The Knicks, Contenders or Pretenders?

(Adam Hunger/AP)

Coming into this season the New York Knicks were in full rebuilding mode. Now after their 110-107 win against the Indiana Pacers last night they are sitting at 17-17, good enough for the 5th spot in the East. Naturally the question arises, is this team ready to break out of their rebuild, or is this just a fluke? Let's look at how they got here.

Under new coach Tom Thibodeau, the Knicks are doing exactly what Tom Thibodeau teams do. Good defense on one end, and a slow paced attack on the other. The team is averaging a measly 105 PTS/G offensively (29th of 30). The defense however is first in the league allowing only 104 PTS/G. In today's league full of high flying offenses that is quite an impressive feat. The team is led by first time all-star Julius Randle who is averaging a career best across the board with 23 PTS/G, 11 rebounds, and 5.5 assists. Very impressive numbers and much needed production for a team that's been lacking star power since Melo left town. RJ Barrett is up to 16 PTS/G and breakout rookie Immanuel Quickley is bringing a much needed spark to this team at times. The mid-season acquisition of Derrick Rose appears to be working out in New York's favor so far as well.

On the downside Kevin Knox appears to have taken a major step back in his 3rd season.

He has seen a major decrease in playing time since his rookie season, and as a result he is putting up career lows across the board outside of his shooting %'s. Thibodeau doesn't appear to trust him enough on either end of the floor to give him a bigger spot in the rotation. Rookie Obi Toppin has been a bit of letdown so far as well. Putting up only 5 PTS/G in 12 minutes a night.

The Knicks are 4-8 in their games against teams with a record of .500 or better this season. Against everyone else they are 13-9. They are 10-7 at home and 7-10 on the road. The Knicks are a team that struggles offensively at times, but plays solid defense on a nightly basis. They lose to the good teams and they beat the bad ones more times than not. Whats' interesting is their averaging margin of victory is 13 PTS/G and their average defeat is by 10.5 PTS/G. This team is typically either going to win big or lose big on any given night. This is not the type of consistency that you are looking for in a playoff team.

At this point I simply am not convinced that this team is ready to compete yet. The core of this roster is far too young and inexperienced. They struggle far too much against good teams to be real contenders. If anything this team is doing what typical Knicks teams do, they are screwing themselves over. The Knicks are supposed to be smack dab in the middle of a rebuild right now. They should be tanking for the best possible draft pick. I am not convinced that the young talent currently on this roster is going to carry this team anywhere meaningful. Julius Randle has been a nice surprise so far this year, but I believe he has reached his ceiling. RJ Barrett is a solid player, but he hasn't found a consistent jump shot yet. Without a jumper he will never reach his full potential or be able to lead a team in todays league. Kevin Knox has shown serious regression, which is not good for your 9th pick just two years ago. With what looks like a mid-round draft pick coming up with the way this season is going, the Knicks will have to hope they've shown enough promise to attract high level free agents again. Free agency will become their only hope to add the star power that they are currently lacking. It may sound crazy, but since I don't believe in Julius Randle as the leader or even the second fiddle on a championship team, it may be worth it to test the trade market while his stock is high. Draft capital and cap flexibility is still this teams best friend at the moment, not a playoff run thats doomed to end in the 2nd round at best.

Also as long as James Dolan is still the owner of this franchise it will forever been doomed. Championship cultures start from the top down. Dolan has proven he doesn't possess the knowledge or skill to run a championship caliber organization. Everlasting failure and mediocrity will the story of the New York Knicks until the team is sold. It's a real shame that this is the fate the Mecca of basketball is faced with.