3 Knicks trends to watch with 7-year playoff drought potentially ending

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Ian Begley
·5 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Knicks' Julius Randle treated image
Knicks' Julius Randle treated image

The Knicks are seven games ahead of Toronto with 17 games to play. Barring a 2007 Mets-like collapse down the stretch, New York should finish within the top 10 spots in the Eastern Conference and qualify for the play-in tournament. The Knicks are also a half-game behind the sixth-place Charlotte Hornets. If they finish in the top six in the Eastern Conference, they will automatically qualify for the postseason, snapping their seven-year drought.

But the Knicks’ remaining schedule is tough, with 12 of their 17 games against teams at or above .500. They have a six-game road trip in early May. Five of those games are against Western Conference teams currently in playoff position.

But Tom Thibodeau’s Knicks have given you ample reason to believe they can win enough over the next four weeks to make the playoffs.

The road to the postseason starts on Wednesday in New Orleans against Zion Williamson and the Pelicans.

Here are a few trends to keep an eye on as the Knicks approach the final four weeks of the season:

QUALITY THREES

Thibodeau and his staff grade each and every shot the Knicks have taken this season. Recently, Thibodeau has credited his players for taking quality three-point shots. New York enters play Wednesday shooting 37.5 percent from beyond the arc, the ninth-best percentage in the NBA.

But the Knicks have been conservative from the perimeter. Entering Wednesday’s games, they had the fourth lowest 3-point rate (percentage of attempts that come from beyond the arc) in the league, per NBA.com.

“I think that the entire team has put a lot of time and work into shooting. Not only shooting threes but taking the right threes,” Thibodeau said recently. “And what goes along with that is the ability to get into the paint and read (the defense). We call them rim reads. What’s happening out there? Are they collapsing? And then to make the proper play.

“So I think the unselfishness of the team has created some high percentage three-point shots and we got to continue to work at generating more and more of those.”

New York is in the bottom third of the league when it comes to taking threes that are tightly defended (defender within 2-4 feet), per NBA.com.

The club also seems to avoid rushing threes, working through its offense to get a quality look. New York has the fewest 3-point attempts in the league between 22-15 seconds on the shot clock.

If the Knicks can continue to get quality looks from beyond the arc, that will go a long way toward snapping the franchise’s playoff drought.

BARRETT’S EXTRA WORK

For the past few months, RJ Barrett’s perimeter shooting has been phenomenal. Since Jan. 1, Barrett is shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc. Last year, he hit just 32 percent of his three-point attempts.

He’s also making 73.5 percent of his free throws this season, compared to 61.5 percent last year.

Thibodeau has cited Barrett’s work ethic as the driving force behind his shooting.

“The big thing with RJ is the amount of time that he's put in, and it doesn't happen - there’s no magic wand. You're not going to have someone you know touch you for a week and think that that's going to do it. That’s not what does it,” Thibodeau said recently. “What does it is your commitment to put the work in each and every night, And as I mentioned, it's not only the shooting that he does in practice, but him coming back every night was huge for him. And you can see that his confidence, I think the two biggest things with shooting are confidence and concentration. And he comes in, he's very serious at night. There's no one around him. And he's just extremely focused and I think that’s where he gained his confidence by seeing it go in as much as it does.”

Mar 18, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guard RJ Barrett (9) drives to the basket against the Orlando Magic forward during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, March 18, 2021, in New York.
Mar 18, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guard RJ Barrett (9) drives to the basket against the Orlando Magic forward during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, March 18, 2021, in New York.

If you’re looking for one area of the floor where Barrett has thrived, it’s the left corner. He’s shooting 47 percent from that spot on the season, up 11 percent from last year.

If Barrett continues to shoot the way he has since the start of the calendar year, that will help the Knicks make a playoff push this season – and should help them for many years to come.

RUNNING OFFENSE THROUGH RANDLE

We all know that Julius Randle has been the driving force behind New York’s success thus far. The Knicks have relied on Randle to score, pass, rebound and lead – and he’s delivered nearly every night.

One element to Randle’s game this season that’s stood out, to me, is how he’s found shooters on the perimeter. Per NBA.com, Reggie Bullock is shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc when receiving a pass from Randle (2.8 attempts per game); Barrett is hitting 44 percent of the threes he attempts off of a Randle pass (1.7 per game); Immanuel Quickley is knocking down 44 percent of his three-point attempts that result from a pass from Randle (1.0 per game).

“Julius gets in there, sometimes he’s halfway into his shot, kicks it out, I’m getting wide open shots, wide open looks,” Barrett said of Randle earlier this month.

It’s worth noting that those percentages are all up from last season, when Randle seemed to be more focused on his own shot when he had the ball.

As you’d expect, Randle’s assists per 100 possessions this season are strong (a career-high 8.0) – a nearly 50 percent increase from last season.

Obviously, if Randle can continue to distribute like this down the stretch, it will help the Knicks immensely in their push for the playoffs. One thing to keep an eye on with the All-Star forward: He’s on pace to shatter his total minutes in a season, even though the Knicks are playing 72 games in this shortened season. It will be interesting to see if Thibodeau lightens his minutes at some point over the next four weeks.