Ranking Knicks' Biggest Strengths Through 2 Months

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 23, 2021

Ranking Knicks' Biggest Strengths Through 2 Months

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    The New York Knicks haven't been themselves to start the 2021-22 NBA season.

    At least they hope that's true, otherwise this club could be erasing all the good vibes from last year's playoff run and wind up missing the postseason party.

    It's far too early to panic, though, especially since there are some positives to take away from the first two months of the campaign.

    In fact, we're here to spotlight and rank the three biggest strengths of this squad.

3. Interior Defense

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    It feels a little funny spotlighting anything about this defense as a strength since that is where the 'Bockers have seen the biggest decline from last season, but you can't blame the bigs for the drop-off.

    Mitchell Robinson and Nerlens Noel have formed a formidable pairing at the center spot, providing maximum resistance when they don't have to fly around covering leaks on the perimeter. Both average better than 1.5 blocks per outing, which is even more impressive when considering neither gets 25 minutes a night (veteran Taj Gibson is at 1.1 blocks in just 18.7 minutes per contest, too).

    Collectively, the Knicks average the sixth-most blocks this season (5.6) and hold teams to the eighth-lowest conversion rate at the rim (62.2 percent), per NBA.com. They have allowed the fourth-fewest points in the paint (42.5).

    New York knew it had this protection on the back line, which surely emboldened the front office to focus on perimeter scoring this offseason. The problem is that the Knicks may have leaned too far to the opposite end. Even with the strong play of Robinson and Noel, New York sits a wildly disappointing 23rd in defensive efficiency.

2. Shooting

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    One can debate the merits of New York's offensive focus this summer given it hasn't come close to the expected production. Technically, the Knicks have climbed the efficiency ranks, but only from 22nd to 19th, and the juice hasn't been worth the squeeze given how the defense has backtracked in a big way.

    What can't be debated, though, is that the Knicks are a much better shooting team than last season.

    That team was solid in terms of percentage (39.2, third), but it didn't have the volume to matter (11.8 threes per night, 21st). This group has dialed it up from distance (13.4 makes, sixth overall) while avoiding too much regression in terms of efficiency (36.3 percent, eighth).

    The Knicks have six players averaging more than 1.5 threes per night, and four of them are clearing the league-average splash rate of 34.8 percent: Evan Fournier, Kemba Walker, Alec Burks and RJ Barrett. Derrick Rose, who just misses the cutoff with 1.4 triples, is shooting a career-best 40.2 percent from range.

1. Depth

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    New York gets more mileage than most from its second unit.

    While that perhaps reflects poorly on the opening group, it at least sheds light on the fact that the Knicks have depth for days. Seven players average double figures, and even when New York has reached for a deep reserve, players like Quentin Grimes, Miles McBride and even the forgotten Kevin Knox II have managed to impress.

    The Knicks sit seventh in the league in bench scoring. Their reserves boast an average plus/minus of plus-2.9, which ranks best in the Eastern Conference and third in the league. Those numbers could be in jeopardy without Rose, who's facing an eight-plus-week absence after ankle surgery, but he isn't the only reason this bench mob has bulldozed most every team it has faced.

    If New York could get its key contributors rolling—camera pans to Julius Randle and RJ Barrett—then maybe this club could have the kind of campaign fans were hoping to see after last season's unexpected emergence.