By Matthew Wong
When the New York Knicks are winning, everything in life feels better. The grass looks greener. The air outside smells crisp and clean. People seem nicer. If you were to tell me at the beginning of the season that the Knicks were going to the National Basketball Association (NBA) playoffs as the number four seed in a highly competitive Eastern Conference, I wouldn’t have believed it.
According to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, the Knicks were projected to win only 22 games out of 72 and compete for the worst team in the league. This prediction was fair. For the majority of the 2000s, the New York Knicks have been the laughing stock of the NBA. However, since the 2021 All-Star Break in early March, the team flipped a switch and became one of the best teams in the league. The driving factors behind the Knicks’ success have been head coach Tom Thibodeau, Most Improved Player of the Year favorite Julius Randle, and a plethora of skilled young and veteran players.
Tom Thibodeau, known for his defense, physicality, and relentless effort, is in his first year of coaching the Knicks. His coaching scheme is working well, as they currently rank third in defensive efficiency and first in opponent field goal percentage. They are also top 10 in numerous other defensive categories, demonstrating how the team is able to play organized and rigorous basketball. Moreover, the Knicks are one of the youngest teams in the NBA, and it would have been easy to sacrifice team achievement to develop players such as R.J. Barrett, Obi Toppin, Frank Ntilikina, and Kevin Knox. However, Thibodeau was not interested in this idea. His goal was to bring the intensity to every practice and game and to implement the best teaching environment: a winning one.
Besides a highly successful coaching hire, the improvement of Julius Randle has bolstered the entire team. Randle does everything for the current fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. He is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, and assists per game. His leadership style and intangibles are also key to the Knicks winning. This is the best individual season by a Knicks player since Carmelo Anthony in the early 2010s, and it has earned Randle his first All-Star nomination, playoff appearance, and most likely Most Improved Player Award. Furthermore, in a league that rests star players during back-to-back games, Randle is having none of it. The all-star has missed only one game due to injury, and none to rest, while leading the NBA in minutes played. Julius Randle is carrying the Knicks.
While Randle is the main attraction for fans and the opposing teams, the New York Knicks have numerous other players who are helping the winning cause. Most notably, second-year player R.J. Barrett has taken a leap in his game and projects to be an integral part of the Knicks’ future. Coming into the year, there were few expectations for second-round rookie Immanuel Quickley. But after showing his defensive grit and his ability to draw fouls on the offensive side, he became a solid player and a fan sensation. The veteran players on the Knicks also deserve a ton of credit for the team’s surprising success--Nerlens Noel, Taj Gibson, Reggie Bullock, and Derrick Rose to name a few. These steady veterans know what it takes to be successful in the NBA and how to thrive under Tom Thibodeau.
Even if the Knicks do not make a deep playoff run this year, this season showed the true potential of this team. With Thibodeau at the helm on the sideline and Randle leading the way on the court, the New York Knicks are building a culture that hasn’t been seen in the city since the 1900s: a winning one.
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