Tom Thibodeau’s New York Knicks didn’t need long to prove that last season’s 41-31 record and No. 4 seed placement in the Eastern Conference was no joke.
The Knicks went 5-1 in October, which places them in a six-way tie for the top record in the NBA, along with the Chicago Bulls, Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat, Utah Jazz and Washington Wizards.
New York outlasted the Philadelphia 76ers — the top seed in the East last year — 112-99 at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 26.
That was followed by a heart pounding 104-103 victory over the Bulls at the United Center. If it weren’t for a victory over his former team, of course, Thibodeau and the Knicks would be looking up at the Bulls in the standings.
A brutal schedule awaits the Knicks in November, however. This includes two matchups against the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks, road contests with the Bulls, 76ers and Brooklyn Nets as well as home showdowns against the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers.
Needless to say, the Knicks will have ample opportunities to showcase themselves as one of the NBA’s elite squads if they can sustain their hot play throughout November.
New York currently has +800 odds of winning the 2022 NBA Championship. Knicks fans who are interested in betting can find out more information at New York sportsbooks.
Offense, Not Defense, Leading The Way
The identity of any Thibodeau-coached team is a structured and resilient defense.
Last season, the Knicks finished a woeful 26th in scoring and 23rd in offensive rating. The 41-win group was powered by a defense that posted the league’s stingiest scoring defense (104.7 points allowed per game) and the third best defensive rating (108.2).
However, it’s been a much different story early in the 2021-22 season. Only the Charlotte Hornets (118.6 points per game) averaged more points per game than the Knicks (117) in October.
New York’s 114.9 offensive rating places them third in the NBA. Simply put, the unexpected explosion on offense has made up for a defense that has taken several steps back in the early going (19th in both scoring and defensive rating).
Third-year guard R.J. Barrett posted a career-best 35 points in Saturday’s 123-117 road win against the New Orleans Pelicans. Through the first six games, Barrett had a superb 48.1 field goal percentage, a four-point increase from the 44.1 percent he shot last year.
After the win against New Orleans, Thibodeau offered strong praise for the 21-year-old Barrett.
“We want to develop everyone,” Thibodeau said, per Colin Martin of SportsNet New York. “The thing that I like about both he and Mitch (Robinson) is their age and their work ethic. RJ has great work capacity. He wants to be good, it’s important to him, he’s very coachable, he’s a great teammate.
“When you see how he approaches things, he has toughness, he has basketball IQ, and he has competitiveness. When you have those three things to go along with your talent, you can really improve.”
Julius Randle, coming off a career year, is also showing that 2020-21 was no fluke. In October, he averaged 20.8 points, 11.2 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game.
Randle — a career 48.4 percent shooter from the field — has only shot 41 percent from the field this season. Logic says that Randle will soon benefit from a case of positive regression, meaning we likely haven’t seen his A-game yet. That should be a scary thought for the rest of the league.
The Knicks have also enjoyed stellar contributions from ex-Boston Celtics and 2021 free agent signings Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker. In October, the former averaged 17.5 points per game, having made 45.1 percent of his shot attempts from downtown.
Walker, playing on limited minutes, averaged 15 points and 3.2 assists per game. He has greatly impacted New York’s turnaround on offense, shooting an impressive 50 percent from the field and 57.9 percent from beyond the arc.
Knicks Move Way Up In NBA.com & ESPN Power Rankings
The Knicks’ strong finish in week two led to them rising in the NBA.com and ESPN power rankings.
New York placed fourth in NBA.com’s Week 3 power rankings, jumping up 11 spots from Week 2, and seventh on ESPN’s list (up four spots from last week).
The Miami Heat (No.1) were the lone Eastern Conference team to place ahead of the Knicks on NBA.com’s rankings. ESPN ranked the Heat (No. 2), Nets (No. 3) and Bucks (No.5) ahead of New York.