Knicks president Leon Rose and head coach Tom Thibodeau were brought on last March and July respectively to substantially change the culture of an organization whose brand had become one of instability, losing and dysfunction.
It’s only eight games into Rose’s and Thibodeau’s tenure, far too small a sample size to declare them saviors, but the early results have been favorable. The Knicks went into their game last night (Wednesday) at Madison Square Garden against the Utah Jazz an eye-opening 4-3.
The last time the Knicks had a winning record after their first seven games was under then-head coach Mike Woodson in the 2012-13 season. They were 6-1 and finished 54-28, ultimately losing to the Indiana Pacers 4-2 in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Ironically, Mike Woodson is currently a Knicks assistant coach.
The franchise hasn’t made the playoffs since then. Odds are against the Knicks elbowing their way into one of the top eight spots in the conference this season and ending a seven-year drought. Nevertheless, they are already defying odds. Several major sports betting entities have the Knicks winning just 22 games in this truncated 72-game season, but Thibodeau’s team seems to have other intentions.
The Knicks have upgraded their talent through free-agent acquisitions and the draft. Before spraining his left ankle veteran guard Alec Burks scored 22, 22 and 18 points in the opening three games. With top first round pick (No. 8 overall), forward Obi Toppin out with a calf injury, guard Immanuel Quickley, who was drafted with the 25th pick by the Oklahoma City Thunder and traded to the Knicks, has emerged as one of the most surprising rookies in the NBA.
Sidelined after injuring his hip in the Knicks’ season opener versus the Indiana Pacers, Quickley returned last Saturday when they faced the Pacers again, and along with another free-agent signee, guard Austin Rivers, was instrumental in the Knicks’ 113-108 comeback win over the Atlanta Hawks Monday, the conclusion of a four-game, seven-day road trip.
The 21-year-old from Baltimore, who played two seasons at Kentucky and was the 2020 SEC Player of the Year, was entrusted by Thibodeau to man the entire fourth quarter at point guard while starter Elfrid Payton looked on from the bench. Quickley’s grasp of the NBA game playing the most difficult position for a rookie, especially after primarily playing the two-guard spot in college, has been a revelation.
“I feel like I’m just a basketball player.” said Quickley in an interview with the MSG Network after scoring 16 points, including shooting 6-6 from the foul line, against the Hawks. “Just coming in, working on my craft each and every day ,whether it be shooting, passing, defense, watching film. I pride myself on working hard.”
No one has worked harder than Julius Randle. Another Kentucky product, Randle, who was signed as a free-agent by the Knicks in the summer of 2019, and led them in scoring (19.7) and rebounding (9.7) in a season cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, has significantly elevated his game on both ends of the floor.
The 26-year-old Randle’s improvement on defense has been evident and offensively he has been one of the league’s most productive performers. Prior to taking on the Jazz, Randle was averaging 22.1 points on 50.9 shooting overall and 40.7 from the three-point line. His 11.1 rebounds ranked 6th in the NBA and he was 7th in assists at 7.4.
The Knicks will host the Oklahoma City Thunder tomorrow at MSG and the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.