Sometimes, not being able to point to a clear-cut answer regarding a teamâ€™s success is a good thing. The Knicks, who have won three consecutive games, with their last against the Los Angeles Lakers coming smoothly, seem to be playing with a newfound swagger.
Whether it be All-Star Julius Randle posting double-digit points every night or RJ Barrett and his significant improvement in the 3-pointer category, there are many factors contributing to the teamâ€™s latest success.
Against the Lakers on Monday evening, Randle posted 34 points, shooting 13-of-23 from the field, including 10 rebounds. Elfrid Payton had a phenomenal performance, scoring 20 points and shooting 9-of-12 from the field.
The entire team managed to contribute in one way or another, but one thing is for sure, their defense remains a catalyst for their victory. The Knicks have now held their last two opponents to under 100 points, as they currently host the best defense in basketball, allowing just 104.4 points per game.
It is encouraging to see the team make developmental leap as a unit and not just individually. Randle, while turning the ball over a bit too much at times, still manages to dominate the boards and open up clean shots for his teammates. Part of the reason Barrett has been so adequate as of late is due to the attention Randle draws when driving to the basket. His ability to kicks shots out to the corners and force double teams is what makes him so effective, all while having a fantastic mid-range shot. On the season, Randle is averaging 22.8 points, 10.7 total rebounds, and 6.0 assists, a career-high in all three categories.
It is exciting to see this team stick together and not drop any draft capital at the trade deadline to acquire more talent. Moving forward, they can retain some of their more influential pieces on one-year deals and look to find a premium player to pair with Randle. It seems as if Barrett has taken a massive step forward in his progression, and some believe he can be that secondary star.
Ideally, the Knicks would find a start point guard and allow Barrett/Randle to retain their usual roles while gaining back Mitchell Robinson at center. I would even consider keeping Nerlens Noel around, given his performance this season and dominance in the paint as a defender.
Overall, this team is enjoying success because they are playing as one, and their aggressive defense remains tiresome and problematic for opponents. As long as they can put up a decent amount of points, they can always remain in the game, as we have seen in the past. Losing by just a few points to the 76ers and Nets on multiple occasions was disappointing, but it showed us one thing, the Knicks have what it takes to compete against playoff-contending teams.