Sometimes there is something blocking your path to success that simply cannot be explained by what you have. There is an obstacle that is too big to overcome, and you feel that if it wasn’t there, if you could solve that one problem, nothing would stop you. That’s true of many teams, in this case, the Charlotte Hornets and the New York Knicks.
Enter the evergreen ship.
You may or may not know what is happening in the Suez Canal, but for the past six days the canal has been completely blocked by an enormous ship caught in the perpendicular of the canal current. The ship, named Evergreen, brought canal traffic to a complete halt and disrupted an important trade route.
Some NBA teams must be thinking the same thing. These are two of the NBA’s most perennial potential contenders, as well as their evergreen ships.
Slot 1: New York Knicks player
The new version of the New York Knicks is one of the most promising stories in the NBA. Every year Knicks fans come out in droves to tell the rest of the NBA that this is their year, just watch!
It happened to Stephon Marbury, then Carmelo Anthony, and finally Julius Randle. A short-lived success was followed by a deep depression when owner James Dolan destroyed everything the Knicks tried to build.
But this year, no matter what, the magic happened.
The Knicks are playing for first place in the Eastern Conference, led by one of the most incredible stars: Julius Randle himself.
Behind Randle’s records in most key stats (23 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 5.8 APG on 42% 3FG) and one of the league’s toughest defenses, the Knicks are poised to make their first playoff run in nearly a decade.
But if they want to get to the next level, they need to improve. But where? They already have Randle and a second playmaker in RJ Barrett. Their defensive rating (3rd) and net rating (12th) are well above average, and they have everything the Miami Heat had last year.
The difference they should find is that they play. Their net rating, although stable, is only 0.6. They allow the least amount of BCP to opponents, but are the third best team in the league. That’s because Barrett and Randle are just below average playmakers to their teammates.
Julius Randle Stuffing.
He set a career high with 7⃣ three-point shots from the NBA League pass pic.twitter.com/BxOWrV6dzw
– NBA (@NBA) 24. March 2021
In short, it’s just unacceptable that your team’s leader in assists is your isocentric striker, regardless of his scoring ability.
The Knicks have several players who could benefit from Randle’s ability to provide extra coverage inside the arc. The Knicks have one of the best shooting lines in the league, with eight players shooting above average (37% of the team at 3FG, 11th in the NBA). On the face of it, they should be able to use Randle and Barrett to punish drives in the paint, but no. Randle and Barrett average less than nine assists per game, and while that’s acceptable for Randle (great passers are still a rarity in the league), it’s much less so for Barrett.
RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley make big plays in the Nicks win ! ️ pic.twitter.com/vKQMzYClTM
– NBA (@NBA) 26. March 2021
The Knicks as a whole have solid individual plays, with several players scoring in double figures. But no player is averaging six APGs, and the team is the worst passing team in the league except the Portland Trail Blazers. On the APG team, they are at the bottom of the list in assists/scored goals and assist/turnover ratio. This leads to very inefficient shots within the arc. In fact, 3FG% is the only shooting statistic in which the Knicks do well, and that’s due to their sloppiness as point guards (incidentally, as a team they also have a TO/game). All of the Knicks’ shooting stats are at an all-time low.
This culture also extends to the rest of the team. Elfrid Payton would love to help, but no one plans to start him alongside Barrett, Rose or budding young star Immanuel Quickly. The latter was fantastic in his first year in the league, averaging 12.8 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists. A first-round pick is poised to become an important part of the Knicks team, and his development and growth will propel the team in its bid to return to the promised land.
Rose for his part has never been passive, and Quickly is still developing as a player and can learn a lot from Rose. Either way, this team will go where RJ Barrett and Julius Randle go, and I hope Quickley can follow suit and make the Knicks tandem the big three they hope for. That means at best, this team will miss the second round of the playoffs until they find a way to do nothing but score.
Slot 2: Charlotte Hornets, Inside
Hot double-double this season: The Charlotte Hornets have one of the most balanced perimeter attacks in the NBA.
With LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward, the Hornets have put together one of the best offensive trios in the league, and with their combined play, the Hornets are in prime position to make a splash in the playoffs. In fact, LaMelo Ball’s statistics and play have been a big part of his success this year.
LaMelo_™s supple ball. pic.twitter.com/Sf6FfASfIe
– Legion Hoops (@Legion Hoops) 12. March 2021
Without them, the Hornets have to deal with the hyper-influence of Malik Monk and Devonte Graham. Miles Bridges, meanwhile, serves as someone who can play four positions on the field on either side of the ball.
Charlotte has an outside attack with both stars and depth. The only thing holding them back is an internal presence.
In a nutshell: Bismack Biyombo and Cody Zeller can’t make it. Not if all the East candidates can beat Charlotte in the paint. The Hornets will inevitably face Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo in the playoffs, and with their recent acquisitions, the Brooklyn Nets will also be a problem. Neither Biyombo nor Zeller can keep up with the now four- or five-man Hydra that can rip the Nets out of the middle. Blake is still an athletic and reliable passer. Aldridge has a range of 3 metres. Deandre Jordan is still a brick wall, and Nick Claxton is as tough as anyone in the league.
Charlotte is just too small to overcome her massive evergreen ship.
Some teams need to improve on several fronts before they can be considered real contenders. Boston, like Charlotte, doesn’t have much size, but they also lack a point guard and a distributor. Dallas could use a good defense and a really solid scoring assistant to back up Luka Doncic. Consider Miami a team that also needs some mid to high distribution skills on their roster.
But of all the teams in the NBA, only Charlotte and the Knicks have one last blemish keeping them from reaching the top of the mountain. The problem is that this error is unmistakable and obvious. But if this constipation disappears, you should be careful.
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