There isn’t much to be upset about with the Knicks’ performance to start the season. They sit at 5-2 and own victories over the likes of the 6-1 Bulls, the Celtics, and the 76ers. They’ve also suffered horrific losses to both the Magic and the Raptors.
The reason for both of these losses: simply getting outplayed. This doesn’t seem like just a fluke.
A Tale of Two Types of Performances
Last year, the Knicks thrived against teams below .500, going 24-10. Their efforts against these teams ended up being the reason they eventually sat 4th place in the Eastern Conference at the end of the season.
This year, they’re much improved, and their play against opponents they are more talented than should reflect that. However, this is not what we have seen.
Last night, the Raptors came into MSG without Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes and completely outplayed the Knicks. They started out hot and were up as many as 15, but in the final minutes of the second quarter and the entire second half, they looked lost.
New York turned the ball over 17 times, was outrebounded offensively by 6, and was outscored in transition 21-3. Additionally, there was little-to-no effort on defense as almost every Toronto possession ended with a great look. This all combined screams a lack of hustle on behalf of the Orange & Blue.
The same can be said about their other loss this season to the Magic. Nothing on the stat sheet jumps out at you as the reason why the Knicks lost that game, but lazy defensive possessions led to their demise. Terrance Ross doesn’t score 22 in the 4th quarter of that game if New York brings their usual intensity on D.
To date, the best win of the season for the Knicks was against the Bulls. In that game, not only did they outwork them on the boards, but they also outhustled them on all ends of the court. They turned the ball over 13 times but only surrendered 10 points off those turnovers. New York also had 5 more fast-break points than a Chicago team that scores 13% of its points in that category.
This performance just doesn’t compare to their losses.
Julius Randle Needs to Lead the Way
When Julius Randle plays well, the Knicks play well. It’s that simple. The reigning Most Improved Player sets the tone for everything his team does.
Last night he started the game out with one of the best quarters of his career. He put up 18 points with 4 threes, and the Knicks led by 8 at the end of the period. After that, he went silent. Watch just one example of the lack of effort shown by Randle. This play ended up setting the tone for the rest of the game:
Here’s the beginning of the downfall.— Rit Holtzman (@BenRitholtzNBA) November 2, 2021
Knicks up 15 (largest lead). Randle feeling himself (rightfully so to some extent). Heat-check iso possession against a great defender (semi-excusable if not ideal).
Watch his effort getting back on defense in transition (inexcusable). pic.twitter.com/0WlooS7nKg
The Knicks need their best player to play hard night in and night out, no matter the opponent. It’s understandable that he’s probably drained from going 35+ minutes a night, but this type of laziness isn’t just seen at the end of games.
The effort needs to be there all the time, or else the Knicks will continue to struggle against younger teams with less talent, who seem hungrier to win.
Hopefully, this doesn’t continue to happen enough to become a trend this season, and it all starts with the play of Julius Randle.