The New York Knicks are lucky to be 5-5 on the season after two consecutive disappointing losses. Against the Oklahoma Thunder, they scored a measly 89 points, replicating that same score against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday evening.
The Knicks have had their fair share of struggles this season, especially regarding injuries and a short preseason without much time to gel. Players like Austin Rivers and Nerlens Noel have struggled to find their place, simply playing basketball and not adapting to Tom Thibodeau’s style and scheme. That has caused some roadblocks, but overall, the Knicks have played above expectations, thanks to stellar performances by Julius Randle to start the season.
However, two consecutive losses have brought the Knicks back to reality. The Nuggets were simply the stronger team, despite having the same record as New York through 10 games. While Randle scored 29 points, he had a -21 +/-, struggling on defense.
“We’re not playing well,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said, “and we have to fix it.”
“We didn’t play well overall,” Thibodeau said. “Some nights you’re going to shoot it better than others. When you don’t defend and you don’t shoot well there’s virtually no chance to win. So we have to count on our intensity, our defense. There’s nothing we’re doing well right now but that doesn’t mean we can’t change it.”
Thibodeau has always relied on defense to compensate for a lack of shooting. The Knicks don’t have premium quality shooters from beyond the arc, which continues to show up in their losses. Denver connected on 42.9% of their deep balls, which is far above average. The Knicks landed at 28.6%, well below average.
“We have to get our confidence and swagger back,’’ Randle said. “We have to get our fight and energy up to give us a chance to win.’’
The Knicks’ primary issue, though, has been their astronomical turnover numbers. Against Denver, they turned the ball over 16 times, while their opponents recorded just 12. There were too many occasions where the Knicks found themselves jumping in the air and looking for teammates to throw to. That simply isn’t going to work in the NBA, as the second you leave your feet, you have to have intention with the ball.
While Julius Randle has been their star player through 10 games, he also leads the team in turnovers with 4.6 per game, more than double the next player. Both Alec Burks and Elfrid Payton average 2.3, which isn’t anything excessive. Randle has been their biggest liability in the category, as they average 14.8 turnovers per contest.
That is a statistic that needs to correct itself, and I believe with time and chemistry building, it will gradually decrease. However, momentum is so important in basketball that consecutive turnovers or being a liability in that category can be the difference between winning and losing.