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2 reasons the Knicks are NBA Finals contenders

Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Kemba Walker, Mitchell Robinson, Tom Thibodeau, Knicks

Last season, the New York Knicks made the postseason for the first time since 2013. This year, expectations have grown after the signing of star point guard Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier.

The Knicks currently hold a 9-8 record, sitting seventh in the Eastern Conference. New York is finally back to being a respected team in the NBA, something they haven’t been since the Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire days. 

While the Knicks may have historically whiffed in free agency on superstars like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, they’re still NBA Finals contenders without them. Here are 2 reasons why.

Defense and 3’s Are Winning Games

Under head coach Tom Thibodeau, New York has really honed in on defense these last two seasons. In 2020-2021, the Knicks ranked fourth in defensive rating and even though they’re 17th currently, it will be cleaned up.

The Knicks are led by two great rim protectors in Mitchell Robinson and Nerlens Noel. Albeit on limited touches, Robinson also continues to be one of the most efficient big men in the paint offensively, and Noel is a former top draft pick who has found his place as a solid role player off the bench. 

Julius Randle has been a scoring machine all his career, but has become a two-way player under Thibs. Randle is averaging 20.4 points and 10 rebounds per game thus far, and R.J. Barrett has become a threat from three. Barrett is taking more shots from beyond the arc, and is starting to make fans think less of missing out on Zion Williamson. 

Kemba Walker is a concern defensively for the Knicks, but provides a crunch time scoring role and can be protected within Thibs system. Walker has always been automatic when he gets hot and is shooting 43.1% from the field this year. 

The biggest part of the Knicks’ success has been their efficiency from beyond the arc. New York has been lights out from three to start the year, ranking sixth in the league with nearly 14 made a game. 

Second Quarter Dominance 

The Knicks have been among the best second-quarter teams in the NBA, taking many bettors by storm. New York is outscoring their opponents massively in the second quarter, taking advantage of other teams weak bench players. The second unit consisting of former league MVP Derrick Rose, youngster Immanuel Quickley, and veterans Alec Burks/Taj Gibson have provided a huge boost off the bench when the starters are getting a breather. 

After a career-altering ACL injury in 2012, Rose has rebounded in New York as a sixth man, revolutionizing his career after it was nearly over. Quickley has been a walking bucket since he stepped into the league last season, Both Rose and Gibson were key parts of Thibodeau’s Bulls teams back in the day, so it’s no surprise to see them playing well under his regime in the Mecca. 

The East Division is still fairly weak with the top teams being a one-dimensional Nets team that can’t play defense, and a Sixers club that is still dealing with the unknown future of Ben Simmons. The Miami Heat are probably the most complete team coming out of the conference, with the Knicks sitting just behind the Heat and Nets because of their impressive roster depth.  

Having had some playoff experience under their belts from last year, the Knicks will be better for it this time around and should be a legitimate threat in the East to contend for a spot in the NBA Finals in 2022.