3 things to be concerned with for Knicks early in 2021-22 season
Sunday night’s loss for the New York Knicks against the Orlando Magic served as a wake-up call. Despite adding premium talent this offseason, winning a thriller against the Boston Celtics in the season opener, and crushing the same Magic two days prior, the Knicks clearly underestimated their opponent and were handed an unexpected loss, robbing them of a 3-0 start that would’ve been the first of its kind since the 2012-13 season.
A number of troubling signs came up in the third game, things that were present during the first two games of the season but go unnoticed when shots are going in and wins are on the ledger. But these three things are something worth keeping an eye on for the Knicks as the season goes on.
3 early Knicks concerns in 2021-22 season
1. Living and dying by the 3-ball
The Knicks were smart this past offseason, adding two premier 3-point shooting talents to their roster in Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier. They joined a well-established group of marksmen from a year prior in Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Derrick Rose, Immanuel Quickley, and Alec Burks. That has led the Knicks to thus far take an unprecedented amount of triples, breaking their franchise record for 3s made in just the second game of the season (24).
Unfortunately, when you’re leaning as heavily into shooting the deep ball as the Knicks are this season (a league-leading 49 attempts per game through their first three contests), an off shooting night can spell doom against even the cellar-dwellers of the NBA. New York learned that the hard way when it dropped the game to the Magic on Sunday while shooting just 13-48 from 3-land, which leads to another concern.
2. Finishing inside could be a glaring weakness
This probably shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, but while leading the league in 3-point attempts, the Knicks now find themselves 28th in the NBA in takes (48.7) and 25th in makes (26) from 2-point range. That includes a very low percentage of attempts at the rim, as per Basketball-Reference, the Knicks are 23rd in the league in percentage of field goals taken at the rim at just 21.8%. Their percentage of attempts from 3-10 and 10-16 feet are also in the bottom seven of the league, while their attempts from long midrange (16 feet to the 3-point line) are seventh-highest in the NBA (8.5%).
Unfortunately, with the roster constructed how it is, some players on the team will need to become better finishers inside throughout this season if that trend is to be broken. Randle and Barrett have the size, strength, speed, and guile to get to the rim, but often struggle finishing there. Randle at least has shown a propensity for drawing free throws, which buoyed his otherwise horrendous shooting night in the Magic loss on Sunday.
Walker seems to be diminishing a bit on the offensive end in terms of getting to the cup, while Fournier has surprisingly been a pretty solid contributor around the rim for his career. Mitchell Robinson is, of course, one of the most dominant big-man finishers in the NBA, but he lacks creation ability to get there on his own.
Likewise, the bench unit is equally (if not more so) inclined towards taking outside shots rather than getting to the rim, save for maybe Rose. When 3-point shots aren’t falling, a consistent attack getting to the hoop is a necessity. The Knicks need to figure out some go-to sets to create those looks pronto, because their isolation-heavy basketball on Sunday did them no favors in that regard.
3. Kemba Walker needs to find his niche
While Fournier was the big-money addition for the Knicks this offseason, Walker was the biggest name to come to the Knicks in free agency since Amar’e Stoudemire in 2010. But after playing much of his career as a primary ball handler, Walker has had a bit of trouble adjusting to a world where Randle brings the ball up for much of the game and he’s left to find a way to be useful off the ball.
On top of that, Walker seems to be trying to be overly deferential on the court, looking for teammates more than is necessary when he has plenty of shot opportunities on his own. The results haven’t really been bearing fruit, with Walker averaging a career low in usage percentage (18.1%) and assist percentage (14%) thus far this year, per Cleaning the Glass. Last year, that would have placed him in the sub-30th percentile among guards in both categories, per CtG.
Walker needs to find his comfort zone if the Knicks are going to reach the lofty heights their roster is clearly capable of this year. His shooting had had its moments thus far (a blistering 57.1% on 4.7 attempts from 3 per game), but he needs to focus on finding his permanent role next to Randle and work on adjusting other aspects of his game (like off-ball movement) if this season is going to be a success.
Otherwise, it might make sense to bring Walker off the bench and star Rose, who seems to have embraced a hybrid, almost combo guard role when he shares the floor with Randle.