National Basketball Association

With Knicks on the rise, New York shows potential to again be a basketball Mecca

March 5

Don't look now, but New York might just be the Mecca of basketball once again.

And no, it isn't just because of the Brooklyn Nets' high-scoring offense that is lighting up the NBA.

The New York Knicks have become one of the best stories of the 2020-2021 NBA season, reviving basketball in Manhattan and showing signs of life in Madison Square Garden for the first time in years.

The Knicks are currently 19-18 after winning eight of their last 11 games, in the process rising to fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings.

The resurgence of the Knicks has them in position to break a seven-year playoff drought, and it is thanks in large part to surprising contributions from some players coming into their own and a head coach who had been written off.

After a productive first four seasons in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Pelicans, forward Julius Randle signed a three-year, $63 million deal with the Knicks in 2019.

After averaging 19.5 points and 9.7 rebounds in his first season in New York, Randle has taken his game to a new level and is averaging career-highs in points (23.2), rebounds (11), assists (5.5), 3-point percentage (40.8), and free throw percentage (80.4).

The leap from the sixth-year forward earned him his first All-Star selection, and made him the first Knicks All-Star since Kristaps Porzingis in 2018.

Behind Randle, the Knicks have gotten major contributions from second-year forward R.J. Barrett and rookie point guard Immanuel Quickley.

Barrett's rookie season was filled with the typical inconsistencies of a young player, as he shot just 40.2% from the field and 32% from 3-point range while managing 14.2 points per game. In year two, Barrett has taken those numbers up a notch, averaging 16.5 points per game while shooting 44.2% from the field and 34.9% from 3.

Barrett entered the league with a winning pedigree, having won the 2017 FIBA U-19 gold medal with Canada and reaching the Elite Eight in his one season at Duke, so it's not surprising he would know how to elevate the Knicks.

The promising duo of Randle and Barrett could give the Knicks the foundation of a winning team for years to come, according to Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post.

"Now, they are the foundation of this team, and they ought to be the centerpiece of whatever they will become, the primary attraction for whatever supporting characters Leon Rose can attract in the coming weeks, months, years."

And then there is the case of Quickley, the 25th pick in the 2020 draft. He is averaging 12.2 points per game while shooting 38% from 3-point range and has proven to be one of the steals of this rookie class.

The young Knicks core is being guided by Tom Thibodeau, who is in his first year with New York after stints with the Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves.

After being fired by the Timberwolves midway through the 2018-2019 season, he has bounced back nicely and is looking to make the Knicks the third team he will lead to the playoffs.

Known for his defensive genius, Thibodeau has the Knicks allowing just 102.9 points per game, good enough for the best in the NBA. That is reason enough to be optimistic in New York, as evidenced by Stephen A. Smith struggling to contain his excitement on ESPN's "First Take."

"The New York Knicks are No. 2 in terms of defensive efficiency. I'm loving what I am seeing right now."

Regardless of how the season ends, the Knicks are trending up under Thibodeau and his young roster.

Regardless of how they finish the season, they have New York buzzing with excitement once again.

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