Rebounding. It is a core tenet in the church of Thomas Joseph Thibodeau, Jr., and has been key to the Knicks’ recent success. The numbers are somewhat startling when you consider them.
New York has collected a bunch o’ boards this season. Their total of 3,343 is second-best in the league, behind only the Milwaukee Bucks. The offensive variety is the most important, naturally, and only the Houston Rockets have more than New York’s 902.
It’s hard to believe, but their average of 47.1 rebounds per game is the most by a Knicks team since the 1977-78 squad. They are even statistically better on the boards than iterations from my favorite era, when bruisers like Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason elbowed for loose balls. We are hedging into Legendary Knicks levels here.
Julius Randle deserves a heap of credit. The big southpaw’s rebounding ability is oft-overlooked, but he ranks third in the Association with 732 of them. Philly’s Joel Embiid is a board-crashing monster, but Julius edges him out with 10.3 boards per game. That qualifies for seventh-best in the league. Put that on your cheesesteak, pal.
Thibs preaches that rebounding is vital to a strong offense. You can’t dispute him here, given that the Knicks boast the league’s fifth-best offense. Of course, success is defined by more than just corralling the ball; it’s what you do with the rebound once it’s in your sweaty, NBA-sized mitts.
As Fred Katz wrote in The Athletic this week, “The Knicks also like to kick the ball back out to the perimeter, which gives them opportunities for open, spot-up 3-pointers, instead of contested shots closer to the basket.” (Article is paywalled.)
From somewhere behind a video monitor, Thibs harrumphed contentedly.
With an average of just over nine rebounds per game, Mitchell Robinson is the team’s anchor in the paint. Playing his fifth NBA campaign, Mitch has learned what to do with a rebound. As he told Katz, “Usually, (there are) like four people around you. . . . . So it’s like, the only thing that is open is the perimeter. . . . So, you just gather yourself, find guys with the ball, fake and boom! Because nobody don’t wanna do second- or third-chance efforts.”
Of course, if space allows, Mitch can just flush it. That’s why the guy led the league with a 74.2% FGP in 2019-20.
(Regrettably, a now-deleted Snapchat post this week suggested Mitch’s dissatisfaction with his role in the offense. That’s an unfortunate reminder of his immature tendencies. While he might not pack the points column in the box score (he averages 7.5 PPG), the team’s offense depends upon his board work. And, honestly, what coach would scheme more scoring plays for a guy who can’t hit a five-foot jumper, let alone free throws? With the season turned around, wins under their belts, and a head of steam propelling New York toward the Playoffs, now would be the absolute worst time for Robinson to throw an I-Need-More-Touches tantrum. Get the boards and relax about the buckets, Mitch.)
It makes sense that Randle and Robinson, the two frontcourt pillars, lead the team in rebounds. But what plucky guard rates third? Josh Hart with 7.1. Hart was traded to New York a mere 14 games ago, but no other statistic suggests that he is a Knick to his core like that rebound number.
Katz wrote, “The Knicks average almost 17 second-chance points a game… Robinson owns the second-best offensive-rebound rate in the NBA (amongst qualifying players) and Hartenstein is fifth. Josh Hart freelances and few players read the ball while it’s in the air like he does.”
And Thibs’ pursed lips curled slightly at one corner.
These Knicks need all the second chances they can get. Thibodeau’s nine-man roster is short on gunslingers. Brunson stands as its lone incinerator, shooting 41% from deep on 4.7 attempts. Josh Hart has a reluctant trigger but has averaged 36% from beyond the arc this season. Immanuel Quickley and Quentin Grimes average 36% and 35% respectively. Rounding out the group, Randle hits 34% on 8.3 tries. Everybody else? Sub-33%.
Crashing the boards with vigor has sustained the Knicks while point guard Jalen Brunson has nursed a sore foot. Over the last six games—almost entirely without Brunson—New York shot 31% from deep. This team needs multiple tries at the rim. Over those six contests, they averaged 50.5 rebounds and finished with a 3-3 record.
We’ll see if Jalen takes the court in the upcoming Saturday matinee at home against the Denver Nuggets. New York will require Brunson’s leadership and talent in the Playoffs, so why not sit him until that hoof is fully healthy? As long as they keep cleaning the glass, the Knicks should be able to dispatch the reeling Nuggets without Brunson.
Let that sink in.
It is surprising and wonderful to have confidence in the Knicks, and a far cry from what most fans felt after the first quarter of the season. Our little ‘Bockers have grown up before our eyes and become a statistically impressive, gritty team that is one of the league’s best on offense.
Thibs must be pleased.