Knicks Derrick Rose, Reggie Bullock and RJ Barrett celebrate
With the NBA Playoffs around the corner, all eyes turn to how the Knicks will fare in a seven-game (or potentially single elimination) bout against their conference’s best after a surprisingly dominant regular season.
This question is exacerbated by New York’s subpar results against over .500 teams and the general heightened level of play in the postseason. If we want to predict how they might do come their biggest games of the season, we need to dig into how they have done against their best opponents.
Per ESPN.com, the Knicks are 24-10 against teams with a below .500 record, but just 11-18 against winning rosters. With 3.5 games separating them and the third seed Milwaukee Bucks, it’s highly unlikely they end up facing a pushover, barring a major upset, in which case a regular season record means zilch.
There’s also a noticeable lack of postseason experience on the roster. Their current starting five amassed a total of 184 minutes of playoff basketball, all between Reggie Bullock and Nerlens Noel. Their best two players – Julius Randle and RJ Barrett – have none. Only three other regular rotation players have any: Alec Burks, Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose.
The postseason will quite simply be a new level of competition for these upstart Knicks, and they’ll need to be ready. The good news is, despite the Knicks losing record against winning teams, their individual performances remained solid.
In terms of production and efficiency, nobody on the roster appears to have any material statistical differences when going up against over .500 squads. The most noticeable gaps come from three-point range, which can be completely written off to the variability of those shots. Barrett’s 35 percent three-point clip against winning teams is down from his regular season number of 39 percent, but Rose and Bullock show three percentage point upticks from their regular season deep ball numbers — 35 percent to 38 percent and 41 percent to 44 percent, respectively.
There isn’t a great deal to glean from this, with a positive slant being this team manages to score consistently with their averages no matter who they face. It’s especially encouraging to see young guys like Barrett and Immanuel Quickley showing no signs of frailty against top teams. Fans can also think back to multiple close losses against Philadelphia, Miami and Brooklyn that easily could have gone the other way, making that 11-18 record look worse than it is.
Or, perhaps New York’s suffocating defense works a lot better against the league’s waste bin, and doesn’t offer the same edge against teams with multiple All-Star scorers. Maybe at some point the talent gaps catch up to you, and no amount of synergy or effort can top having the other team’s third-best player be much better than your second-best.
We won’t see any concrete answers to these questions until the Playoffs, when the Knicks will have to shake off everything they’ve accomplished, and fallen short of, this regular season to try and win a series, if not multiple.
New York’s faithful have little reason to doubt this coach and these players, who won’t be looking back anyways. The real season begins now.