In the first month of this NBA season, the Knicks have shown they have the talent and depth to compete with upper echelon teams. They are not yet in that class, which won’t be conclusively proven until they go deep into the postseason, but early returns have been positive, notably on their investments in free-agent guards Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier.
The duo has been pivotal to the Knicks becoming one of the best three-point shooting teams in the league. Going into last night’s (Wednesday) game against the Indiana Pacers on the road—the Knicks were 5-2—Walker and Fournier were tied for fifth in the NBA in average three-pointers made per game at 3.6. Walker had hit 25 of 44 for a scorching 57% clip. Fournier had also drained 25 and had converted 43% of his 58 attempts.
As a team, the Knicks topped the league in averaging 16.6 three-pointers made per game and were second in total makes with 116, only one less than the Charlotte Hornets. The three-ball had fueled their No. 3 ranking scoring ranking (115.1) in the NBA behind the Hornets (117.5) and the Miami Heat (115.6). It is a dramatic contrast with last season when the Knicks finished 26th out of 30 teams averaging 107 points per game.
As he did in the 2020-’21 campaign, forward Julius Randle led the Knicks in the three major offensive statistical categories prior to facing the Pacers. He was registering averages of 21 points, 11 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game. Last season the first All-Star and All-NBA Second Team selection put up an impressive line of 24 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists.
Perhaps the Knicks’ newfound offensive potency has caused a tendency for them to relax when they build double-digit leads. It has occurred multiple times and arose again on Monday in an unforeseen 113-104 loss to the shorthanded Toronto Raptors at Madison Square Garden.
The Raptors were without All-Star forward Pascal Siakim, who led them in scoring (21.4) and rebounding (7.2) last season, but hasn’t played this season as he recovers from off-season shoulder surgery.
Superlative rookie forward Scottie Barnes from Florida State, drafted No. 4 overall by the Raptors and posting 18 points and a team-leading nine rebounds in seven games played, didn’t suit up either after spraining his right thumb on Saturday versus the Pacers. But the Knicks, who were up by 15 in the first half and maintained solid separation for much of the night, let a win slip away.
“We lost the lead and got back on our heels, they were the aggressors. That was basically the story of the game,” said Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau after his squad held a 91-79 advantage at the start of the fourth quarter against the Raptors.
“So, when we have a lead we have to play tough with a lead and we didn’t do that. They hurt us with second chance points, steals, fastbreaks, and those are things we have to correct.”
Knicks guard/forward RJ Barrett, who had a team-high 27 points against the Raptors, following up on his career-best 35 points on the road Saturday night in a 123-117 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, agreed with his coach.
“I think they just played harder than us honestly. They played harder than us. In the NBA, the harder playing team is going to win,” said Barrett.
“When we get outplayed, outworked, it’s not a good feeling,” he expanded. “It’s definitely not a good feeling. That’s something we hang our hat on is coming out there and outworking everybody.”
The Knicks will play the Bucks in Milwaukee tomorrow, host the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Garden on Sunday, have a quick turnaround when they meet up with the 76ers in Philadelphia on Monday, and are back at MSG next Wednesday for a rematch with the Bucks.