The Knicks have looked like a revolving door on defense at times, Fort Knox other times, and generally out of control on offense most of the time.
The structure we saw in the “Big 15” stage has all but completely evaporated, and we have to hope the Knicks can save themselves from drowning due to that fact.
It starts with Thibodeau. We knew coming in that he’d be stubborn, likely to keep a tight rotation while trusting his guys to get the job done. It was a scary thought, but the Knicks wound up with 40+ wins last season on their way to a fourth seed with home advantage — which didn’t work out so well.
Thibodeau also earned a Coach of the Year award, and could be equally responsible for Julius Randle’s Most Improved Player award. That said, neither person has carried that momentum into this season, at least not consistently.
Open the flood gates
And again, I say this starts with Thibs because he’s quite literally at the helm of the rotation’s boundaries.
It’s been an understated fact that the Knicks’ starting five has one of the lowest +/- in the history of the league, and we’re only 18 games into the season. An entire unit supplying that on a nightly basis is simply embarrassing and not conducive to a winning environment.
Yes, there are some new yet familiar faces on the team, but you’d think with an entire offseason and more to acclimate to one another there’d be some consistency by now. RJ Barrett has been playing horrendously after a five-game streak of brilliance in which he saved the team on numerous occasions.
Evan Fournier, as of last night against the Lakers, has had two exceptional performances mixed in among a bevvy of cold nights; Kemba Walker has done more or less the same thing.
And of course there’s Randle, who has seemed checked out on certain possessions while reverting to his turnover machine phase back in 2019-20.
It’s an all around carousel of mayhem when the starters are on the floor, especially in third quarters, which have brutalized the Knicks in the early goings of the season.
Bench of Beauty
Thankfully, there continues to be hope on the bench, which boasts a healthier +/- for the team when they step on the floor. The reason? After the starters give the second unit the challenge of surmounting a 11-point deficit, they take it in stride and obliterate the opposing team’s lead like it never existed.
Obi Toppin’s constant motion in transition and the half court has softened defenses left and right this year, which is a massive deal considering his presence on the court last season was next to nonexistent. Immanuel Quickley, too, has risen out of his slump quicker (haha) than expected.
The young guys, along with Alec Burks and Derrick Rose, have been the life source for the team thus far, and it’s actually a testament to how good the development in this franchise has become.
Toppin looks like the player he was advertised as, if not better. Quickley is once again showing why he might have deserved to be drafted higher in his class. When they both step off the bench, I feel a sense of completion knowing that they’re about to tear down the opposition.
This is where Thibs has to step in. He has to take a page out of the book of the sophomores and learn from his transgressions.
He’s already adopted the three-point shooting mindset in order to modernize his coaching style. Now he has to adopt keeping a fluid rotation so the opposition can’t game plan this team so easily.
Locking down Randle and forcing him into turnovers is getting old, and when the ball moves with this roster, we’ve seen the results are positive, especially for Randle.
I’ve been noticing some more mix-and-match lineups from Thibodeau of late and that’s a start to what should inevitably be the main part of the Knicks’ playbook. Keeping fresh legs and different role players in is a good recipe for turning opposing defenses into a crapshoot.
Now it’s just a matter of sticking to that implementation.
The Knicks are 5-7 in the month of November ahead of Friday’s matchup with the Phoenix Suns. Every win matters, much like last season, so let’s hope the Knicks can manifest that mentality against the Finals contenders.