As the winners of nine-straight, the New York Knicks are locked in and focused on the upcoming playoffs, where their battle-tested defense will be pushed to its limits.
They’re currently 34-27, tied with the Atlanta Hawks for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
But when they get there, it’s safe to say they’ll inevitably be outmatched by one of the conference’s top teams.
The only question is will they step up to the occasion or crumble under pressure?
A Glaring Weakness
In his latest piece for Bleacher Report, The Weakest Link in Every Projected NBA Playoff Team’s Starting 5, Grant Hughes picked one member of each of the NBA’s 30 teams that could harm them in the postseason.
To the surprise of none, when it came to the New York Knicks, he chose their point guard, Elfrid Payton:
Based on the way Immanuel Quickley and Derrick Rose have played lately, Elfrid Payton looks like the third-best point guard on the New York Knicks. Yet by season’s end, he’s likely to have started 10 times as many games as his two backups combined.
Fans have clamored all season for the seventh-year point guard to be relegated to the bench, but as has always been the case, head coach Tom Thibodeau has stuck with his veterans.
Payton, who’s started 52 games this season, is averaging 11.3 points and 3.4 assists per game. His inability to space the floor has restricted an already shoot-deprived Knicks offense.
As Hughes notes, his three-point percentage is among the worst of the entire NBA:
Payton is shooting 28.6 percent from distance, and his true shooting percentage is 48.8. Some context: Of the 116 players who’ve attempted at least 500 shots this season, that latter accuracy rate ranks dead last.
Payton’s made five-of-12 of his shots from three over the last nine games, in which New York has notably gone 9-0.
But is that sustainable? Unlikely.
And as Hughes mentions, for point guard to be the Knicks most controversial position is ironic, given the nature of Julius Randle’s role in the offense:
Head coach Tom Thibodeau clearly values Payton’s game management and pass-first thinking. But with Julius Randle deserving the lion’s share of the playmaking duties, it’s difficult to understand why Payton has maintained such a steady role.
It will be interesting to see if and how Elfrid Payton’s role changes in the playoffs. Because for the first time in over seven seasons, the New York Knicks will be there.
Updated Knicks Playoff Odds
After their win over the Toronto Raptors, the New York Knicks are 34-27 and the Eastern Conference fourth-seed.
According to Five Thirty Eight’s forecast, their chances at making the playoffs have climbed to 86 percent.
But the website is still giving the team a less than one percent shot at making and/or winning the 2021 NBA Finals.
That number could increase if they retain homecourt going into the postseason.
New York’s currently tied with the fifth-seed Atlanta Hawks, with a two-game lead on both the sixth-seed Boston Celtics and the seventh-seed Miami Heat.
So it seems a playoff appearance is a near-lock for the Knicks, who’ve missed the cut in seven consecutive seasons.
However, what seed they end up entering in as remains up in the air.
Tankathon.com has New York’s remaining schedule as the fifth-toughest in the entire NBA.
11 games to go.
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