Concerning the Knicks, it’s always better to try

Originally posted on RealGM  |  By Colin McGowan  |  Last updated 4/28/21

You can’t measure the Knicks with traditional metrics. Or you could, but you’d quickly become depressed. For the past 20 years, they’ve mostly been dismal, sometimes outrageously incompetent and at others treading water: with the eighth pick in the 20xx draft, the New York Knicks select. It’s fitting that they played their most entertaining ball with Amar’e Stoudemire before Carmelo Anthony showed up and with Melo while Amar’e was hurt. The Knicks are not about Putting It All Together, that’s more of a Lakers or Heat thing. You just want them to be interesting, whether that means they’re a train wreck under Isiah Thomas, bombing threes with Mike Woodson or pioneering a football-on-hardwood style while Pat Riley frowns in an expensive suit. When you find yourself straining to have something to say about Charlie Ward or Renaldo Balkman, that’s the pits. As things currently stand, the Knicks are above the Celtics and Heat in the Eastern Conference standings and Julius Randle is getting outskirts-of-the-MVP-vote buzz, and that’s all lovely, but more than anything it’s a joy that Knicks have an identity, that they are once again and finally worth talking about.

When I wrote my season preview for each team in December, I dreaded having to come up with something for the Knicks entryWhat, I have to have an opinion on R.J. Barrett now? Ugh. I figured they might be the most boring team in the league, a past-his-sell-by date Tom Thibodeau trying to instill rugged defensive intensity in a bunch of dubiously invested CAA clients as the offense barely nosed over the 100-point mark every night. It turns out I was a little bit correct, but wrong in all the ways that matter. The offense is brutally slow yet not altogether terrible. The defense is excellent, world-class, up there with Thibodeau’s most tenacious Bulls teams. Crucially, everybody involved in the enterprise appears to care. These Knicks are not a great team. They are exploring the outer limits of what a not-great team can do when they play really hard every night. In the midst of a sleepy pandemic season, this counts for a lot, maybe more than it would in a normal year, but effort is an enduring quality. It’s always better to try. Basketball is in the end an entertainment, and the Knicks are very entertaining. 

Julius Randle didn’t make sense through his first six seasons. Too beefy to play on the wing, too short and defensively challenged to play center. A set of skills wanting for an application. Like, he could post up. He could shoot from midrange. He hardly ever passed. You could put him in the corner and he’d maybe knock down a triple or two but nobody was particularly worried about him. More Jabari Parker than Blake Griffin, he seemed destined to accumulate stats on lottery and fringe playoff squads, make exactly one All-Star team, and retire with a curiously short obit for somebody who averaged 17 and 7 over 12 seasons. Talented guy, but who cares?

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