Madison Square Garden has always been a Mecca of basketball. Star players use the storied venue to give showcase performances and show off in front of one of the most respectful audiences in professional basketball.
The team that plays in Madison Square Garden hasn’t been much to speak of in recent years. The Knicks ended their recent seven-year playoff draught in 2020-21 when they lost 4-1 to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round.
This year, the Knicks sit at 41-30 with eleven games left in the regular season. They’re on track to be a middle seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs and just pulled off a nine-game winning streak that included wins against playoff teams from both conferences. The win streak was highlighted by wins against the Boston Celtics at home and on the road. The Knicks also beat division rival Miami on the road.
What’s different about this year’s Knicks team? Find out in the article below.
Defense: A Tom Thibodeau Hallmark
Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau has always built his teams around defense. That trend has continued with this team. The Knicks are second in rebounding in the Association and are 9th in points allowed to opposing teams.
The Knicks’ improvement in defense this year has come from tightening their rotations and infusing more youth into the team’s rotation. Thibodeau’s rotation went eleven deep at the beginning of the season, mixing in veterans like Derrick Rose and Evan Fournier alongside some of their younger talents.
After a demoralizing loss at the end of November to the Dallas Mavericks in Madison Square Garden, Thibodeau took the opportunity to shorten the rotation to nine people. Veterans were b benched for younger players who played hustle defense, like Quentin Grimes, Deuce McBride, and Emmanuel Quickley. Their effort on defense has allowed the Knicks to match up well against most Eastern Conference teams.
Surprising Offensive Numbers
The Knicks have improved their offense dramatically from last season. Last year, they were 22nd in the league in offensive rating. This season, they’re fifth in offensive rating.
There are multiple reasons for this change. The Knicks brought in point guard Jalen Brunson in free agency. He has brought the team a true point guard while also being able to be a secondary scoring threat.
Julius Randle has also found the form he had in 2020-21. In 2020-21, Randle was an All-NBA selection and Most Improved Player, hitting career highs in multiple categories. He regressed in 2021 after signing a four-year extension. This year, he’s beating his career averages in points and rebounds.
With eleven games left to go in the season, the Knicks look like a tough first-round matchup for whoever gets them.