Knicks

Knicks Gelling Like Never Before

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Winners of five out of their last six, the New York Knicks are becoming one of the NBA’s surprise teams so far this season.

After the Knicks’ comeback win over the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night, the city was buzzing with something that hasn’t flowed through the boroughs in ages: exhilarating basketball.

Julius Randle playing at his full potential, flashes of RJ Barrett’s greatness, Immanuel Quickley looking like the steal of the draft, Mitchell Robinson’s defensive prowess, and Coach Thibodeau mean mugging on the sidelines is what fans of New York basketball have been dying to see. Although things can change rather quickly, one thing is certain after New York’s 5-3 start, Knicks fans have every right to be ecstatic.

What’s Different this Time Around?

5-3 is such an ordinary record. For Knicks fans, however, this has been something they have been craving for a very long time. Sure, the bar is low and Knicks fans have prematurely overreacted to hot early starts in the past, but this time things seem different. No veteran superstars, no bad contract players, no drama within the front office, just young players having fun and blossoming before our eyes.

It has seemed for the past 20 years New York has been trying to take shortcuts to win a championship, or just plainly be relevant among powerhouse franchises. Eventually, that type of toxic culture will blow up in your face. Winning in this league is a grind and a process. There are levels to creating a winning culture, and maybe, just maybe, we are seeing the start of something great in New York.

Holding Each Other Accountable

It all starts with accountability. Coach Tom Thibodeau has shown time and time again that he doesn’t care how many points you average or how talented of a player you are– he will hold you accountable for your mistakes. It has only made the young Knicks core better over time.

For example, Mitchell Robinson has had a short leash Coach Thibs. Anytime he commits a premature foul, he gets yanked. As time has went on, you can see Robinson playing more disciplined defense down the stretch. Thibodeau handing out accountability to young players only makes them better down the line. New York wanted a culture shock and these are the type of actions required to do so. That is why he has more wins as previous Knicks head coach David Fizdale, in 16 fewer games, with an extremely similar roster.

DNP’s Does Not Equal Not Being Involved

Next to accountability, it also begins with players buying into the culture. Talents like Barrett, Randle and Robinson can only bring you so far. Without the veterans and team leaders like Frank Ntilikina, Austin Rivers, Theo Pinson and Reggie Bullock, this team wouldn’t be overperforming like they have these past seven games.

Ntilikina and Pinson are extremely talented basketball players who don’t get enough playing time as they should, BUT, after every time out — winning or losing — those two are the first off the bench to keep the guys in check. Down the stretch against the Hawks, when defensive stops were crucial, Theo was standing right on the sideline directing defensive traffic and edging his guys on to get the stops they needed. Mind you, Pinson has logged a total of nine minutes all season. Professionals like that are crucial in a recipe for winning basketball.

Veteran Leadership

Another veteran who has hit big shots and been a voice in the locker room thus far has been Austin Rivers. After a tough loss against the Toronto Raptors, Rivers took to Instagram to voice what he expects this team to do when facing adversity. Since his Instagram post, the Knicks have three straight comeback wins.

Like I stated before, Pinson and Rivers aren’t players, they are professionals. They are professionals that younger players can look up to when facing adversity.

The Closer

Last night against the Utah Jazz, Rivers had an uncanny performance in the Garden. Scoring 14 straight points in the 4th quarter to close the game out, he propelled the Knicks to 5-3. Rivers has been the closer for New York in clutch situations, and in the past three wins, he’s come through.

The eight-year veteran has come into this own on a young Knicks roster, all while being the voice of the team at the same time. Any veteran player can just come into a locker room and make their presence felt. Only when their game speaks for itself, though, is when most players will listen. Rivers has been able to walk the walk and talk the talk. He’s been part of the reason the Knicks have started so strongly, and they can continue to do so under his leadership and poise.

We must also note that he is under contract for three years and $10 million (yes, $10 million), which is an absolute steal for New York.

https://twitter.com/BR_NBA/status/1347186133487251459

How Do You Respond?

Last but definitely not least, the last cause of the Knicks’ exciting play points to how certain players hold themselves accountable. The two biggest examples of this are Julius Randle and RJ Barrett. Starting with Barrett, he shot a combined 18/66 (27%) in New York’s games between December 26th-31st. This was the talk of NBA Twitter.

https://twitter.com/kylemaggio/status/1345580728566820867?s=21

RJ’s shooting slump wasn’t pleasant to watch, but how he responded is what you want to see in a young franchise player. He has averaged 20 points, seven rebounds and two assists over the past three games. Bouncing back is an understatement. Having someone built for the big stage going forward is something Knicks fans are looking forward to.

RJ’s blossoming felt inevitable, but Julius Randle’s early hot start? No one saw this coming.

After an underwhelming 2019-2020 campaign, Randle has taken his game to the absolute next level. Through eight games, he is averaging 23.1 points, 12.0 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game on 49/34/78 shooting splits. That’s more points than Anthony Davis, more rebounds than Giannis Antetokounmpo, and more assists than Luka Doncic.

Clearly, Randle has a lot more to prove the rest of the season, but if this hot start snowballs into normal play, he can be looking at his first All-Star game appearance and maybe some All-NBA votes. Responding to disgruntled fans from the previous season with this type of play has been the perfect response. Responding to adversity is what has kept this Knicks squad afloat.

A Lot of Work Left to Do

All in all, Knicks fans have every right to be thrilled about the squad’s hot start. All New York fans are on the same wave length, they understand and acknowledge that this time around feels different. Even though it would be incredible, fans aren’t expecting a playoff appearance after all of this. They just want to see competitive basketball.

Approaching the rest of the season one game at a time, watching the young guys blossom, letting management and other players hold each other accountable, and watching how the team responds to adversity is what fans will keep an eye on.

No, Knicks fans are not overreacting.

New York will take on the Oklahoma City Thunder January 8th at 7:30 PM EST.

Follow us on Twitter @KnicksLead for the latest Knicks news and insight. 

About Matt DeCeglie

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