top of page

NBA playoffs: How Knicks have become legitimate NBA contender

Credit: New York Knicks

No longer are they considered a punchline. No longer are they plagued with bad ownership. No longer do they have a coach that they plan to fire soon. No longer do they have players that will fail to live up to expectations.

The New York Knicks have finally become a respectable franchise. Don’t look now, but they also have become a legitimate NBA title contender.

The No. 5 Knicks dispatched the fourth-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers in five games. They advanced to the second round for the first time in 10 years. It might be a stretch to consider that outcome an upset. You can’t liken that result to an eighth seed eliminating the conference’s top-ranked team. But consider the context between Cleveland and New York.

The Cavaliers acquired an All-Star point guard (Donovan Mitchell) last offseason after the Knicks failed to offer enough assets to Utah’s liking. Cleveland won praise for retaining its core that boasts plenty of frontcourt depth (Evan Mobley, Jarret Allen) and a rising young star (Darius Garland). The Knicks received criticism that they overpaid on their Plan B free-agent target (Jalen Brunson). They faced questions on whether they had a complete roster or just a handful of decent players.

The Knicks flipped the dynamic on its head.

Not only has Brunson shown he deserved a max deal. Not only has Brunson proven he is an NBA star. Brunson also outperformed Mitchell in the playoffs in points per game (24.0, 22.0), overall shooting percentage (49.1%, 43.6%) and 3-point shooting (41.6%, 30.3%).

Despite playing in the biggest media market, New York no longer bases its identity on just having a star player. The Knicks have a complete team.

New York nine-year forward Julius Randle has posted career highs in points per game (25.1) during a bounce-back season filled with improved maturity with his decision making and how he handles frustration. Though Randle reinjured his left ankle in Game 5 and missed the entire second half, he fought through his physical limitations throughout the playoffs. Randle averaged only 14.8 points on a 32.3% clip and seven rebounds, but he still competed.

New York also offset Randle’s sluggishness by leaning on its depth. Following a poor Game 1 performance (seven points), Knicks fourth-year guard RJ Barrett showed more consistency in Games 2 (14 points), 3 (19), 4 (26) and 5 (21). New York third-year guard Immanuel Quickly also rectified poor showings in Game 1 (three points) and Game 4 (zero points) with better performances in Games 2 (12), 3 (11) and 5 (19). After acquiring him before the trade deadline, Knicks reserve guard Josh Hart excelled in his first playoff series on the glass (6.8 per game) and with limiting Mitchell’s production. Knicks third-year forward Obi Toppin also provided consistent hustle and intangibles.

The Knicks have played this way partly because this fits the image that coach Tom Thibodeau embodies. He pushes players to work hard in practice. He demands that they compete in games. He points out mistakes in film sessions and in drills. He offers praise over strong performances. He’ll reward both thriving and struggling players so long as they show consistency with their effort.

Thibodeau has fielded criticism over the years for how he oversees demanding practices, that he plays his core guys too many minutes and for his complete obsessiveness over basketball. Sure, it might wear some players out. But the Knicks’ current roster has embraced Thibodeau’s style because his preparation and approach have yielded results.

Yes, it might be too early to make plans for a championship parade in Manhattan. The Knicks face a Miami Heat team that just eliminated the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks. Miami star Jimmy Butler could pull off even more heroics against his former coach. And should the Knicks advance? The Celtics have more Finals experience, talent and depth than New York. If healthy, the Sixers are a tough out with a consistently dominant Joel Embiid and James Harden. And then who knows what might happened during the NBA Finals against plenty of deserving Western Conference candidates.

But dismiss the Knicks at your own peril. Despite James Dolan still overseeing the franchise, the Knicks are no longer dysfunctional. He has finally gotten out of the way. As a result, the Knicks have gotten the most out of their coaching staff and players. They are eager to prove they can squeeze out even more untapped potential.

Mark Medina is a veteran NBA reporter who will be contributing to Aaron Torres Online and Aaron Torres Media throughout the NBA playoffs - follow him on Twitter @MarkG_Medina

To get full odds on the entire NBA Playoffs visit Betfred Sportsbook


bottom of page