Photo via Pool Photos-USA TODAY Sports
Each and every professional sports league has a team or two that simply is not succeeding over a certain stretch. For a time in the NFL, it was the Cleveland Browns. For a time in MLB, it was the Chicago Cubs. You get the idea.
So, what would an NBA equivalent be? Well, if you look over the past 20 years, it would be hard to pass up on the New York Knicks, wouldn’t you say?
To say the New York Knicks have had a rough going over the past 20 years would be putting it as tamely. Since their 14-year stretch of punching a playoff ticket every season (1987-88 through the 2000-01 season), New York has been through a relatively steady playoff drought ever since. Over the following 19 seasons (2001-02 season through the 2019-20 season), the Knicks made the postseason only four times, and of those four, only once did they get past the first round (2012-13 season). In only one season did the team finish first in their division (2012-13).
However, as any sports fan knows, bad stretches come and go, and if the 2020-21 NBA season is any indication, the Knicks just might be starting up a better stretch for the fanbase to get behind.
A brief glimpse at the standings can show this possibility as a potential probability. Heading into Apr. 23 action, the Knicks are 33-27. Even if they did not play another game this season, their win total would already be higher than their previous six seasons.
Statistically speaking, the defense is what stands out the most. The Knicks rank first in the entire NBA in points allowed per game (104.7), opponent field goal percentage (44.2%) and opponent three-point percentage (33.6%). This might be the tip of the iceberg, but it contrasts quite exponentially to many of the rebuilding Knicks squads just a few seasons prior.
Offensively, the Knicks might not look like juggernaut, and they most certainly are not – their 106.7 points per game ranks 26th in the league, while their 45.4 FG% ranks 22nd. Even still, the offense does have some depth and balance to it. Seven players are averaging 10 points or more, with their top two being 26 years old or younger (Julius Randle is 26 while RJ Barrett is 20). When speaking about the former, the former Kentucky Wildcat has averaged 23.9 points per game, 10.5 total rebounds per game and 6.1 assists per game. All three statistical categories are currently career-highs. In fact, should his current averages hold up, Randle would be the first player in franchise history to average at least a 20-10-6 mark before turning 27.
It is not solely a one-man Randle show. With Barrett, Derrick Rose, Alec Burks and Co., the Knicks have consistently started to find the win column more and more, and especially as of late. With their thrilling 137-127 overtime victory against the Atlanta Hawks on Apr. 21, the Knicks have now won eight straight games. The last time the Knicks won eight games or more in a row was 2014 (Mar. 5-21).
Any Knicks fan will tell you the same story. One season does not correct the last 20 years of production (or lack thereof). The team’s 2020-21 season certainly will not move the pendulum, regardless of what happens moving forward.
However, the Knicks might just be seeing something to build off of, and maybe, just maybe, they are finally losing the label of being that team.