The New York Knicks were the big surprise team last season with Julius Randle providing an MVP-like performance, but this season it’s the same old Knicks, especially after they lost 13 out of their last 16 games including blowing a 28-point lead against the short-handed Brooklyn Nets. Has head coach Tom Thibodeau lost the locker room during the Knicks latest losing streak, and are his days at Madison Square Garden numbered?
The Knicks (25-34) were 22-21 before the spun out of control with a 3-13 clip. They currently occupy the #12 seed in the Eastern Conference. If the season were to end today, they would not qualify for the play-in tournament. The Knicks are 3.5 games off the play-in bubble, but trail the Charlotte Hornets (29-30) by four games, and the Atlanta Hawks (28-30) by 3.5 games.
Over the last couple of weeks, the Knicks choked and blew double digit leads. During their current three-game losing streak, the Knicks blew leads of 23 points (vs Portland), 11 points (vs Oklahoma City), and 28 points (vs Brooklyn).
“As a team, we gotta get our mental right,” said backup center Taj Gibson. “You can see it in our faces sometimes. We just gotta learn. Gotta build. We gotta bounce back. Come back and re-evaluate how we finish the game.”
The Knicks are +2000 odds to make the playoffs according to a prop bet by DraftKings. In case you were wondering, the Knicks are -10000 odds to miss the playoffs.
Knicks last 3 games:
— Blew 23-point lead
— Blew 11-point lead
— Blew 28-point lead
They are 3-13 in their last 16 games. pic.twitter.com/zJusjzu4CB
— StatMuse (@statmuse) February 17, 2022
The Thibs System
Thibodeau walks the razor-edge line between genius and madmen. When his players buy into his system, then they can thrive. However, when they don’t buy it anymore, things go off the rails real quick. This happened at his previous two stops with the Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves.
Thibs is a defensive-minded coach that’s a throwback to the 1990s. The modern NBA has a much different game where teams love to run and gun and take layups or chuck 3-pointers. It takes a lot of stamina and a deep bench if you expect to play defense over a long haul. But therein lies the problem with Thibs. He maintains a short rotation and rides his starters to log significant minutes. Once exhaustion hits, the wheels come off the bus.
The current batch of Knicks are both exhausted and exasperated with the Thibodeau system last year and ascended from the slums to the penthouse. The surprise Knicks locked up the #4 seed in the Eastern Conference. However, their biggest weaknesses were exposed in the first round by the Atlanta Hawks. They were sluggish on defense after a tiresome season, but failed to find an offensive identity when Julius Randle went cold.
The Knicks needed a point guard, but signed Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker in the offseason. Walker is a shadow of his former self and his bad knees makes him a defensive liability. Fournier’s inconsistency hurt the Knicks who were prone to slow starts in the first and third quarters with the starters on the floor. The second unit got the Knicks back into games, but he’s loyal (to a fault) to his starters. Thibs benched Kemba without much warning, which didn’t sit well with the veterans on the squad.
The Randle slump began in the playoff against the Hawks and last through a couple of weeks ago. Randle is finally coming out of a long slumber, but it’s too little and too late.
Randle is also a throwback for his propensity to play ISO basketball. The problem is that when it doesn’t work, the entire offense goes stagnant. It’s difficult to watch him dribble around while four guys are standing around waiting for him to shoot. When Randle is on the bench, you get a glimpse of how the Knicks could look with the second unit. It’s much more free flowing with an upbeat tempo. The second unit with Derrick Rose, Immanuel Quickly, Alec Burks, Obi Toppin, and Taj Gibson is fun to watch. When you check the box scores, you’ll see that the starters all have minuses in their +/- column, but the second unit is all pluses.
When Thibs tried to start some of the second unit players, they didn’t mesh well with the starters because of Randle’s propensity to stagnate the offense.
The Knicks were able to win games last season because Randle (24.1 ppg) played much better and shot light’s out from 3-point range (41.1%). This season, Randle averages 19.8 ppg while shooting just 42.1% from the field and an ugly 30.6% from 3-point range. Some nights, it’s just brick after brick after brick.
Knicks: Awful Schedule Post-ASG
The only good news for the Knicks is that they will not add more losses to their current losing streak this weekend because they have a week off with the All-Star Break. However, things could get even worse for their final stretch of games after the break.
“We’ve got a young team that can get better, and that’s where we have to concentrate,” said Knicks head coach Thibodeau.
The Knicks (25-34) have the fourth-hardest schedule in their remaining 25 games. They have two tough games right out of the gate when Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat, plus Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers visit MSG next weekend. The Knicks could embark on a seven-game road trip with their losing streak still intact. During their two week sojourn, they play three games on the West Coast. The Knicks expect to be an underdog in every game on their seven-game road trip, and not the betting favorite in their first nine games after the break.
Yeah, the Knicks could be 25-43 and 18 games under .500 by the time they get back from their road trip. Thibodeau could go from the 2021 NBA Coach of the Year to the outhouse and get fired before the season ends if the Knicks continue their descent into Hades.