The New York Knicks Are Back

“We’re not happy where we are right now, and we’re committed to making this better.” 

When Knicks president Steve Mills said these words at an impromptu press conference in 2019, it echoed the sentiments of every Knicks fan in the world. The team had not made the playoffs since the 2012-2013 season, and they had lost 50 or more games in five straight seasons. The fans didn’t want much; they just wanted a winner. Unfortunately, Steve Mills was fired shortly after this press conference and could not get to build the winning team that the fans so desperately craved.  But funnily enough, one season later, the Knicks have become exactly that. 

On May 12, the New York Knicks clinched a playoff spot for the first time in eight years, and a few days later clinched the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference with a 41-31 record. This has been a magical season that almost no one could have seen coming, given how terrible things have been for the Knicks in the past decade. But what’s been behind the team’s sudden winning ways and return to the playoffs?

Tom Thibodeau, known for his sideline outbursts at the referees, has helped the Knicks become one of the best defensive teams in the league.

One of the main factors is new head coach Tom Thibodeau. Known for his days coaching the Chicago Bulls, Thibodeau brought his discipline and strong defensive tactics to the Knicks. As a result, his coaching has caused significant improvements to the Knicks defensive play, allowing them to have the fourth-best defensive rating in the league as opposed to last season’s 23rd ranked defense. The Knicks also held opponents to the lowest point per game total in the league, proving that good defense leads to wins. 

Also helping to lead the defensive resurgence is center Nerlens Noel. Acquired in the 2020 offseason, Noel finished 2nd in the NBA in blocks per game with 2.2 and averaging 1.1 steals per game, making him the only player in the league to average at least two blocks and one steal per game. The Knicks defense has been the main thing that has both helped them win and keep them competitive in games they’ve lost. But it hasn’t just been the defense that’s making headlines for the Knicks and helping them win. 

When it comes to elite scoring and getting clutch baskets for the Knicks, one man comes to mind: Julius Randle. After an awful first season with the Knicks in 2019-20, Randle has emerged as a true superstar and the team’s number one option. Randle did not just have an amazing season in 2021; he had an all-time great season. He became just the sixth player in NBA history to finish a season averaging 24+ points per game, 10+ rebounds per game, and 6+ assists per game. His incredible performance throughout the season earned him his first-ever All-Star game selection, and just last night he won the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award.

RJ Barrett (left), Julius Randle (middle), and Derrick Rose (right), have all been instrumental in putting the Knicks back on the map with their phenomenal play night in and night out.

While Randle has been the catalyst, other players have stepped up big to help lead the Knicks. The 2019 third overall pick in the draft, RJ Barrett, has improved significantly in his second NBA season, particularly his 3-point shooting. After shooting 32% from behind the arc his rookie season, RJ shot 40.1% in 2021, making him a legitimate shooting threat every single time he’s on the floor. Guards Derrick Rose and Immanuel Quickley have also been instrumental in getting the Knicks to where they are. Rose was acquired in a midseason deal with the Detroit Pistons and has been the team’s spark plug off the bench. He’s averaged 14.9 points per game coming off the bench and has provided some of the most clutch buckets of the season for New York. Quickley, a rookie, has been one of the most exciting young players in the league this season. His scoring touch and outside shooting ability have given the Knicks offense multiple dimensions and one of the best 3-point shooting units in the league. With all of these players having resurgent and career seasons, it has made the Knicks into a force to be reckoned with in the NBA. 

For a team that everyone expected to be awful this season, the Knicks have spent all year proving people wrong. They proved that their success in the first half of the season was no fluke. They proved that Julius Randle and RJ Barrett are great players. They proved that they belong in the same conversation as other NBA playoff times. This has all led to the Knicks bringing playoff basketball back to Madison Square Garden for the first time since 2013, where the fans will no doubt be the loudest they’ve been in years. With all of this in mind, there is only one thing that can be said: The New York Knicks are back.