The Knicks hosted the Charlotte Hornets last night (Wednesday) at Madison Square Garden having won back-to-back home games after a season-opening overtime road loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. They dismantled the Detroit Pistons in their 2022-23 home debut by 130-106 last Friday and put away the Orlando Magic 115-102 on Monday to move to 2-1.
What is most evident for the Knicks over the first week of the new season is the evolution of their offense. They are playing with more pace and ball movement than in the previous two seasons under head coach Tom Thibodeau, who is now in his third season after being hired in July of 2020.
The Knicks were next to last in pace in the NBA, which is average possessions per 48 minutes, in 2020-21 at 99.6 and were 26th out of the league’s 30 teams last season at 99.7. They were also 26th in scoring, putting up just 106.5.
Furthermore, Thibodeau is compelling his team to look for and attempt more 3-pointers per game than they did in the 2020 and 2021 seasons. In 2020 they took 30 per game and last season 36.9. In three games before last night, the Knicks were at 37.3.
The overall offensive uptick this season has been catalyzed by new starting point guard Jalen Brunson, who the Knicks signed to a four-year, $104 million free agent contract this past July. The former Dallas Maverick has stepped in and done exactly what Knicks president Leon Rose and Thibodeau envisioned, which is to provide high level play and stability at a position that before his acquisition had been in a state of flux for the franchise for well over a decade.
“I’m just flowing with these guys. They welcomed me with open arms, so I trust them, and they trust me. It’s working well right now,” said Brunson following the Knicks’ win over the Pistons.
Brunson’s impact should be measured beyond his own individual metrics. He was averaging solid numbers in points (17.7) and assists (seven) prior to playing the Hornets. But Brunson has already had a demonstrable effect on Julius Randle. After being named All NBA Second Team for the 2020-21 season, Randle shot just 41% last season, by far the lowest of his career, excluding the one game he played in his rookie year before suffering a season-ending injury.
With Brunson commanding the offense, Randle was at 51% from the field and averaging 21.4 points heading into last night’s game.
“For him to take that pressure off me is huge,” said Randle of Brunson on Monday. “I’m just trying to lose myself in the team. Lean on guys like him and RJ [Barrett], just play for my team. The only thing that matters is winning.”
The Knicks will play the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, both on the road, and return to the Garden next Wednesday to take on the Atlanta Hawks.