New York Knicks fans went into this season full of optimism and believed that their beloved team had turned a corner and was making progress. Finishing the 2020-21 campaign with a 41-31 record, the first winning season in nine put the Knicks into the playoffs. Sure, they lost in the first round to the Atlanta Hawks, but progress was being made; or was it?
This season saw the Knicks post a 22-21 record by January 15 and was in control of their destiny. Just as the NBA betting sites were preparing to include Knicks in the playoff markets, the wheels fell off and did so spectacularly. Knicks lost six of their eight January games after January 15, and their torrid run continued into February and early March. They went 1-9 in February in addition to losing the first two games in March, all but ending the Knicks' hopes of reaching the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. So what went wrong? Is anyone or anything to blame? There sure is.
Any team on the planet would suffer if they lost a player of Derrick Rose's quality. The 2011 NBA MVP has not played a game since mid-December after injuring his ankle in the 116-103 win over the Houston Rockets. Rose should have been in the treatment room for two months but required a second procedure to correct a skin infection on his injured ankle, which ruled him out indefinitely.
Rose is a leader on and off the court, and the statistics show the Knicks are seven points better per 100 possessions when he plays. Furthermore, Rose was hitting three-pointers at a clip of 40.2%, the second-best of his long and illustrious career.
The Knicks look lost defensively without Rose orchestrating things. Nobody breaks down defenses and turns them into scoring opportunities like Rose.
Julius Randle's Loss of Form
Julius Randle was the poster boy for the Knicks' transformation during the 2020-21 season, putting up career-best figures across the board. Randle was named the NBA's Most Improved Player, receiving 98 of 100 first-place votes, and was named in the All-NBA Second team as a forward.
Randle's incredible season saw the Knicks reward him with a four-year $117 million contract extension. He started the season how he finished the last, averaging 29.6 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 6.3 assists up to the All-Star break, but something happened, and his figures fell through the floor.
Compared to last season, he is scoring an average of 4.5 fewer points per game and 0.7 fewer assists, and his three-point percentage has plummeted from 41.1% to 30.1%.
The icing on the cake was the NBA fining Randle $40,000 for an incident with a game official in March, his own fans booing him, and then a season-ending quad injury in April. Randle needs to get his head straight for the 2022-23 campaign.
Of course, the book stops with the head coach in any sport, so Tom Thibodeau needs to take the lion's share of the blame for the Knicks' fall from grace. Thibodeau likes to stick with the same starting line-up even when things are not going great. Only injuries force a change in the starting five.
Thibodeau stuck with his same team despite coughing up some huge leads during February. The Knicks gave up a 21-point lead against the Lakers, a 23-point lead against the Trailblazers, and led by as much as 28-points in-game and 18-points in the fourth quarter against the Nets. That Nets team did not even have Ben Simmons, Kyle Irving, or Kevin Durrant in it!
The Knicks had the fourth-best defensive rating last season (107.8), but that same defense is 16th this time around (110.5). Thibodeau needs to rework his defensive magic if the Knicks are to challenge again next season.