While the New York Knicks were finally able to stop their losing streak and pick up a win against the Lakers Sunday night, their offense still needs a lot of work. Over their last three games, the Knicks have posted some of the worst offensive stats in the league, and it’s no coincidence that it has coincided with point guard Jalen Brunson’s foot injury. In their last three games, New York has seen drastic decreases in their offensive efficiency (23rd), three-point percentage (30th), three-pointers made per game (27th), shooting percentage (29th), effective field goal percentage (29th) and field goals made per game (28th).
Even though the Knicks haven’t deployed a great shooting stats or a free-flowing pass-heavy offense at any point this season, they had managed to be a pretty efficient offensive team until recently. And that can be credited to the insane shot-making abilities of their stars and the physicality and offensive rebounding of their bigs. There’s a good chance that the Knicks will positively regress once Brunson returns. That being said, this rough stretch that the Knicks have gone through does shed some light on a few things.
It can’t be overstated just how important Brunson is to this team. There’s a very strong case to be made that Julius Randle has been the Knicks’ best player this season, but the most important may just be Brunson. While Randle’s scoring abilities are right up there with Brunson’s, it’s the former Villanova Wildcat’s ability to get others quality looks on a more consistent basis than Randle that sets him apart. Brunson, like Randle, can get caught holding the ball too much and can be prone to being a bit too careless with the ball at times, but there’s a reason Brunson currently has an assist to turnover ratio of 6:2 while Randle has one of 4:3. And what Brunson’s presence has done for much of the season, is take pressure of of Randle, both as a scorer and a playmaker.
With Brunson on the court, Randle’s game becomes simplified, as he has shown the ability to both score and make plays at a high level. Now, with Brunson out, the team has had to do a bit more than they’ve been asked to do for much of the season. And as a result, guys like Randle and Immanuel Quickley have struggled a bit more, shooting 34.3% from the field and 23.5% from 3 and 36.6% from the field and 26.3% from 3 over their last three games, respectively. Part of that can certainly be attributed to fatigue, as the Knicks have had a bit of a tough stretch schedule-wise as of late, but there’s no doubt that Brunson being out has had quite the adverse impact on the Knicks’ offense.
Another thing this recent stretch has shown us is that the Knicks offense, even with Brunson back, may struggle a bit in the playoffs. Brunson showed NBA fans last season just how good he can be, even in a playoff atmosphere by averaging 27.8 PPG on 48.4% shooting against a very good Utah Jazz team. But the rest of this Knicks team has not shown that kind of success in the post season yet. The last time this core group was in the playoffs, both Randle and RJ Barrett struggled mightily against the Atlanta Hawks. While both have gotten better since, the offense as a whole still lacks the creativity, diversity, and shooting that some of the other playoff teams have. Add on the facts that teams will have more time to game plan for their opponents, the officiating will be different, and teams will generally have better defenses, and the Knicks could be looking at a tough challenge on that end of the floor. Again, the Knicks have found ways to produce a top-10 offense this season in terms of efficiency and offensive rating, but the past few games should at least make fans ask themselves if this offense is actually that good. Is this really the type of offense that leads to success in the playoffs?
With how hard this team plays and how they keep on surprising even the most skeptical observers, there’s a possibility that this offense may find a way to make it work. Brunson, Randle, and a combination of Barrett, Quickley, and Quentin Grimes have thus far found a way to get it done on that end of the floor for the most part. If they can string together enough stops and catch fire at the right times, they could get patch it together. But the offense, as is often the case with past Tom Thibodeau-coached teams, still has some big holes. We need to remember that so we aren’t too surprised if it rears its ugly head in the playoffs yet again.