The New York Knicks are obviously a routine-oriented bunch. That much was made clear by how well they persevered through major injuries this season, which included losing Mitchell Robinson for 50 games, OG Anunoby for 27 (out of 30) games, and Julius Randle remaining out since January 29th. But other guys have stepped up — and it turns out that could be a product of building routines, which is part of coach Tom Thibodeau’s process — and it's a major reason for the team’s unexpected success this season.

The Knicks are on the verge of a 50-win campaign this year, and it's safe to say that not many folks expected that from this team back in October. Granted, expectations were higher entering this season than anytime in the recent past, but virtually no one expected them to compete for the second-seed, which is exactly what they’re doing on the final day of the regular season thanks in large part to their veteran head coach.

Tom Thibodeau's routines are making a difference

Coach Thibodeau specifically mentioned the benefit of having routines when speaking to the media in Friday’s pre-game press conference when discussing the team’s “unexpected” success this season. 

“We talk about it at the beginning of the year,” Thibodeau told the media. “That’s why you establish routines. Build habits. Don’t get distracted. It’s easy to get distracted in this league. Don’t let anyone take you off the task at hand.”

Those aforementioned routines come in handy when a team is facing injuries, which is exactly why routines — and Thibodeau — deserve so much more credit than they’ve received

“I think that’s (injuries) part of every season, being challenged with different things throughout the course of the year,” Thibodeau explained.

Injuries are not guaranteed, but they are incredibly common in the NBA. Regardless, they impacted the Knicks immensely this season. There was a long stretch (basically the entire month of February) when the Knicks were without three of their presumed starters. In fact, they were down as many as five key contributors — including Jalen Brunson — for a select few games just before the All-Star break.

Mental toughness is important to Knicks approach

It goes without saying that the Knicks didn’t win nearly as often when they were reeling from the injury bug, as they only went 4-8 in February. But with the age-old sports mantra of “bend but don’t break” in mind, they persevered. And that has a lot to do with team chemistry, mental toughness — and those aforementioned routines.

“…being mentally tough when you face adversity is a big part of winning. That’s a habit you have to build,” Thibodeau said. “I think you have to look for those characteristics in the players that you bring into your team.”

Knicks players do the dirty work

Chicago Bulls guard Coby White (0) defends New York Knicks guard Donte DiVincenzo (0) during the second half at United Center.
Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

And the Knicks players most definitely have those characteristics. Just look at their willingness to do the dirty work — and look no further than their leader and star player in Brunson.

Despite scoring 28.6 points per game and being named to the first All-Star team of his career this season, Brunson leads by example. For reference, he has drawn the second-most charges (35) in the entire league, and that’s largely a thankless statistic that doesn’t result in accolades or highlights.

And it’s infectious, too. Fellow starter and breakout star Josh Hart leads the league in loose balls recovered (81). Additionally, Donte DiVincenzo is fourth in deflections (238). Those are also high-character plays that demand a willingness to put team success before your own. No one remembers league leaders in charges, deflections, or recovered loose balls— but they impact the outcomes of games for sure.

And that’s the Knicks in a nutshell — willing to do whatever it takes to win. And it makes them even more dangerous because it gives them another dimension on which they can rely. If shots aren’t falling, they’ll still compete with defense and hustle.

And it’s that approach that Thibodeau demands from his players— and the routines they’ve established — that have led to the team’s best season in at least 11 years. We’ll see exactly how far it carries New York in the playoffs, which are set to begin in one week's time.