Do the New York Knicks have a problem playing lesser teams?


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:

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.

Knicks blow away 15-pt lead in humbling loss on NBA’s 75th anniversary

knicks, julius randle

On November 1, 1946, the New York Knickerbockers fended off Toronto Huskies’ rally to win, 68-66, in the historic opener of the inaugural Basketball Association of America (BAA), the predecessor of the NBA.

The New York Knicks couldn’t hold on to their lead on Monday night like they did 75 years ago.

The surging Raptors, now representing Toronto, returned the favor and dealt the Knicks a humbling loss, 113-104, at the Madison Square Garden.

The Raptors beat the Knicks at their own game, outhustling and outshooting them in the final 29 minutes of the game.

Julius Randle had a strong start with 18 first-quarter points and three of the Knicks’ seven assists. With Randle in his element, the Knicks’ offense was humming. They connected on 8 of 13 three-pointers to start the game. Then the ball stopped moving, and the shots ceased falling.

Randle only had four points and two assists the rest of the way. The Knicks just made 13 assists and 8 of 25 from deep after that torrid start.

“We lost the lead, got back on our heels. They were the aggressors. That’s basically the story of the game,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau lamented.

Toronto charged back from a 15-point New York lead in the final 4:32 of the second quarter. A Raptors’ 18-7 closing run built around four three-pointers trimmed the Knicks’ lead to four at the half, 57-53.

“That’s where the game turned. We turned the ball over, we gave them fast breaks, and then we gave them hope. Then the third quarter we got drilled,” Thibodeau added.

In that pivotal third quarter, the defense that became Knicks’ ticket to the playoffs last season was non-existent. The Raptors outscored them, 38-22, and seized a 91-79 lead that ballooned to as many as 15. The Knicks got no closer than nine points.

It was an embarrassing second-half effort in front of some Knicks legends who were feted at halftime for making it to the NBA’s 75th Anniversary team.

If Randle wants to join them soon, he certainly didn’t make a strong case on this forgettable loss.

OG Anunoby outshone him with a career-high 36 points to power the Raptors to their fourth straight win. He was also responsible for locking up Randle in the final three quarters.

Knicks’ third-year wing RJ Barrett stayed hot following his career-high 35-point performance in New Orleans. The Toronto native tried to rally New York with 27 points on 9 of 13 shooting against his hometown team. But it was simply not enough.

The loss ended the Knicks’ three-game win streak. It also marked their second home loss, which came at the hands of perceived lesser opponents.

“It’s the Garden. We try to protect the Garden at all costs, and we didn’t do that tonight,” Barrett said. “They played harder than us, and in the NBA, most of the time, the harder playing team’s gonna win.”

The undermanned Raptors entered the game as a plus-7 underdog. But they hammered out the win by outmuscling the Knicks, 48-41, in the glass.

They outhustled them too.

Toronto was plus-seven in offensive rebounds, which led to a 16-8 advantage in second-chance points.

Lazy passes led to turnovers. The Raptors picked the Knicks’ pocket a dozen times, resulting in 20-13 points off turnovers disparity. New York committed 16 turnovers against Toronto’s eight.

The Knicks entered Monday night 22nd in the league in fastbreak points allowed (14.2 per game). Their effort in getting back to transition defense only got worse in this game. The Raptors ran them to the ground, 21-3, in fastbreak points.

“Everyone’s capable of beating you. We have to play with an edge, and we have to play for 48 minutes,” Thibodeau said. “So, if we have a lead, we have to play tough with a lead. We didn’t do that, so they hurt us with second-chance points, they hurt us with steals, they hurt us with fastbreaks. So, those are things we have to correct.”

With Toronto missing key players Pascal Siakam (left shoulder injury) and rookie stud Scottie Barnes (right thumb sprain) ruled out just before the game, the Raptors played with an edge. They made the Knicks pay for their lackadaisical effort.

Gary Trent, Jr. added 22 points while Fred VanVleet played through small abrasion on the heel of his left hand to finish with 17 points and eight assists. Svi Mykhailiuk, who started for Barnes, stepped up with 15 points.

Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier fired 15 and 12 points, respectively, for the Knicks. But the Raptors scored three of the fourth three-pointers in that momentum-shifting run late in the second quarter against their token defense. Walker had a team-worst -15 plus-minus, Fournier was -11.

