One category the New York Knicks excelled in last year was defensive performance, and it wasn’t just one specific subsection; it was as a whole. If there’s anything that had coach Tom Thibodeau does well, it is create a unit of players that is capable of playing high-level defense and limiting opposing teams. That is the primary reason Thibodeau has commanded so much respect from executives and players around the NBA.
Keeping Thibs as the primary coach will only facilitate more efficiency and aggressiveness from a Knicks team filled with veteran experience and youth. However, the improvements of several players last season were a catalyst behind his style of play. The elevation of Julius Randle and RJ Barrett played a significant role. Adding Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker this off-season will put more pressure on opposing teams, forcing them to take more 3-PT shots, a category the team thrived in limiting success.
However, comparing the team’s defensive efficiency from last year to 2019 paints a bright picture of the transition.
Here’s how the Knicks performed last season compared to the 2019-20 season:
Opponents Points Rank:
2019 – 18th
2020 – 1st
Opponents Field Goal %:
2019 – 27th
2020 – 1st
Opponents 3-PT %:
2019 – 28th
2020 – 1st
2019 – 23rd
2020 – 4th
Tom Thibodeau effect. 🔒🔒
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) May 16, 2021
The Knicks managed to secure the 4th Seed in the Eastern Conference despite having multiple weaknesses on the roster and a lack of depth at some positions. Losing Mitchell Robinson for the majority of the season and forcing Randle and Barrett to play a crazy amount of minutes isn’t a recipe for success. Mitigating fatigue over the course of a long 82-game season is essential, which is why the Knicks will likely rely on reserve players like Alec Burks, Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes, and Miles McBride.
One Lowkey move the front office made was to add players in the draft who were defensively stout. Grimes is known for his aggressive defense in Houston, as well as his shooting prowess. McBride is a sleight of hand specialist with the biggest hand size and wingspan of any point guard in the most recent draft class.
Theoretically, if the Knicks can maintain their defensive production and increase their scoring, they should have an even more successful season in year two under Thibodeau.