himself, Brunson was looking like an All-Star, and Toppin looked like he couldn’t miss from downtown. Sitting at 3-1 with a team that was playing faster and more selfless brand of basketball, there were some really good vibes around the fanbase.
But that didn’t last very long. At all. The Knicks went on to lose six of their next nine games. During that ugly stretch, they lost to the Nets by 27 and followed that up by giving up 145 points in regulation to the Oklahoma City Thunder. They ended up going 3-2 on the West Coast trip, but honestly, it was just more of them beating up on bad teams. Their three wins came against a Jazz team that has pretty bad as of late, a Nuggets teams sans Nikola Jokic, and a Thunder team that isn’t particularly good either. Through it all, between the inconsistent performances of Julius Randle, the horrendous cold streak by RJ Barrett, the negative regression of Obi Toppin’s shooting, and the mostly ugly defense from the team outside of Cam Reddish and Quickey, there was a very real and foreboding concern that this season was starting to take a nosedive, much like it did around this time last year.
If you’ll recall, the 2021-22 Knicks started the season 5-1, and fans were feeling absolutely amazing. But then the leaks started showing. They had ugly losses to the Pacers, Cavaliers and Hornets ,and barely managed to string together enough wins against mediocre teams to keep fans believing that they’d turn it around. Yet they never did. They made some lineup and rotation changes in an attempt to right the ship, and while it lead to some positive results, it ultimately didn’t move the needle much. The rest of the season ended up an amalgamation of blown leads, horrendous coaching decisions, Randle underperforming and getting into it with fans, and overall mediocrity. And for the most part, that’s been the problem once again.
Ever since their 3-1 start, this team has gotten repeatedly embarrassed with their lack of defense, confusing distribution of minutes, an offensive game plan that lacks any real creativity or versatility, a complete inability to known down threes, and unwillingness to adjust.
To put it into context, the Knicks are currently 3-12 against teams not named the Hornets, Magic, Pistons, Thunder. They’ve just been a team a mediocre team, good enough to beat really bad teams but not good enough to beat good teams. They play just well enough to keep fans somewhat hopeful, only to let them down in eerily similar ways just like last year.
And if you look elsewhere, it’s a lot more of the same old, same old. Thibodeau has been a point of contention for many fans. Randle, despite posting improved offensive stats, looks completely uninterested in playing defense for many of the games. Quickley and Toppin often find themselves playing under 20 minutes. The team has once again blown leads. And whenever adversity hits this team, they tend to completely shut down.
For the second straight year, this is a team that is built for the future, with a coach that is trying to win now, with a front office that isn’t fully committed to either end of the spectrum. And if Leon Rose doesn't want to see his team die a slow and painful death much like they did last season, then sooner or later, changes will need to be made. Unfortunately, until then, it’s seeming more and more likely that this season will just be a one-way ticket to NBA purgatory — the play-in game, if we’re lucky — while the front office looks to hoard draft picks and waits for the next young star to become malcontent.