The New York Knicks were one of the biggest surprises this season, as they finished 41-31 to earn the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. This was their first winning season since 2013, and also their first playoff appearance since that year.
They had that success largely because of their defense, which was one of the best units in the league. With Tom Thibodeau establishing a hard-nosed culture in his first season with the club, the Knicks finished fourth in defensive rating (107.8) and held opponents to a league-low 44 percent on field goals.
But while the old adage is that defense wins championships, it's not enough in the new NBA. You have to be able to score to keep up with the elite offensive players, and the Knicks couldn't do that in the postseason. Julius Randle playing one of his worst stretches all season didn't help, but even if he had been better the Knicks' lack of shooting and creation on the offensive end was evident in their five-game loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round.
Unsurprisingly, they're planning to address those weaknesses in the offseason. Speaking earlier this week at the Draft Combine, Thibodeau noted multiple times that the team wants to improve their shooting.
Coach Thibodeau joined the broadcast at the NBA Draft Combine to talk about the team's success in '20-21 and the kinds of prospects they're looking for in the 2021 NBA Draft. pic.twitter.com/IBHOH3LnNC— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) June 25, 2021
Thibodeau's full comments:
It's something that we talked about going into the season. We wanted to build our foundation, starting with our defense of course, and adding to our shooting and our offense. We're always looking to add that shooting. And it's not only just shooting the three, it's going off the dribble as well. And also continuing to add defensive players. It's an all around game and to have success in the playoffs you have to be strong on both sides of the ball, so that's what we're striving towards.
Thibodeau was asked specifically about draft prospects -- the Knicks have two first-round picks at Nos. 19 and 21, as well as an early second-round pick at No. 32 -- but those qualities apply to any player the Knicks will be after this offseason, whether through trades or free agency.
Last season the Knicks actually finished tied for second in the league in 3-point percentage at 39.2 percent. The bigger problem was that they just didn't have enough outside threats. Only five players put up more than 100 3s, and Reggie Bullock and Julius Randle accounted for 36.3 percent of their 3-point attempts. Come playoff time, it's just too easy for opponents when they know they can ignore half of your players on the perimeter.
As Thibodeau noted, it's not just the shooting, though. Yes, that's important, but adding a bunch of spot-up shooters will only get you so far. You also need players who can break down the defense and create those open shots. Randle was responsible for creating so much of the Knicks' offense that when the Hawks loaded up and shut him down, the Knicks didn't have many counters.
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So, which players fit that profile, and who could the Knicks be after. In his latest mock draft for CBS Sports, Kyle Boone projects them to take Tre Mann out of Florida with the No. 19 pick. Mann showed a lot of improvement as an outside shooter last season and has the versatility to play on and off the ball.
Elsewhere, Marc Berman of the New York Post reported that the Knicks and Thibodeau are big fans of Jalen Brunson. The Dallas Mavericks have a team option on the 24-year-old guard for next season, but if extension talks fail, he could be a possible trade candidate ahead of his free agency in 2022. There's also a connection there, as Knicks president Leon Rose used to be the agent for Brunson's dad, Rick.