While the New York Knicks’ nine-game winning streak was thwarted Monday night by Chris Paul and the Phoenix Suns, now is not the time to fret Knicks fans.
After seven consecutive losing seasons, the Knicks are currently 34-28 and tied for fourth place in the Eastern Conference with the Atlanta Hawks. And despite having 10 games remaining on the regular season schedule, New York’s 34 victories are the most wins they have had in a single season since 2014.
But how did a team that had only won 38 games in the last two seasons make such a drastic turnaround? Well, the process started way before the 2020-21 Knicks played a single minute of basketball.
On July 30, 2020, the Knicks announced the hiring of their new head coach—Tom Thibodeau.
— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) July 30, 2020
Knicks fans were not exactly receptive to the move (seriously, check the replies on that tweet), but Thibodeau has a long track record of maximizing the potential of young teams.
Thibodeau was the NBA’s Coach of the Year in 2011 during his first season with the Chicago Bulls, the same year Derrick Rose was named the youngest MVP in league history. Chicago had the best record in the league in each of Thibodeau’s first two seasons with the team and the Bulls’ 62 wins during the 2010-11 season were the most since their 1997-98 campaign, when the franchise last won an NBA championship.
Then in 2016, Thibodeau was hired by the Minnesota Timberwolves and won 47 games in just his second season with the team, good enough to get the franchise back into the postseason for the first time since 2004.
Thibodeau, widely regarded as a defensive tactician, has helped the Knicks post the fourth-best defensive rating this season while allowing the fewest points per game and the lowest opponent field goal percentage.
IT STARTS ON DEFENSE
— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) April 24, 2021
Many questioned whether Thibodeau and his fiery personality would get across to the Knicks’ infantile roster, but as this year’s regular season nears its end, plenty of his players are vouching for him.
Speaking of players, Thibodeau is not the only one that deserves praise for the Knicks’ success, as multiple members of this team have been a pleasant surprise this season.
Seventh-year forward Julius Randle has taken his game to a new level this season, averaging career-highs across the board: 23.9 points, 10.4 rebounds and 6.0 assists while shooting 42% from three.
💪 40 PTS, 11 REB, 6 AST
💪 8th consecutive victory
💪 NYK moves into 4th in East
— NBA (@NBA) April 22, 2021
Randle was selected to his first All-Star game this year and he’s one of four players this season averaging at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists per game (Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, Randle and Russell Westbrook).
RJ Barrett, the third overall pick from the 2019 NBA Draft, has also turned some heads this season. After failing to make either of the All-Rookie teams last season, Barrett has upped his averages to 17.6 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists while shooting 39% from three this season.
RJ Barrett is locked in.
24 PTS | 6 3PM pic.twitter.com/G7IUJXK4Ma
— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) April 21, 2021
And about a month and a half before the NBA’s trade deadline, New York reunited Thibodeau and Derrick Rose in a trade that sent Dennis Smith Jr. and a second-round pick to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for the former New York Knick.
The 32-year-old point guard has averaged 13.9 points and 4.1 assists off the bench for New York this season and the Knicks have gone 18-8 in the 26 games since his arrival.
Derrick Rose razzle-dazzle 🤭 pic.twitter.com/8U45jXpzXR
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) April 27, 2021
Kentucky alum Nerlens Noel, veteran swingman Reggie Bullock and standout rookie Immanuel Quickley have also been revelations for the Knicks. Noel has proven to be one of the best rim protectors in the league this season, averaging 2.1 blocks per game (third in the NBA). Bullock is knocking down a team-high 2.4 threes per game at a 41% clip and Quickley currently ranks fifth among rookies in scoring at 11.6 points per game.
After years of misery, the Knicks are on pace to make their first postseason appearance since the 2012-13 season, with FiveThirtyEight giving New York an 84% chance of making the playoffs this year.
This team is ushering in a new era of New York basketball and these Knicks are here to stay. The Big Apple is back.