Knicks fans have already experienced a roller coaster of emotions this season because of their beloved Knickerbockers.
The Knicks have opened the 2020-21 season with a 1-2 record, their lone win, an impressive win against an Eastern Conference powerhouse.
12/23: The season for the Knicks began on Wednesday in Indianapolis.
Things were going along swimmingly for New York in the first half. RJ Barrett’s hot shooting from the preseason carried over and began that game 9-for-9 from the field. However, right before heading into the locker room with a 66-61 lead over the Pacers, Knicks rookie guard Immanuel Quickley collided with Pacers center Myles Turner. Quickley grimaced but tried to continue playing, until the pain became too overwhelming moments later, and was forced to come out and did not return.
Then, the wheels fell off for New York. They were outscored in the third quarter, 27-16
Barrett’s impressive 26 points weren’t enough as the guys around him couldn’t pick up the slack after Quickley left, especially at guard. Alec Burks was the lone guard who played well enough to mention. He scored 22 points in his Knicks debut. Starting point guard Elfrid Payton had 7 points and 3 assists, Reggie Bullock had 11 points, Frank Ntilikina had 1 point in five minutes and Dennis Smith, Jr. did not play. It seems as though when Quickley and Austin Rivers come back from injury, the Frenchman and the NC State star will be pushed out of the rotation.
Domantas Sabonis played well that night, posting up 32 points and 13 rebounds. Five different Pacers scored in double digits as Indy beat the Knicks, 121-107.
12/26: Saturday was even worse for the Knicks.
The Knicks hosted the Philadelphia 76ers in an eerily quiet home opener at Madison Square Garden.
Along with Quickley out with what was diagnosed as a hip pointer, rookie forward Obi Toppin was placed on the injury list with a calf issue. In the midst of the game, the Knicks announced it was a strained calf and would be re-evaluated in 7-10 days.
To the Knicks’ credit, they were able to hang close with Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and the Sixers for the first half despite the absence of Quickley and Toppin and a nightmare game for Barrett. He finished the game with just 10 points with 4 assists and 6 rebounds, but on an awful 2-for-15 shooting from the field and 0-for-6 from behind the arc.
Burks did what he could again. In 30 minutes off the bench, he scored 22 points again. But that was pretty much it from the Knicks guards again. Burks became the first Knick to score 20+ points in their first two games as a Knick since Carmelo Anthony. Anthony scored 20+ in his first six games to start his Knicks career.
Payton again was the dismay of Knicks fans. The starting point guard did not record a single point. He was able to minimally contribute with an assist and 3 rebounds.
The Knicks were outscored again coming out of the locker room to start the third quarter. Philadelphia outscored them 26-14. The Sixers won, 109-89.
12/27: Surely, Knicks fans weren’t feeling too good after that performance and having to host Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks the following night.
But the Knicks were up for the challenge.
Payton must have read all the heat he was taking on because he played like a man possessed. In 29 minutes, he dropped 27 points with 7 assists and 3 rebounds on 12-for-16 shooting. The 29 percent career shooter from behind the arc hit all three of his treys on Sunday. Barrett was able to bounce back in a way. He finished with 17 points with 4 assists and 8 rebounds on 7-for-17 shooting. He did not record a trey.
Ntilikina got a few more minutes. He was able to play 18 minutes and recorded 12 points on 4-for-6 shooting from the field, 4-for-4 from behind the arc. Burks scored 18 points in 20 minutes off the bench.
Although Antetokounmpo scored 27 points and hauled in 13 rebounds and the Bucks had four players score in double digits, the Knicks had five players score in double digits. They outscored the Bucks in the first three quarters and the Knicks picked up their first win of the season beating the Bucks, 130-110. It marked the first win for Tom Thibodeau as head coach.
What do we have with this Knicks team?
I still believe RJ Barrett is due for an enormous year. I truly believe he can score 25 points a night and haul in about seven rebounds. His shooting stroke looks better and he looks confident, whether that’s taking a jumper or going strong to the rim. However, if he starts the night 0-for-11 as he did on Saturday, look to pass and take some shots after the game to find that release point. The team can afford the misses after the game, not during it. Sometimes you don’t have it on a certain night, and that’s fine. But, don’t put your team in a worse spot by continuing to heave the ball at the rim.
Julius Randle might be a different player than last year. Was that a product of David Fizdale’s offense compared to Tom Thibodeau? Maybe. Randle has had a great start to the season after a good preseason. Now, three games won’t completely change the minds of fans after a whole season of frustrating play. But if he continues to play like he has, he could absolutely get more than just the $4M that guaranteed to him for next season. Through three games, Randle is averaging a double-double.
He’s been able to score 23.7 points per game and even 10 rebounds per game along with 6.3 assists per game.
For the advanced stats community:
|True Shooting Percentage||.558||.652|
If he keeps this pace up, he might give Barrett a run for his money for Most Improved Player.
Now there has to be some bad.
With the exception of Alec Burks and Immanuel Quickley, the guards need to do better, particularly Elfrid Payton.
Although Payton is arguably coming off his best game as a member of the Knicks, his play MUST improve. He’s on the same boat as Randle in regards to “his one good game does not erase the garbage play from his first year.” If it weren’t for Payton’s 27 point game last night, he would be averaging 3.5 points per game with 2.0 assists per game. You cannot have these types of numbers, along with a 29 percent average from three-point range, and be the starting point guard.
I’m sure no-nonsense Thibodeau knows this as well. I don’t expect Payton to put up 27 points a night, but if he could put up around 10-15 points a night with around 7 assists, then my opinion will change. Until then, Payton’s starting role should be in jeopardy.
But then the issue becomes, who do you start at point guard?
I guess the correct answer is Immanuel Quickley, but he’s day-to-day at the moment. Is it Alec Burks even though he isn’t a point guard? Does Ntilikina or Dennis Smith, Jr. get a chance to ascend from being buried on the bench? What happens when Austin Rivers gets healthy?
The Knicks will ring in 2021 on the road as they start a road trip tomorrow in Cleveland.
Hopefully, more good play awaits in the new year.
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