Just a couple of weeks ago, Knicks fans couldn’t wait for the playoffs to get here. Fresh off of a nine-game winning streak, we were all excited with the team’s play and were looking forward to the prospect of making some noise in the post season. But after their recent 3-6 stretch, many are thankful that there is still some time for this team to right the ship and get back on track. Which brings up the question, what is wrong with the Knicks, and what do they need to change if they want a chance at competing and potentially moving past the first round?
First and foremost, has to be getting Jalen Brunson healthy. The Knicks’ standout point guard has missed six of the team’s last ten games with a foot and hand injury. And while the Knicks are capable of withstanding his absence for a game or two, it’s very clear that they miss him. Without Brunson, the offense is even more stagnant than it usually is and they miss his shot-making and playmaking badly. If the Knicks are to make any kind of noise in the playoffs, they’ll not only need Brunson back, but they’ll need him to be as close to 100% as possible.
Secondly, they must get Julius Randle back on track. While Randle is averaging 25.6PPG over his last nine games, he is shooting just 40.6% from the field during that span. We also have to remember that his incredible outing against the Timberwolves is doing a lot of the heavy lifting, buoying what is otherwise a very subpar stretch for the All-Star. The Knicks will need Randle to recover the All-Star form that helped the Knicks win so many big games this season.
Next, the team has to find a way to regain it’s defensive intensity. With guys like Brunson and Barrett having their share of defensive lapses, it’s understandable for this team to not be an elite defensive team consistently. But they have recently been a revolving door on defense, giving up 140 points to an Anthony Edwards-less Timberwolves team and 127 points to a very lackluster Miami offense. When the Knicks were playing their best basketball amidst their nine game winning streak, they were still a very good defensive team and to make up for their shortcomings shooting the ball, they’ll have to revert to the kind of defense that coach Tom Thibodeau has often been known for.
New York will also want to make sure that Immanuel Quickley regains his efficiency. This one is nitpicking a bit as Quickley has been incredible for much of the season but over his last four games, Quickley is averaging 14.8PPG on an abysmal 34% field goal percentage and 23.1% percentage from 3. It’s a small sample size but with the Knicks relying on Quickley to carry a second unit that should be a strength for them, they’ll hope that he can bounce back and be the player we all know he is capable of being.
Lastly, Thibs and the rest of his coaching staff may want to take a look at benching Obi Toppin. This one hurts to say and is probably something fans don’t want to hear but the Knicks’ former first round pick has not been too impactful as of late, at least not on a consistent basis. Over his last 12 games, Toppin is averaging just 5.4PPG on 41.3% shooting from the field and 22.5% from 3 in 12.3MPG. The athletic big man still shows flashes of excellence with his transition points and energy but as a whole, he has been mediocre and inconsistent. He is becoming more and more reliant on his outside shooting, where he is shooting just 29.4% since returning from injury, his defense has been lackadaisical, and he is coming off a horrendous game in which he was a team worst -25 in just 12 minutes. Looking ahead, the Knicks may be better off splitting his minutes among guys like Barrett, Grimes, Hart, and even Deuce McBride. It’s a tough pill to swallow but given the fact that the rotation shortens up in the playoffs anyways, it may be a smart and necessary move.
The Knicks obviously have other things they need to improve on. Outside shooting, ball movement, mental fortitude, the list goes on. But a lot of those things are either very difficult to improve on this late in the season or aren’t priorities. The Knicks are capable, as we’ve seen earlier in the season, of competing with some of the best teams in the league but if they want to return to that form, then they’ll have to think about a few, if not all, of these things, all of which can be fixed with relative ease.