New York Knicks: Why They Will Be The NBA’s Biggest Surprise Team in 2021

For many years since the 2000s rolled on, the New York Knicks have constantly had losing seasons year after year.

Heading into this season, the Knicks have had a losing season over the last seven seasons. This season, many expected the Knicks to be the same.

So far in the first 17 games, the Knicks hold a record of 8-9 which is much better than many expected. They have been one of the biggest surprise stories in the NBA so far this season. I know it’s still early, but I believe this is no fluke, and here’s why.

(1) The Knicks finally have a proven head coach in Tom Thibodeau and so far, he has worked wonders in this young and still developing Knicks squad. He is getting this team to play harder and play defense (which I’ll get to later on) on a more consistent basis. He is that tough, no-nonsense coach that we Knicks fans have craved since Jeff Van Gundy took the helm back in the late 90s. Ironically Coach Thibs was one of the assistant coaches in Van Gundy’s squad back then. So Coach Thibs has finally brought some identity and grit to this much-needed Knicks team. And based on his proven winning track record as a coach that he showed in Chicago and even in Minnesota, it wouldn’t be overly stunning if he kept bringing that here even in New York.

(2) This Knicks team is finally playing defense. The defensive ranks have proven that. They are actually first defensively in points allowed per game (102.8) and also first defensively in field goal percentage and three-point percentage. And they are third overall in defensive rating at 106.8. On the floor, they are switching better and have contested the opponent’s three-point attempts better, thus leading to tougher shots by their opponents. A lot of credit has to go, once again, to Coach Thibs and we know he is a defensive-minded coach. But the players have finally bought into defense. Julius Randle and RJ Barrett have improved defensively this season.

(3) The Knicks have a current All-Star in Julius Randle and a rising star in RJ Barrett. The Knicks have not had an All-Star caliber player since Kristaps Porzingis was for them three years ago and they have not had a true go-to guy since then too. After a somewhat disappointing year last season, Randle has bounced back and became more of a complete player. Randle’s 2021 stats so far have been ridiculous. 22 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 6.2 assists. He is posting a double-double nearly every night, one triple-double, and a few games where he’s nearly had another triple-double. But he is also playing smarter and more team-oriented. He is passing more out of double teams and not forcing shots as he did a lot last season. He is getting his teammates more involved, which a No. 1 player is supposed to do. Thus he has become more unstoppable as a player and has been one of the best players so far this season.

RJ Barrett has had an up and down season. But when he’s on, he’s giving fans hope of a future star here. And lately, he’s been on. Overall he’s averaging 18 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 3.5 assists. But over the last six games, he’s averaged over 21 pts per game and has scored at least 20 points in every one of those six games. He’s been playing more to his strengths, which is driving to the lane, penetrating, moving without the ball, and running the fast break. His perimeter game still needs work but he’s been a little more consistent with the three-ball recently. On a team with many young pieces, RJ is definitely one of the best out there and if he keeps rolling, the New York Knicks will have a future star in the making.

And finally, you have the other key young pieces. Like, Mitchell Robinson who is a defensive stopper down low. Elfrid Payton is still the team starting point guard and has had his moments too. But rookie Immanuel Quickley has impressed at times and another rookie Obi Toppin is back and will provide another offensive presence. Austin Rivers is the oldest player on the Knicks at 29 and he has already provided some much needed veteran presence to this young roster.

So there you go. Yes, it’s still early and you just never know with the New York Knicks. But based on what I said, this team looks different. They look more organized as a team with better chemistry and they are well-coached. I believe this team will be a playoff team, maybe somewhere between the No. 7 to 10 seed in the East. That would be a surprise among many since the Knicks were predicted to be one of the worst teams again. But because of Coach Thibs, better defense, and also Randle and R.J., this Knicks team could still play decent basketball and sneak into the playoffs. Thus, this would make the Knicks the biggest surprise story in this 2021 season.

Do you think the New York Knicks can be a surprise in the NBA this season? Leave a comment below.

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