Many teams and players have demanded the spotlight in this tumultuous and erratic NBA season. For good reason, the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets and their players Donovan Mitchell, Chris Paul, Joel Embiid, and James Harden have garnered mass attention during the 2020-21 NBA season. But what about a team that, to put it nicely, has not demanded mass and positive attention in really 20 years? What about a team that, unlike the others, entered the season with a humble pessimism that has become all too common in unwavering New York basketball fans?
The team I am referring to is of course, the New York Knicks, and the player that deserves the recognition is Julius Randle. Leading the Knicks to a 4-0 week, Randle averaged 35.8 points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game.
When the Knicks struggled about two weeks ago, it felt like the team could have been dealing with fatigue, especially after a better-than-expected first half of the season. But the team has rallied around what has been its calling card all season: defense. And boy are the Knicks rolling.
For several reasons, the Knicks are not a team Eastern Conference foes will want to see in the playoffs. Defense translates more into the postseason than offense does, and Head Coach Tom Thibodeau has a knack for getting everything out of his players. On the offensive side, Randle has clearly shown that he has the ability to get scorching hot on a given night, and even if he is struggling, the Knicks defense and complementary players can keep them in it. RJ Barrett feels primed for a big postseason, should the Knicks keep this up, and veterans (and former stars for Thibs) Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson should lead the young guys through the big moments nicely.
The Knicks have gotten press during their pathetic stretches over the past two decades. I mean, they’ve been pretty much the most sorry show in the league for a while, yet they’re still ranked as the wealthiest of them all. So it is no huge surprise.
But what the Knicks are getting now, that they haven’t seen for quite some time, is hard-earned respect. This team truly deserves it for the way they compete every single night, and the results have shown the fruits of their labors. The Knicks are finally getting their flowers, and Thibs should be one of the favorites for Coach of the Year, and Randle will surely be the frontrunner for Most Improved Player and one of the All-NBA teams. He really has been that good.
So for a city that has been bereft of basketball joy for so many years, and only making headlines for the wrong reasons, this brief blip of success surely comes with caution for many Knicks fans. But something truly feels different this time around, like this run is not an anomaly of an easy schedule or guys hitting shots they normally don’t make.
The Knicks, plain and simple, have bought into Tom Thibodeau’s system, and they are reaping the rewards. With a smart and measured front office onboard, fans should be very excited about the Knicks, presently and in the future. And this in and of itself is cause for major celebration.