- The New York Knicks fell to 2-8 on Sunday with a 21-point loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, they’re fifth loss in six games and fourth 20-point loss of the season.
- After the game, the Knicks’ often-quiet front office spoke to reporters to apologize to fans for the slow start and admit they are unhappy with the progress of the team so far.
- The Knicks built a weak roster after striking out in free agency, but they expected to be competitive. Though the front office expressed support for head coach David Fizdale, the pressure is growing to turn things around.
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The New York Knicks haven’t just stumbled out of the gates to begin the 2019-20 NBA season: they have completely fallen flat.
On Sunday, the Knicks fell to 2-8, tied for the worst record in the NBA (with the Golden State Warriors, of all teams), with a 108-87 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was their fifth in six games and their fourth loss by 20 points or more this year.
The loss prompted an unusual response by Knicks’ brass: team president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry addressed reporters after the game to apologize to fans for the start.
“Obviously, Scott and I are not happy with where we are right now,” Mills said. “We think the team’s not performing to the level that we anticipated or expected it to perform at and that’s something that we think we collectively have to do a better job at of delivering the product on the floor that we said we do at the start of this season.”
The Knicks front office rarely speaks to reporters. As The Athletic’s Mike Vorkunov noted, the team didn’t address reporters or hold a press conference over the summer after their free-agent signings, a common move among NBA teams.
Interestingly, on the first day of free agency, the Knicks did put out a statement, apologizing to fans after being spurned by the likes of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, two players that had been linked to the Knicks all season long. After striking out on superstars, the Knicks instead signed Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, Marcus Morris. Wayne Ellington, Reggie Bullock, and Elfrid Payton to a combined $149 million.
Few thought the Knicks would contend for the playoffs, but most, including the Knicks themselves, thought they would be competitive this season, a welcomed turn after losing a league-worst 65 games last season. ESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote before the season: “The Knicks seem to think they have a 35-win team that might approach .500 … I just see a 27-30-win team, and most projection systems agree.”
The Knicks are currently on pace to win 16 games.
There are few bright spots. They’re the worst team in the league on offense, scoring just 99.3 points per 100 possessions. They’re shooting a league-worst 65.1% from the free-throw line, a number that would be the worst ever for a team in the three-point era (1979-80 to today).
Most of the Knicks’ best players are over-taxed in their current roles. Julius Randle had a breakout season with the New Orleans Pelicans last year, averaging 21 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists per game. With the Knicks, he is often pitted as the No. 1 option and has struggled. While posting a team-leading 24.5% usage rate, he is averaging 15 points per game on 43% shooting, 21% from three.
Marcus Morris, the team’s leading scorer at 18 points per game, is shooting just 41% from the floor. According to data from Second Spectrum, nearly 45% of his field goals have been unassisted, up from 31% from last year.
R.J. Barrett looked like the Rookie of the Year-favorite to start the season, but he has recently crumbled under the heavy workload (and likely because of opponent’s adjustments). His splits tell the tale: Over his first five games, he averaged 18 points per game on 47% shooting, 42% from the three-point line. In the past five games, he’s averaging 12 points on 31% shooting, 25% from three.
The Knicks are not much better on the other end, boasting a 109.5 defensive rating, 21st in the league. Outside of third-year guard Frank Ntilikina, the Knicks have had trouble keeping opposing guards in check — Collin Sexton (31 points), Luka Doncic (38 points), and Kemba Walker (33 points) have all gone off against the Knicks in recent games.
All of this has put pressure on second-year head coach David Fizdale. The Knicks’ record isn’t Fizdale’s fault, as he’s been handed a difficult task, but he isn’t blameless either. Fizdale has come under fire for rotation choices and a lack of identity on offense.
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On Sunday, Mills said the team still supports Fizdale.
“We still believe in our coaching staff. We believe in the plan that Scott and I put together and the players that we’ve assembled, but we also have to acknowledge that we haven’t played at the level that we expected to play at,” Mills said.
SNY’s Ian Begley reported after the game that while no change is imminent, high-ranking Knicks officials wouldn’t rule out making a coaching change if things don’t improve. Since 2011, the Knicks have had seven different head coaches, including Fizdale.
After Sunday’s loss, Fizdale took responsibility for the team’s inconsistency. Players like Morris blamed themselves, saying it’s on the players to put forth better effort.
The Knicks have a string of winnable games against the Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, Charlotte Hornets, and Cleveland Cavaliers over the coming week. In some ways, that only makes the pressure higher — if the Knicks continue to stumble, changes could be made.
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