Five teams have traded for All-Stars since the beginning of the 2022 offseason: the Atlanta Hawks (Dejounte Murray), Minnesota Timberwolves (Rudy Gobert), Cleveland Cavaliers (Donovan Mitchell), Dallas Mavericks (Kyrie Irving) and Phoenix Suns (Kevin Durant). What do those five teams have in common? Since Dec. 4, all of them have been worse than the New York Knicks.
OK, that might be a bit unfair. Durant has only played three games in Phoenix, after all. But since that mythical date when the Knicks shortened their rotation to nine and committed to their young players, New York has been among the best teams in the NBA. Only the Nuggets, Bucks and 76ers have won more games. Only Denver has a better net rating. The Knicks have the NBA’s third-best offense and eighth-best defense since that date.
You’ve surely heard this story before. After all, weren’t we here just two years ago, when a surprising Knicks team earned the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference only to get unceremoniously eliminated in the first round before fading back into the lottery? Well, yeah, but this team doesn’t have much in common with this one.
The 2021 team won largely through a smoke-and-mirrors defense that ranked fourth in the NBA, but did so on the strength of unsustainable shooting luck. Knicks opponents shot just 34.7% on wide-open 3-pointers that season, the second-lowest figure in the league. This season, they’re at 37.6%, which is tied for ninth and largely in line with the league average.
Speaking of unsustainable shooting, much of their 2021 success offensively relied on Julius Randle making jumpers that, to that point in his career, he’d never made. Randle hit 171 mid-range shots that season. In his entire career prior, he’d made 178 in total. The same trend played out in his 3-point shooting: 160 makes on 41.1% shooting in his Most Improved Player season, 168 makes on 29.5% in his entire career beforehand.