The NBA Playoffs are about to get underway. And yes, you read this correctly. The New York Knicks are actually in the NBA playoffs!
For the past 20 years, the Knicks have steadily declined into the running joke of the league. What many sports authorities and fans alike call a “Clown Franchise”. A rotating door of head coaches (Isiah Thomas, Mike D’Antoni, etc.), general managers (Glen Grunwald, Phil Jackson, Donny Walsh, etc.) and an owner that makes headlines for his off the court shenanigans and treatment of former iconic players (Charles Oakley and Patrick Ewing).
Yet, this season has been different. Yes, the Knicks have another new GM, another new head coach and new roster. However, the Knicks have already clinched a playoff spot. What makes this season different, and could they be a playoff threat?
Here are 5 reasons why the Knicks are no longer a joke and why the rest of the league needs to pay attention to them this post season!
1 – Tom Thibodeau – The Head Coach
The last time the Knicks had a head coach that made an impact was Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy in the mid-to-late ‘90s. These coaches were experienced and emphasized defense and relentless effort. Thibodeau was an assistant coach under Jeff Van Gundy on those Knicks teams where during the 2000 – 2001 season he helped them set an NBA record at that time of 33 consecutive games of keeping opponents under 100 points. With his experience as an assistant coach in NY as well as Houston, San Antonio, Boston and Philadelphia, Coach Thibs was more than ready when he got his 1st head coaching job in Chicago.
As Bulls head coach, he led them to the playoffs all 5 seasons. In his next head coaching gig in Minnesota, he brought them to the post-season in his 2nd year which was the first playoff appearance for the Timberwolves in 14 years. It’s no surprise when his “dream job” as the Knick head coach came his way, he would rely on all his years of coaching experience to make the cultural shift that NY needed and turn them into a winning team that emphasized defense and effort. Look for Thibodeau to get many votes for Coach of the Year for his transformation of the team.
“As I told our players at the beginning of the season, it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. It only matters what we think. And I know I got a special group of guys. We want to keep driving until we get what we ultimately want.”
— Coach Thibs on @breakfastclubam pic.twitter.com/5Jm8W6JK9g
— x – NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) May 18, 2021
2 – Julius Randle – The MVP
Randle was drafted in 2014 by the Lakers and spent four seasons in LA where he showed flashes of his game but was released in 2018. After a brief stint in New Orleans, the Knicks signed him to a 3-year, $63 million dollar contract and he has been worth every penny! Randle has been putting up impressive numbers averaging 23.9 points, 10.5 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game. Add to this that he’s leading the league in minutes played (37.2) and reaching career highs in free throw percentage (80.7%) and 3-point range (41%) which has made it difficult for opposing teams to guard him.
Such impressive production helped him earn his 1st NBA All-Star appearance and was recently named the Eastern Conference Player of the month for April. All this while playing under the bright lights of NYC. There’s no doubt his play has helped lead the Knicks to a winning record and back to the post-season for the first time in 7 years and fans around the league have taken notice as they start “MVP” chants every time Randle steps on the floor.
What a regular season for @J30_RANDLE ⭐️ pic.twitter.com/SdcmdfHI8r
— x – NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) May 17, 2021
3 – RJ Barret – The Rising All-Star
When New York drafted Barret in 2019 with the 3rd overall pick, they believed they had a college superstar who would be a building block in the rebuilding process. After a disappointing rookie season, management and many basketball authorities wondered if the Knicks drafted a shooting guard who can’t shoot. Barrett struggled his 1st season averaging only 14.3 pts per game with a 3-point shooting percentage of 32% and a free-throw percentage of 61.4%. During the off-season, he worked hard on his shooting even at times taking 400 – 500 extra shots after practices to make sure he improved and it’s paid off.
Barrett has shown considerable growth to avoid a sophomore slump now averaging almost 18 points per game and increased his 3-point shooting percentage to 39.8% and free-throw percentage to 74.6%. His overall improvement which now includes a deadly baseline 3-point shot has turned him into one of the centerpieces of the team’s resurgence and a complementary player to Randle to form a dynamic duo that has made the Knicks contenders.
Some @RjBarrett6 buckets for your timeline pic.twitter.com/gHjT9CvCCE
— x – NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) May 16, 2021
4 – Derrick Rose – The Veteran
Rose and Thibodeau have history going back to their Chicago days when Thibs coached Rose on the Bulls from 2010 – 2015. It was under Coach Thibs where Rose became an all-star and earned a league MVP award. In 2018 Rose and Thibodeau reunited in Minnesota when Thibs was the head coach of the Timberwolves. When the Knicks acquired Rose back in February 2021, it resulted in a 3rd tour of duty with Thibodeau although it wouldn’t be his first time in NY. Rose played with the Knicks during the 2016-2017 season where he averaged 18 points and 4.4 assists with a free throw percentage of 87.4%.
Now in his 2nd stint with the Knicks, while his numbers are comparable to his first time in NY, it’s his veteran presence and ability to run the offense which has been the biggest contribution. Having previously played under Coach Thibs, Rose understands his system and what’s needed to make it work which he shares with the youngers players to help them adjust and fit into the offense. When Rose plays and runs the offense, the Knicks are 20 – 7 which is drastically different from the record of 21-24 when he’s not playing.
Vintage @drose 🌹 pic.twitter.com/VNeGT6hieX
— x – NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) May 16, 2021
5 – The Supporting Cast
The Knicks have been led by the one-two punch of Randle and Barret, but the supporting cast also made contributions that helped lead NY to a winning season. Staring with Immanuel Quickly who showed he’s a shooter reminiscent of John Starks. Reggie Bullock is another long-range shooter with a 3-point field goal percentage of 40.3% and plays well with Randle who helps to set up Bullock to knock down those shots. Veteran Taj Gibson is another Coach Thibodeau alumni and understands the offensive and defensive systems of Coach Thibs. Finally, there is Nerlens Noel is another defensive specialist who works with Gibson to help protect the rim.
When the season started, no one predicted the Knicks to even play .500 ball never mind make the playoffs. Especially when other teams like the Lakers, Nets and Warriors were stacked with high profile superstars. The hiring of Coach Thibodeau changed all that. Yet, the playoffs are a whole different season, and anything can happen. Can the Knicks advance deep into the post-season? Stay tuned because this Knicks team led by Coach Thibs seems to have risen from clown franchise to respectable contenders.