Ranking Knicks' Biggest Weaknesses Through 2 Months

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 16, 2021

Ranking Knicks' Biggest Weaknesses Through 2 Months

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    The New York Knicks spent the 2021 NBA offseason trying to replicate the success of their most recent campaign.

    Two months into the new marathon, it's not happening.

    The Knicks aren't bad, but they are aiming a lot higher than not bad. In addition to re-signing most key contributors from last season's squad, they also splurged on Evan Fournier and found what appeared like a bargain buy in the form of Bronx native Kemba Walker.

    The plan was for the offense to take a big jump and the defense to either sustain its success or come awfully close to it. Again, not happening.

    So what's the problem? Well, there are several, and we're here to not only identify them but also rank them based on their perceived significance.

3. Shot Creation

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    Last season, New York's offense was overly reliant on Julius Randle, and that flaw proved fatal when the Atlanta Hawks threw the kitchen sink, the dishwasher and every handheld kitchen appliance in reach to slow the All-Star forward in the first round.

    That was the reason for the investments in Walker and Fournier. But two months into the campaign, Walker is out of the rotation and Fournier is struggling through one of the least effective offensive efforts of his career.

    Oh, and Randle isn't the same (more on that later). Neither is third-year swingman RJ Barrett.

    The Knicks entered play Wednesday ranked 20th in offensive efficiency, per NBA.com. That's technically an improvement over last season's 22nd-ranked finish, but again, the aim was for a sizable improvement which hasn't come close to materializing.

2. Defensive Leaks

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    The 'Bockers likely braced themselves for some degree of defensive regression.

    Not to take anything away from last season's effort, but there was some amount of good fortune in their league-leading 33.7 three-point percentage against. Tack on the defensive shortcomings of Walker and Fournier, and the Knicks should have seen some slippage coming.

    But they couldn't have been prepared for this. Their plunge from fourth in defensive efficiency to 24th is like that first steep descent on an epic roller coaster. But while the thrill ride will quickly bounce back up, there is no promise of a return to form for the Knicks defense.

    On paper, New York doesn't look like a great defensive team. There are a few decent stoppers here and there, and coach Tom Thibodeau does what he can from the sideline, but there might be too many sieves (particularly on the perimeter) for this club to cope with.

1. Execution at the Top

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    Each season, every team has a series of items it must check off over the course of the campaign to make it a success.

    The Knicks can't get past Step 1.

    For all of the gains this group made last season, the real difference-maker was Randle, who scored, distributed and shot better than ever before. The offseason imports were meant to complement him, meaning even if his volume declined, he should have made up for it with more efficient offense.

    He hasn't.

    Randle's scoring has dipped by nearly five points per game (from 24.1 to 19.5), and his shooting rates have fallen multiple percentage points across the board, including a dramatic decline in three-point splashing (41.1 percent to 34.2). His assist percentage is down (27.2 to 25.2), his turnover percentage is up (13.8 to 15.7) and his win shares per 48 minutes have been nearly sliced in half (.140 to .079), per Basketball Reference.

    Every formula for a successful Knicks season started with another All-Star effort from Randle. If that's not going to happen, then the formula will never compute.