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The New York Knicks came into the 2021-22 season with a lot of hope and expectations. But more than half way through the season, the Knicks sit with a disappointing 22-24 record. Their superstar Julius Randle is struggling under the weight of New York. They are heading into a brutal part of the schedule that might be their undoing. The Knicks have hit their lowest point of the season and it might not get any better.
In general, the Knicks have struggled to put a consistent four quarters of basketball together. Coach Tom Thibodeau has mixed and matched the lineups to try to maximize all 48 minutes. But the Knicks will be locked in for one quarter or one half, then the next quarter or half there's a lack of effort or intensity. The up and down play is consistent with their sub .500 record. The Knicks have trouble giving consistent effort on defense or just have lapses in rotations. The plus/minus of their starters compared to the bench players is alarming to say the least. Coach Thibodeau consistently has to trade offensive firepower for a defensive stopper or vice versa. Neither can be put together on the court for a full quarter and the Knicks either squander leads or get down so far that they can't catch up.
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The Knicks were fined $25,000 for refusing to let Randle speak to the media. The Knicks choose to accept the fine rather than allowing Randle to be a distraction with another press conference. Not only is this a bad reflection of the Knicks' leader, the Knicks organization is equally culpable by not forcing Randle to be available regardless of the circumstances. Say what you want about former Knicks star Carmelo Anthony; but win, lose or draw Anthony stood by his locker and answered the tough questions. Randle needs to grow some tough skin and take notes from Anthony's example. Randle had no problem taking the big contract in the offseason, he needs to take the heat along with the good. Part of being a leader is answering the tough questions when things are going bad along with the easy questions when everything is going good.
The offseason saw the Knicks add much needed offensive fire power in point guard Kemba Walker and shooting guard Evan Fournier. Adding these two players were supposed to help Julius Randle and RJ Barrett blossom offensively. While Barrett has shown flashes this season, both Barrett and Randle's numbers are obviously down from last year. Barrett's numbers have picked up since he came back from Covid protocol. Barrett is on a hot pace, averaging over 22 points per game in January. He averaged 12 points per game in November and 17 points per game in December.
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Needless to say Barrett has picked up the pace, but his consistency is what we need to see in his third season. “I feel Year 3, also just being with this staff and these guys for a couple years now, it’s a lot easier for me, because I’m out there on the court experiencing things, seeing things, just trying to help in any way that I can,” lamented Barrett while speaking with reporters. Barrett is quietly becoming the leader the Knicks need right now; with his assertiveness on the court and leadership off the court.
Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier also have been inconsistent this season. Fournier can go for 40 points against the Celtics at will, but disappears in other games. Kemba Walker has been in and out of the lineup because of defensive inefficiency or bulky knee, but his scoring is much needed. The problem is Walker isn't a good fit with Randle. Randle is so ball dominant that he takes the ball out of the scoring point guard's hands. The Knicks need a point guard that can distribute and doesn't need to score. The Knicks don't expect to have PG Derrick Rose back from injury for another 4 to 6 weeks, so the Knicks still need to solve their long-term point guard situation.
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The next have dropped three straight games, with bad losses against the hornets, Timberwolves, and Pelicans at home. These were three games they needed to win to not only stay above .500, but to get some momentum going into a tough 10-game stretch. The next close out the month of January with tough matchups against the Clippers, Cavaliers, Heat, Bucks, and Kings. February doesn't get any easier as they have matchups against the Grizzlies, Lakers, Jazz, Nuggets and Warriors. It's a brutal 10-game stretch that if the Knicks don't survive, they'll be sellers instead of buyers at the trade deadline. It's got check time for the Knicks, and it's time for them to decide if they want to play hard and consistently on both sides of the court.