The Knicks are facing an identity crisis, but how can they fix it?

tom thibodeau, knicks

The New York Knicks entered the 2021–22 season with an elevated ego, believing they were impervious to defeat and they had enough talent to make a dent in a relatively strong Eastern Conference. However, they have now been smacked in the face on three separate occasions over the first eight games of the season, falling to the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night for a second consecutive loss.

The Knicks have proved to be vulnerable in multiple ways, ranging from their reliance on elite three-point shooting and lackluster defense. After the loss, head coach Tom Thibodeau indicated the strength of the conference and the effort that must be displayed to overcome the teams in their path.

“The east is loaded, so every night you gotta bring it”

However, the team is starting to realize that ego might’ve been their worst enemy, despite several impressive individual performances.

“An important part of winning is playing with an edge.”

Young guard RJ Barrett has proved to be a catalyst this season on offense, but the team’s defense has been their demise up to this point. They allowed Indiana to score 111 points on them while the Knicks failed to break 100. They shot 20.8% from three-point range, their lowest mark of the year and one that will drag their overall statistics down with it. In addition, their free-throw percentage has also been lackluster, ranking 21st in the league at about 74%.

Thibodeau relies on elite defense, using it to provide an identity for his team. Living and dying by the three-point shot will not help the Knicks make the postseason let alone win a series to break their bench-mark set just a year ago. The hard-nosed head coach stated prior to the beginning of the regular season that he wants to team to attempt more shots from range but focus on high percentage looks instead of trying to reach a specific number.

The Knicks hit just five three-point shots against Indiana out of 24 attempts, far too low for a team that needs those shots to fall if they want to emerge victorious. However, they shot 42.1% against Toronto and still lost by nearly 10 points, proving that their issue is primarily defense-related.

The Knicks currently rank 25th in defensive rating, far from the quality they showed during the 2020-21 season. Ranging from awful rebounding to points given up in transition, their deficiencies are starting to pile up. While the season is young and the hope is they will improve significantly, it is something to be aware of.

Star point guard Kemba Walker indicated that the team is still gelling and building chemistry, which has played a part in their issues lately. Hopefully, Walker is right, and these are just temporary problems that will blossom into long-term solutions.

Nonetheless, the Knicks need to find their true identity, a tough defensive team that relies on making big stops in big moments to shift momentum rather than attempting to outscore their opponent with the three-ball.