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A Shocking Win Over the Bucks and Inconsistent Guard Play

The Knicks have looked like a competent basketball team so far this season. Which is a huge compliment after what they have looked like over the past few seasons. This season is only 3 games old for the Knicks but those 3 games have shown us a lot about this squad. In the previous weeks, I have written about what we need to see from this very young Knicks team. A lot of that focused around the young lottery picks in guys like Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, and RJ Barrett. Big decisions are looming for Ntilikina and Knox as their rookie contracts are expiring soon.

The Knicks are 1-2 in their first 3 games. They started with 2 losses to the Pacers and 76ers and then somehow beat the Bucks by 20 on Sunday night. Their first two games were defined by staying close through halftime and then getting obliterated in the 3rd quarter. However, in the performance against the Bucks, they played a full 48 minutes and blew out the best team in the East.

What else has the first 3 games taught us about this Knicks team?

Improved Defense

New head coach, Tom Thibodeau, has always been known as a defensive first coach. The Knicks the past few seasons have struggled immensely on defense. However, under Thibs, the Knicks have looked like a new team on the defensive side of the ball. Defense was one key area Kevin Knox really needed to improve in. So far, he is far more aggressive on defense, rebounding much better than years past, and collecting some blocked shots. This was evident throughout the preseason and these early season contests.

Although they have shown improvement, they need more consistency for a full 48 minutes. In each game, they have looked good in the first half but really come out slow in the second half of games. One thing I really like about Thibodeau is how quick he is to call time outs when there is a lapse on defense. It does not matter who the player is or what the score is; if he sees lazy defense, he will immediately call a timeout and coach.

Inconsistent Guard Play

One of the other defining areas so far this season is the inconsistent play of the Knicks backcourt. Immanuel Quickley, who balled out in the preseason, got injured in the first game against the Pacers. This led to more minutes for Elfrid Payton and Dennis Smith Jr. for the second game. Both players were horrendous against the 76ers as Payton he threw up an ofer from the field. However, he came back strong against the Bucks and scored 27 points and dishing out a fair amount of assists.

Frank Ntilikina had trouble finding the court in the first two games, but finally got an opportunity Sunday night against the Bucks. He took the most of that opportunity by going 4-4 from 3 and got the first “BANG” from Mike Breen this season. Hopefully we will see more of Ntilikina and less of DSJ over the coming weeks.

The Knicks are really missing Immanuel Quickley. He is everything the Knicks have been lacking in a PG. He is aggressive off the dribble, can shoot the ball from deep, and pushes the ball in transition. This is something Elfrid Payton never does and it is infuriating to watch. With guys like Barrett, Toppin, and Knox, transition offense needs to be a part of the Knicks identity but Payton seems to actively refuse to do so. Quickley needs to be getting the majority of minutes running the point when he returns from injury.

RJ Barrett

The future of the Knicks lays mostly in the hands of RJ Barrett. In this very young season, Barrett has shown flashed that he can be the franchise player the Knicks drafted him to be. He went off for 26 points in the opener and put up a very solid performance against the Bucks. He put up a dud against the Sixers, but he still put together a solid game in all other facets of his game. RJ shot well from the free throw line, dished out a couple of assists, and grabbed some boards. He did not shoot well from the field, but he remained aggressive and tried to get his shot. Sometimes it is just not your night.

Final Thoughts

This is going to be a very fun Knicks season. Julius Randle is actually playing good basketball; putting up some good numbers and not acting as a turnover machine. Toppin and Quickley have missed the last two games and Toppin will be out for at least the next week. The offense will improve when those two players return. Alec Burks has also been an excellent acquisition. He almost became the first player since Carmelo to score 20+ in his first 3 games as a Knick but came up just short as he exited with an injury. There seems to be a decent core for the Knicks to build around with Barrett and Mitchell Robinson. Things can really take off if Quickley and Toppin play up to their potential. There are certainly things they need to work on, but overall, they look like a much improved team.

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-Pete Chatterton (@Pchat12)

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