Development and evaluation of players, especially young players, is an ongoing process. For some teams, such as the Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic, who currently have the four worst records in the NBA and had virtually no possibility of making the playoffs when this season began, the entire 2021-22 season has been an exercise in rebuilding.
Conversely, the Knicks, who finished last season 41-31 and the No. 4 seed in the East, had a well grounded view they would be a postseason problem for the opposition this year and go further than their first round exit to the Atlanta Hawks. But those same Hawks, and their theatrical point guard Trae Young, came into New York on HBCU night at Madison Square Garden and were as funky as the Delaware State marching band, which performed for the amped up crowd.
They unofficially put the Knicks in the development and evaluation phase of their season with a 117-111 win. Young blistered the Knicks for 45 points and incited the fans that packed MSG as he did last May and June in the playoffs.
The Hawks, No. 10 in the East, bolstered their odds of making the Play-In Tournament by improving to 36-36. They had nine games remaining after facing the Pistons last night on the road.
The Knicks, who played without Julius Randle (sore right quadriceps tendon), were in the 12th spot and 30-42 before going into their game against the Hornets last night in Charlotte. They were six games under the Hawks and also had nine games left on their schedule. The Play-In will be composed of the 7-10 seeds in the Eastern and Western Conferences.
“I mean, the thing is we’re shorthanded,” said Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau following the loss to the Hawks. “Obviously it’s not only Julius, but it’s Derrick [Rose, out with an ankle injury]. It’s Nerlens [Noel, out with plantar fasciitis]. But it also gives other guys an opportunity and so I thought we got some production from a lot of guys and I thought they played well.”
Randle, despite a dropoff from his All-NBA Second Team selection in 2021, leads the team in scoring (20.4) rebounds (10) and assists (5.1). R.J. Barrett said the Knicks, although the results have not been favorable, have played with the gravity of a team with high expectations.
“We’ve played with a sense of urgency all year,” asserted Barrett. “We just fight. That’s what we do. We’ve been playing great basketball honestly, especially since the All-Star break. But some of these games have slipped away. There’s nothing else we can do besides get better every day.”
Prior to playing the Hornets last night, the Knicks, who will be in Miami tomorrow to face the Heat, will take on the Pistons on Sunday in Detroit and come back to the Garden on Monday to host the Chicago Bulls, were 5-8 since the All-Star break.