Randle also had a crucial turnover during that stretch that led to an Anunoby fastbreak slam. He was 0 for 3 in the second quarter and had two turnovers after his sizzling 5 of 6 shooting in the opening quarter. He ended up with a -15 plus-minus.

“Both of our losses came here at home where games we feel we shouldn’t have lost,” Randle said. It’s always disappointing. You play every game to win, but you can’t sulk on it. You gotta learn from it, keep it moving and get ready for the two-game road trip.”

The Knicks aim to bounce back and maintain their perfect 3-0 record on the road when they visit the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday (7:00 p.m.) and the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks on Friday (7:30 p.m.).

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks face tough test against ‘healthy’ Raptors team, what to expect

New York Knicks, derrick rose

The New York Knicks have a difficult test against the Toronto Raptors on Saturday afternoon, as the team, they will be playing now is a bit different than the one they played a few weeks back. The last time the Knicks played Toronto, on April 11, they were without Kyle VanVleet, their star guard.

In addition, Kyle Lowry was nursing a foot injury, which he appears to be free of now. Toronto has been holding out Pascal Siakam, VanVleet, and Lowry for rest-related purposes, but they are all a GO for Saturday’s game.

The Knicks, on the other hand, are dealing with a few injuries, as Alec Burks is still going through the league’s safety and health protocols. Burks came down with a case of COVID-19, and while it is unknown whether he’s experiencing symptoms or not, he will have to sit out for the next couple of days, if not weeks.

In the meantime, the Knicks are currently on an eight-game win streak, led by All-Star Julius Randle and a vintage Derrick Rose. We shouldn’t forget about second-year guard RJ Barrett, who has been scoring double-digit points consistently the past few weeks. As for center Nerlens Noel, who was caught by a stray elbow in their most recent win over the Atlanta Hawks, will wear a mask of sorts against Toronto.

Taking a look at Toronto’s recent form, they have won their last four games, recently overcoming the Oklahoma Thunder and Brooklyn Nets, playing solid defense. They’re currently nine games below .500 and rank 12th in the Eastern Conference standings.

However, the Knicks cannot sleep on this team, as they have a majority of their squad healthy and ready to go after a few rest days. With the Knicks’ recent form, though, they host the best defense in the NBA, averaging 104.7 points allowed per game. They own sole possession of the 4th seed, with .5 games over Atlanta and Boston. A victory over Toronto would not only give them a nice cushion to work with but would continue an excellent streak of shooting and overall performance.

Hopefully, Tom Thibodeau’s blackout day after the win against Atlanta doesn’t have any effect on their recent success. The team did deserve a day off, as they’ve been working tirelessly to put up shots on their off time and prepare for the next game.

Knicks’ potential target Fred Van Vleet wants to get paid in a lead role

New York Knicks, Fred Van Fleet

Let the Fred Van Vleet bidding war begins.

The New York Knicks‘ potential free-agent target has indicated that he will go where he feels he is most valued.

Appearing on J.J. Redick’s The Old Man and the Three podcast, Van Vleet never shied away from the biggest question he will face in the coming weeks.

“I’ve never been shy about it. I’ve never talked about it publicly, but I’ll share it with you guys. I’m trying to get paid, man. I’m not shy about that,” Van Vleet said.

“I don’t have to tell people that I value winning. Look at my story, do your research. I’ve never been on a losing team in my entire life. That’s what I’m about. That’s just what it is. I won a championship, and now it’s time to cash out on 26 [years old], but I feel like I’m on the verge of blossoming even more in a lead role and with more responsibility… At the end of the day, it’s not purely numbers, but the numbers do play a big part, and I just want to feel my value reciprocated from the other end.”

Van Vleet’s rise from an undrafted player is one of the most compelling stories in the NBA.

He played a pivotal role in the Toronto Raptors’ championship run in 2019. His stellar play last season also helped them to reach the Eastern Conference semifinals despite the departure of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.

Van Vleet is coming off a career season where he averaged 17.6 points, 6.6 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 1.9 steals, and led the league in deflections with 4.2 per game. He also shot just a shade under 40 percent from the deep.

The Knicks, hunting for a lead guard, have the cap space to make a splash in the free agency.

But the Detroit Pistons and the Phoenix Suns, if the Chris Paul trade does not materialize, are expected to crowd them and the Raptors for Van Vleet’s services.

