New York Knicks: Playoffs or not, the Knicks are laying a special foundation

NBA New York Knicks huddle (Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)
NBA New York Knicks huddle (Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports) /

The New York Knicks are laying the foundation for something special in the future. 

For the majority of the 2020–21 NBA season, the New York Knicks have been one of the most pleasant surprises in the Eastern Conference. After coming into the season without much expectation, the Tom Thibodeau-led Knicks quickly became one of the best stories of the year in the NBA.

For much of the season, they’ve set atop the top 8 in the Eastern Conference and made believers of their fanbase this season. However, the team has lost some steam to start in the month of April. Specifically, the Knicks have struggled mightily over their last six games in which they have gone 1-5 during that stretch.

They’re still currently sitting in the eighth spot of the Eastern Conference but are in danger of falling out of the playoff picture.

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Despite their recent struggles, if there’s been one constant for the Knicks this year, it’s been their elite defense. They are currently ranked fourth in defensive rating in the league and that has gone a long way in carrying the team to the success that they’ve achieved this year.

On the other hand, it’s their offensive inconsistencies that have plagued the team. Especially as of late, it’s been the biggest reason why they’ve struggled in each of their last six games and could be the main culprit if this team falls short of making the playoffs.

Individually, the New York Knicks have made strides

Individually, Julius Randle and RJ Barrett have certainly stepped up difference-making players for the Knicks. They’ve been the two leaders for this team this season and have been a huge key to the team’s resurgence.

As questions revolved around Barrett’s entering his second season, he’s done more than enough to answer the questions. He’s averaging 18 points, six rebounds, and three assists per game this season. Julius Randle, who was an all-star for the first time in his career this year, is averaging 23 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists per game. He also leads the team with a Player Efficiency Rating of 23.08.

The team has also found another hidden draft gem and Immanuel Quickley, who has been thriving for the Knicks off the bench by averaging 12 points per game. Even though he’s just a rookie, the Knicks have to feel great about his raw talent and their ability to develop him over the next few seasons.

You also can’t forget about Mitchell Robinson who is one of the team’s best defenders at the center position. Even though he hasn’t had an ideal season, he’s still young and growing into his potential as an NBA player. The Knicks should still value him as a big part of their future.

The New York Knicks’ struggles

Objectively, it’s no surprise that the Knicks have struggled over the last six games. They’re heading into a tough portion of the schedule and have the fifth-most difficult remaining schedule in the league over their last 20 games.

More specifically, 15 of their last 20 opponents are teams either vying for the playoffs or teams that are already pretty much penciled into the postseason. That essentially means that the path to the postseason won’t be easy for the Knicks over these last few weeks of the regular season.

That said, even if the Knicks end up missing out on the postseason, that shouldn’t overshadow the progress that was made for the franchise this year.

The Knicks got a clear picture of what RJ Barrett and Julius Randle can be as the top two players on the roster, found another developmental draft gem in Quickley, and will have salary cap space heading into the offseason.

The Knicks are set up for success, and perhaps major success in the Eastern Conference sooner rather than later. If this front office can make the right moves during the offseason, there’s a strong chance that New York can emerge as a true player in the East next season.

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If that indeed does become the case, you can’t overlook the foundation that was laid this season whether that includes the team making the playoffs or not.