If this season was going even remotely close to the way we all thought it would, or at least could, tonight’s matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers would be an exciting one that would serve as a good litmus test of how good the Knicks are. In this ideal world, New York would be coming off of two straight wins against Cleveland and find themselves at 3-4 or 4-3, with a chance to secure a win at home against a star-studded Clippers team that has championship aspirations. While the Knicks’ current record of 2-4 isn’t too far off from the could-have-been Knicks, what we have instead tonight is closer to dread.
That isn’t to say the season or tonight’s game is destined for disaster and that there is no turning back. The Knicks are more than capable of righting the ship like they did last season, and being the team we all thought they could be when it’s all said and done. They are also more than capable of upsetting anyone. But until the Knicks show that they’ve turned the corner, these games, at least against the better teams in the league, may continue to just be another chance for the national media, and the other teams’ fanbases to laugh at what is going on right now.
And look, it’s only been six games, so fans, myself included, should do their best to stay optimistic and believe in this team, but results aside, the process and the product so far has just been atrocious overall. It all obviously starts with Julius Randle, who is following up a career year with one of the worst starts a player has ever had. The forward has the second worst field goal percentage in NBA history through six games (minimum of 90 field goal attempts) and is now slowly but surely showing signs of frustrations impacting his effort and body language.
Worst FG% in NBA History through 6 Games in a Season (minimum 90 FG attempts)— KnicksMuse (@KnicksMuse) November 4, 2023
26.5% — Woody Sauldsberry (1959)
27.1% — Julius Randle (2023)
29.1% — Joe Fulks (1948)
29.7% — Bob Love (1976)
29.8% — Joe Graboski (1958) pic.twitter.com/nmxmPnvgQt
RJ Barrett, who was amazing early on in the season, has been hurt, forcing us all to watch Josh Hart struggle from three as he clogs up the paint for others. Jalen Brunson scored a season-high 45 points and was outstanding against Milwaukee, but before that game, he was relatively inconsistent and inefficient while remaining a revolving door on defense. Quentin Grimes’ numbers look fine now, but much like Brunson, he had been struggling and was cold until the Bucks game. There’s also Donte DiVincenzo, who fans held high hopes for. While they should continue to be excited about his addition to this team, DDV has struggled mightily on offense thus far, shooting just 35% from the field and 33% from three.
Obviously that’s a lot of guys to be going through a slow start, especially when they are all key rotation players who play big minutes. And this hurts the Knicks more than it might some other teams, because, unfortunately, they just don’t have the elite top end superstar to survive that kind of widespread ineptitude. If this team had a player like Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Steph Curry, or Jayson Tatum, then maybe, just maybe, they could endure so many guys struggling. But they don’t. And unfortunately, things could get even uglier tonight.
The Clippers come into the Garden boasting the league’s fifth best defensive rating, giving up just 109.2 points per game, which is good for eighth in the league. Defensive wizards Paul George and Kawhi Leonard lead the charge and make things difficult for any opposing player in the league, and behind them is a very solid rim protecting big man in Ivica Zubac. The good thing for New York, is that they’ve been even better defensively. While the offense has been a disaster, they currently rank third in defensive rating, and are second in the league in points given up per game at just 103.3. The bad news though, is that the Clippers, unlike the Knicks, have an offense that is just as good as their defense.
Los Angeles currently ranks fourth in offensive rating, which is significantly better than the Knicks, who rank 29th. Like their defense, L.A.’s offense relies heavily on their two stars, with support coming in from Russell Westbrook, Norman Powell, and Bones Hyland. And joining that list of George and Leonard’s help tonight will be James Harden, who is reportedly set to make his Clippers debut.
Los Angeles Clippers:
- G- Russell Westbrook
- G- James Harden
- F- Paul George
- F- Kawhi Leonard
- C- Ivica Zubac
New York Knicks:
- G- Jalen Brunson
- G- Quentin Grimes
- F- RJ Barrett
- F- Julius Randle
- C- Mitchell Robinson
Barrett practiced yesterday and is apparently going to play tonight as long as there are no setbacks. That is incredibly encouraging news, and his reinsertion into the starting lineup should help the offense significantly. The Knicks will have another guy in that lineup that can get his own shot and spread the floor more effectively than Hart has so far this season. And pushing Hart in to the second rotation could also stabilize the bench unit as well.
Tom Thibodeau says that RJ Barrett practiced today pic.twitter.com/vTJuycGfzS— Knicks Videos (@sny_knicks) November 5, 2023
That being said, the result of this game, and the season depends largely on if and when Randle can wake from his slumber. Right now, he looks all sorts of out of whack. He lacks the strength and explosiveness to finish at the rim, his shot is very obviously off, and his body language and effort is trending downwards, as well. While I’d love to proclaim that this is the night he turns it around, I believe it’s going to take a bit more time. I truly think that Randle will be better going forward, but I have a hard time believing tonight is the night—in fact, it could get worse before it gets better. Energized by Barrett’s return, the Knicks will keep this one relatively close in the first half, run out of gas in the second, and fall to the Clippers, 110-98.
Who: New York Knicks vs Los Angeles Clippers
When: 7:30 pm EST, Monday, Nov. 6
Where: Madison Square Garden, NYC
Watch: MSG Network