Buying or Selling Knicks' Biggest Early-Season Trends

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 9, 2021

Buying or Selling Knicks' Biggest Early-Season Trends

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Last season was about getting over the hump for the New York Knicks, who booked their first trip to the NBA playoffs since 2013.

    With 24 games of the 2021-22 campaign in the books, the 'Bockers might be right back on the hump again.

    They looked good out of the gate with five wins in their first six contests, but they lost that momentum and can't seem to rediscover it. Entering Wednesday, they are 7-11 since, and neither their defense nor their offense seems capable of supporting a substantial turnaround.

    Having said that, there's plenty of season left to turn things around, and, on paper, this team is more talented than last season's. Maybe some of the early worrying signs aren't things Knicks fans need to worry about. To find out for sure, we're buying or selling some of the most significant early-season trends.

Trend: Julius Randle Took a Step Back

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    Darren Abate/Associated Press

    Verdict: Sell (for now)

    Was last season an a-ha! moment for Julius Randle or a mirage? This year's statistical decline might indicate the latter, but the truth might lie somewhere in between.

    His 41.1 three-point percentage then was always tough to buy, considering he came into the campaign as a 29.5 percent career three-point shooter over his first 375 games. His current 33.3 percent connection rate is probably more in line with what Knicks fans should expect going forward.

    Having said that, his shot profile looks better this season, as more of his shots are coming either inside three feet (27.7, up from 16.2) or beyond the arc (31.4, up from 29.4). This statistically smarter approach should pay off at some point, although he could make his life a bit easier by making more trips to the foul line (4.8, down from 6.0).

    There are two bigger reasons for Knicks fans to keep the faith. One, it's still early, and he's had enough monster games to think (or at least hope) he'll start stringing them together sooner rather than later. Two, his growth as a passer looks like it's here to stay (5.4 assists, second-best of his career). In the past, he was prone to bouts of tunnel vision, but he has done a better job of keeping his teammates involved.

Trend: Formerly Elite Defense Is Now Mediocre

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Verdict: Partially sell

    Last season, the Knicks looked like a club coached by Tom Thibodeau. They always won the effort battle, and it eventually manifested into the Association's fourth-best defense, per

    This year, they don't seem quite as scrappy—perhaps due in part to an offensive focus this offseason (more on that later)—and they aren't nearly as resistant. Entering Wednesday, they're buried at 23rd in defense, sandwiched between the rebuilding Detroit Pistons and Trae Young-led Atlanta Hawks.

    There are nights where the Knicks look like a team in the middle of an identity crisis, and they can't determine which end of the floor is their better half. But from the head coach down to the players, this group knows where it's bread should be buttered.

    "We're going to win games with our defense," Randle told reporters. "That's who we are."

    If the Knicks get their same energy back, their defense could climb the ladder again. It might not rank among the league's elite anymore, but New York has enough serviceable-or-better stoppers in the rotation to crack the upper-half and make a push for the top 10.

Trend: Knicks' Free-Agency Additions Are Falling Short

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Verdict: Buy

    During last season's first-round, five-game loss to the Hawks, it was obvious Randle needed more help on the offensive end. The Knicks primarily tasked two newcomers with providing it: Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier.

    Walker, an opening-night starter, was knocked out of the rotation before November ended because of leaky defense and declining offense. He could theoretically rejoin the rotation at any time, but as a 31-year-old with some scary knee problems in his recent past, it seems his best days are behind him.

    Fournier has held onto his starting spot, but his up-and-down play has reduced his role. After averaging 30.8 minutes and 13.1 field-goal attempts over his first 10 games, he's down to 27.0 and 10.3, respectively, in the 14 games since.

    While the Knicks needed an offensive jolt, they could ideally get it from two-way players. Walker and Fournier have never been labeled as such. Maybe the defense perks up enough to mask their mistakes at the game's less glamorous end, but the juice hasn't been worth the squeeze so far.