Knicks’ recent run exposes biggest needs for homestretch

Knicks Josh Hart
New York Knicks guard Josh Hart (3) reacts after scoring during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics in New York, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)

Jalen Brunson’s 34 points were not enough to overcome the top team in the East over the weekend when the Knicks fell to the Boston Celtics 116-102. While this result should not be surprising given the Celtics are fully healthy and amid an eight-game win streak, this game only reaffirmed the fact that the Knicks still have a long way to go before they reach their final form.

What does their final form look like? It starts with a fully healthy roster. The “Hospital Knicks” as they have been dubbed by some have struggled mightily recently. Shockingly, without three of their regular starters in Julius Randle, OG Anunoby, and Mitchell Robinson, New York has struggled with consistency and has had to rely on role players more than doubling their normal minutes. 

This is by no means a sustainable model of success, especially relying on Brunson to shoulder the load offensively while being the focal point of opposing defenses every night. Over the last 11 games since Randle and Anunoby went down, Brunson leads the league in usage rate, showing how pivotal a role he plays in the offense even when he’s not scoring.

Against the Celtics on Saturday night, Brunson put on another masterclass, scoring 34 points on 12-of-25 shooting from the field, 4-of-9 beyond the arc, and a perfect 6-of-6 from the charity stripe. He was about as efficient as head coach Tom Thibodeau and the Knicks could hope for and yet New York still found themselves losing by double digits.

Looking at the roster around Brunson, it’s clear the Knicks need more from the guys coming off the bench, especially their deadline acquisitions. Bojan Bogdanovic had his first game in single digits since being acquired by the Knicks, scoring eight points on seven field goal attempts. While this is the first game the sharpshooter struggled in New York, they needed all the help they could get against the top team in the East on Saturday.

The other piece of the trade, Alec Burks, has been less than impressive in his return to New York. He is shooting 33% from the field to open his new tenure with the Knicks, a significant dropoff from the 39% he shot during the 2021-22 season for New York. Burks went 3-of-11 from the field, including 1-of-7 from three against the Celtics. 

While the Knicks did not need to make blockbuster deals at the trade deadline, it’s clear the talent they brought in was meant to keep them afloat for the time being and then have their roles diminish by the postseason. New York is still in the phase of waiting for their star players to get healthy, meaning they desperately need all of the help from the bench they can get. 

With big games coming up against Cleveland, Orlando, Atlanta, and Philadelphia, and no signs of Randle, Anunoby, or Robinson being close to returning, the role players must step up and provide Brunson with the help the Knicks need for the time being. Jockeying for playoff seeding and getting a top-four seed needs to be New York’s top priority, as well as getting their biggest contributors back on the floor. 

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