Coming off three consecutive losses, the New York Knicks are trying to find ways to get back in the win column. After a 2020â€“21 season that proved the Knicks belonged in the playoff conversation, theyâ€™ve lost some of their grit and intensity.
Allowing Elfrid Payton and Reggie Bullock to walk in free agency seemed like a good move this off-season, but the loss of defense has proved to be significant for the Knicks, who have struggled considerably in recent days to match the intensity of last season. They currently rank 19th in defensive rating.
In fact, some are calling Tom Thibodeauâ€™s team â€œsoft,â€ as a lack of effort and hustle has hurt the teamâ€™s identity. Thibodeau called out his squad for the lack of effort in recent days, especially on defense, where they fail to rebound effectively and guard the perimeter.
â€œWeâ€™ve got to fix the effort part,â€ Thibodeau said, â€œand then weâ€™ve got to go from there.â€
Interestingly, the players have also acknowledged that they need to fight instead of letting teams use them as a punching bag. They donâ€™t seem to be as hungry and motivated as last season, and when the fans begin to turn against them, it can be hard to find the motivation to succeed.
â€œWeâ€™ve just got to fight,â€ RJ Barrett said. â€œAt the end of the day all the Xâ€™s and Oâ€™s, that doesnâ€™t matter. Weâ€™ve got to play defense and weâ€™ve got to fight.â€
The Knicks added primary scorers in Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier this past off-season, but neither contribute on defense effectively. Walker has since been benched in favor of Alec Burks as the starting point guard, and Fournier simply doesnâ€™t offer the defensive efficiency needed to supplement his inconsistent scoring. At this point, the front office may be regretting the massive four-year contract they offered to Fournier to replace Bullock as a shot-creating sharpshooter.
All-star power forward Julius Randle indicated that the team needs to play harder, showing aggression and maximum effort. He admitted they get a bit too lax at times, and taking on great teams like Brooklyn and Chicago, is an unacceptable excuse.
â€œIn order to win games,â€ Randle said, â€œweâ€™ve got to play really hard, extremely hard. â€¦ Who we are as a team, how we built this team and this culture, is just fighting defensively, the togetherness, just the effort and the hustle plays.
â€œI feel like thatâ€™s what the city of New York loves, thatâ€™s what the fans love, when they know weâ€™re out there giving it our all. I think sometimes weâ€™re just a little bit too lax, or we might think the little details donâ€™t matter sometimes.â€
Randle is spot on, New York expects toughness and grit — showcasing a lack of effort is an abysmal justification for losing, especially for professional players earning big money. Dropping three consecutive games, two of which came down to the final moments, the Knicks need to find ways to come out on top. It will always be through their defensive efficiency.
However, it starts with effort, and lacking hustle is never a good excuse for failure.