The Catastrophe Known as The Knicks

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Issue 7, Volume 110

By Rudolph Merlin 

The start to the 2019-2020 season has been one of the most entertaining starts in recent memory. All-Stars and future Hall of Famers are all vying for control over the Eastern and Western Conferences while young players are beginning to develop names for themselves. What is even more remarkable and what has been standard for the past several seasons is the performance of the New York Knicks. The Knicks, after their first 22 games, hold a 4-18 record.

At first glance, the team appears to be composed of second rate veterans, young players with lots of talent, and above-average forwards such as Julius Randle and Marcus Morris. The Knicks visibly lack a true star, and one could speculate that an all-star would put them over the top. But this is not the case. The Knicks recently fired David Fizdale after their horrendous start, obviously because of his poor performance as their coach. But in this particular instance, Fizdale did not fail because he was put in charge of a team that needed some polishing. Fizdale failed because he could not do anything to a team that fails to execute and understand the fundamentals of the game of basketball. Devoid of offense, a complete ineptness in protecting the basket, and worst of all, unacceptable careless errors are what have been plaguing the Knicks for the past three years. The truth is, the New York Knicks will remain one of the worst teams in the NBA so long as they do not cure these problems. The Knicks’ abysmal 4-18 record is partly because of the fact that the Knicks, to put it simply, can’t shoot the basketball. They are last in the league in points per game (100.5) as well as in field goal percentage (42.1 percent). On every possession, the Knicks attempt a two-pointer 65.2 percent of the time, a percentage that is in the top six among all teams. However, they make only 45 percent of such two-point field goals, dead last amongst all NBA teams. While the team’s three-point percentage (35.8 percent) is mostly average, the Knicks simply do not have a go-to shooter during clutch situations. Speaking of clutch situations, the Knicks would have been able to send December 1’s game into overtime if forward Morris had been able to sink his last free throw, another category the Knicks rank last in.

And the Knicks’ lack of offense is the reason why Knicks fans see some NBA oddities. You cannot have Morris bring up the basketball; that is the responsibility of a guard. And the Knicks do not have a guard to do that. Frank Ntilikina, who is supposed to be the team’s saving grace and their legend in the making, has been stuck averaging six points a game in his three years as an NBA player. Dennis Smith Jr, who was supposed to lead the team and fill the power vacuum left by Kristaps Porzingis, has been nonexistent all year. Point guards such as Alonzo Trier and Damyean Dotson, who have shown potential last year, are barely played (yet another oddity) in order the give Ntilikina room to grow. The Knicks are focused on making the face of the team a player who has shown no growth rather than players who have shown great promise, and soon, players like Trier and Dotson will be worthless benchwarmers whose contracts fill up the Knicks’ cap space.

The problems do not stop there. The recent 30-point blowouts have solidified the Knicks' complete lack of ability to play any defense. As I watched their December 5 game against the Denver Nuggets, it was visible that the players did not know what they were doing. The team’s mistakes were really simple ones: losing their man, miscommunication during switches and screens, and support coming from the wrong areas of the court. These errors created space for the Nuggets to shoot the basketball, and when they did, their shots were largely uncontested. In a league that relies heavily on the three-ball, it is no surprise why the Knicks are second to last in three-point defending. They have lost by more than 20 points six times in only 22 games. This is even worse than last season, when they lost this way only twice in the first 22 games.

It is also “the little mistakes” (as Knick Hall of Famer Walt Frazier puts it). Their game against the Pacers on Saturday, December 7 saw Morris fouling Holiday as he was going for a layup. With the Knicks in a nice rhythm and one point away from tying the game, Morris should have let Holiday Holiday make the layup instead of risking a three point play. That is exactly what happened, and Holdiay’s free throw was the decider of the game, as the Knicks would go onto lose several minutes later 104-103. These errors are seemingly made several times by the Knicks every night, and they have not stopped in their frequency.

Fizdale, throughout all of this, has claimed that his team was developing. He commented on how well his players were practicing and that there was a sense of camaraderie between the players, stating he has a group “that could fight for each other.” But the Knicks’ improvement has not been seen so far in the regular season. If anything, they are arguably on track to finish worse than they did last year (17-65).

There is only so much that can be blamed on Fizdale, though. The problem also trickles down to the front office. The organization failed to acquire future Hall of Famers Kevin Durant and Kyrie Iriving. Instead, they signed Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis, and Julius Randle, wasting $42 out of the $70 million of cap space to sign three power forwards. And while Randle is a solid player, he, alongside the rest of the Knicks’ signings, are absolutely worthless in comparison to Durant and Irving. The thing is, the front office has nothing to offer to free agents. The Knicks have been in the sewer for the past 20 years, and while attendance at Madison Square Garden has always been high and New York is the hotbed of business deals and contracts, NBA players want to win a championship at the end of the day. The only way the Knicks will be able to fix their struggles would be to develop a young core of players. Get rid of the veterans and play the newcomers. Let them learn the sport through game experience. From that point, the front office should start hunting for free agents: talented players who will be able to take control of these newcomers and bring out the best in them. The fact that the Knicks have no above average players, are horrible on both sides of the field, and waste their money and draft picks on questionable players all serve to prove that the Knicks’ misery will continue for a long time.