NBA Restart: 2019-20
NBA Restart: 2019-20

2019-20 Season Recap: New York Knicks

John Schuhmann

John Schuhmann NBA.com

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Jun 5, 2020 2:27 PM ET

Mitchell Robinson's field goal percentage of 74.2% is the highest mark (for qualified players) in NBA history.

The 2019-20 NBA season went on hiatus on March 11 because of  the coronavirus pandemic. The season will return on July 30 and NBA.com's writers are taking an updated look at each of the league's 30 teams.

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Record: 21-45, No. 12 in Eastern Conference

Season summary: When the season went on hiatus, the Knicks were one of five teams that had already surpassed their win total from last season. Alas, the Knicks had the lowest bar to clear in that regard and they still have a long way to go in their path back to relevance, with it now being seven years since they last reached the playoffs. Coach David Fizdale (fired in early December) and team president Steve Mills (replaced by former agent Leon Rose) paid the price for the failure to land a big star in free agency, along with unrealistic expectations given the mismatched roster that was put together.

There has been some improvement, especially on offense, under interim coach Mike Miller. But the mid-and low-tier veterans the Knicks added in free agency last summer didn't move the needle much, and their young core has yet to demonstrate that there's a bright future ahead. With Rose running the front office, a new coach in place, and another Lottery pick coming, maybe the next reboot will do the trick.

Breakout player: Second-year center Mitchell Robinson is the most promising of the Knicks' seven players under 24. Robinson hasn't blocked as many shots as he did as a rookie (his blocks per 36 minutes are down from 4.3 to 3.1), but he's one of the league's best finishers at the rim. His 75.6% in the restricted area (where he's taken 96% of his shots) ranks third among 89 players with at least 200 restricted-area attempts and his overall field goal percentage of 74.2% is the highest mark (for qualified players) in NBA history.

He's also grabbed 12.2% of available offensive rebounds, the sixth-best mark among 218 players who have averaged at least 20 minutes in 35 games or more. Robinson spoiled Carmelo Anthony's return to Madison Square Garden with 22 points on a perfect 11-for-11 shooting, and in late February, he set a new career high with 23 points in a win over the Bulls. That came with some tougher finishes (onetwothree) after offensive boards. 

 
Take a look back at R.J. Barrett's best plays from February 2020.

Statement win: A March 2 win against the Rockets was more of a statement about RJ Barrett's potential than it was about the Knicks' ability to beat good teams. The rookie tied his career high with 27 points, shooting 10-for-18 from the field, including 7-for-9 in the paint, with some tough finishes in traffic. He shot 3-for-8 from 3-point range and added five rebounds and five assists. The Knicks led by as many as 21 points and by 19 late in the third quarter, but they struggled offensively in the fourth and a Russell Westbrook drive cut their lead to one with 1:02 left. After James Harden blew a layup for the lead with 32 seconds left, the Knicks put the ball in the hands of Barrett. A fake screen from Robinson got P.J. Tucker leaning enough for Barrett to attack to his left. He got to the rim, shed Tucker, and pushed in a layup to put the Knicks up three with 7.6 seconds left. Frank Ntilikina forced Westbrook into a tough shot at the buzzer and the Knicks came away with one of their best wins of the season. They out-rebounded the Rockets, 65-34, and they outscored them in the paint, 64-36. 

Most exciting game: Kristaps Porzingis' first game back in New York back on Nov. 14 was an emotionally-charged affair, with Knicks' fans directing their built-up ire at Porzingis from the moment he stepped on the Madison Square Garden floor. The big man missed his first four shots from the field and the Knicks led most of the night. Dallas took a brief lead midway through the fourth quarter and the game was tied in the final minute before Marcus Morris Sr. drained a step-back 3 over Maxi Kleber with 13.2 seconds left. After the Mavs used their final timeout, Luka Doncic drove for two instead of going for the tie. And after Frank Ntilikina put the Knicks back up three with a pair of free throws, the Mavs could only get a contested heave from Seth Curry. Porzingis finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks, but shot just 1-for-9 from outside the paint. "I wouldn't say it affected me," he said of the crowd's fury. "I heard it of course. It was pretty loud. But I tried to play my game, stay focused and not think too much about what's going on on the outside."  

Memorable moments: The Knicks began February with four straight victories, tied for their longest winning streak in almost six years (since March of 2014). All four games were within three points in the final minutes, and they were capped by late-game heroics from Marcus Morris, Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton. ... Unfortunately, most of the memorable moments from the season took place off the floor. And their best win of the season was overshadowed by a disagreement with superfan Spike Lee about which entrance he could use at MSG. Lee went on TV the following day to express his frustration with the organization and the team issued one of its perplexing news releases.

 
The Knicks showed some signs of improvement with their modest February win streak.

After the Knicks lost by 21 points at home to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Nov. 10 to fall to 2-8, and before Fizdale held his post-game news conference, Mills and general manager Scott Perry showed up at the press room podium and expressed their displeasure. "We think the team is not performing to the level that we anticipated," Mills said. It was a clear sign that Fizdale's job was in danger, but he wasn't fired for another 3 1/2 weeks.

Team MVP: One issue with Fizdale's 22 games on the bench was that he had a fully healthy Elfrid Payton for less than four of them. The Knicks' starting point guard suffered a strained right hamstring in the second half of the Knicks' win over the Bulls on Oct. 28, missed more than a month, and was back for just one game (playing 11 minutes off the bench) before Fizdale was fired. Payton is in the bottom half of starting point guards in this league; He's scored just 0.73 points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, the worst mark among 56 players who have averaged at least five ball-handler possessions per game.

But with nobody else qualified to run the offense, the Knicks have scored 7.0 more points per 100 possessions with Payton on the floor (109.4) than they have with him off the floor (102.4). He's one of four players (LeBron James, Luka Doncic and Trae Young are the others) who have played at least 500 minutes and accounted for more than half of their team's assists while they've been on the floor. The player he's assisted most (82 times) is Julius Randle, who has a much higher effective field goal percentage with Payton on the floor (52.6%) than with Payton off the floor (45.6%).

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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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