The Raptors could offer him a staggered four year, $70-million deal to maintain cap flexibility for 2021. But it appears they would need to shell out more to retain their unrestricted free agent.

ESPN’s front office insider Bobby Marks estimates that Van Vleet would fetch around $18-20 million in the free agency. Before the pandemic, when the economy was healthy, Marks said one team told him that Van Vleet could be worth $25-30 million.

Without the league’s superstars in the free agency, Van Vleet is considered the top prize.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Knicks: Is Fred VanVleet worth $22M per year?

New York Knicks, Fred Van Fleet

A big market bereft of a star point guard, the New York Knicks have everything except winning to lure one, whether in the free-agent market or via trade.

With a proven coach in Tom Thibodeau and a huge cap space, the Knicks are ready to make a big splash. The 22-million dollar question now is will Fred VanVleet be worth it?

One day after Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star point guard Chris Paul was linked to New York, a new rumor has emerged: the Knicks are expected to offer VanVleet a huge payday worth $22 million in annual salary.

VanVleet is coming off a career season as he continued his stellar rise since popping into NBA consciousness during the Toronto Raptors’ title run last year. As a full-time starter this season, the undrafted guard from Wichita State has averaged 17.6 points, 6.6 assists, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.9 steals, all career-highs. He shot just a shade under 40 percent from the deep. He’s also led the league in deflections with 4.2 per game, making him a coveted two-way player at the backcourt.

While the 26-year old guard has limitations, as shown in the Boston Celtics series, his basketball peak is still ahead of him.  He could come in right away as the no.1 option in a reconstructed Knicks offense or could go no.2 behind RJ Barrett.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported earlier that league executives believe that Malcolm Brogdon’s four-year, 85-million deal he got last summer will set the market for VanVleet.  And that’s within the range of the Knicks’ rumored offer.

But in an event that other top-tier free agents like Los Angeles Lakers’ Anthony Davis, Boston Celtics’ Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz’s Mike Conley opting in, and New Orleans Pelicans’ Brandon Ingram re-signing, VanVleet could emerge as the top free agent in the market thereby setting up a bidding war for his services.

Back in December, when the NBA market was still healthy, ESPN’s Bobby Marks said that VanVleet was valued by one team between $25-$30 million per season.

“One team told me last week that they think he’s going to get between $25 million and $30 million per season,” said Marks on The Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective Podcast.

Should it become a full-blown bidding war, the Knicks have the most money to spend. But they are going to face competition against the Detroit Pistons, who, like them, have the cap space and coach Dwane Casey, VanVleet’s former coach in Toronto. The Phoenix Suns, who have emerged as one of the rising powers in the West, will also be in the mix while the Raptors can offer him not only the nostalgia of their historic title run but also the winning stability under Masai Ujiri’s leadership.

Online sportsbooks have the Raptors as the favorite to retain VanVleet’s services with -250 odds.  Any other team has +170 odds of landing him in the offseason.

One NBA agent who I spoke with believes VanVleet would stay in Toronto.

“I’d say no (on VanVleet coming to New York). I think Toronto keeps him,” the NBA agent told Empire Sports Media.

According to The Athletic’s Blake Murphy, there’s a scenario wherein the Raptors can sign VanVleet to a staggered four-year, $70-million deal while maintaining their cap flexibility for 2021.  It remains to be seen if VanVleet is willing to run it back with the Raptors on a discount, or he’ll bet on himself and go where the money is regardless of the situation.

“I’m a free agent, so I think about it every day. Basketball is pretty easy for me, so I can separate that when I’m on the court. It doesn’t affect the way I play, or the way I approach my professionalism every day. But, sure, Coronavirus gave me a new perspective on life and I’d like to think I already had a good perspective, but definitely put things in perspective,” said VanVleet after losing the series to the Celtics.

“So I’ll wait and see how free agency plays out, but at the end of the day, I’m not writing a cheque to myself, so I’ve just gotta wait and see what happens, and I’ll feel better about the year that I had. I wish it would have ended with a championship, but that didn’t happen for us,” he added. 
VanVleet waited for so long for this big moment to arrive.  It took him long years to rise from being undrafted to a marquee free agent, but he’s also one bad decision away from falling hard.
The Knicks can aggressively go after him, but sometimes making a splash on a marquee free agent without a solid team in place could make unwarranted expectations and make such a contract an albatross.
VanVleet and the Knicks have big decisions to make.