Julius Randle, RJ Barrett behind Knicks’ current four-game winning streak

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Nov 30, 2022 in New York, New York USA; New York Knicks Guard RJ Barrett (9), runs up court to stop the Milwaukee Bucks from scoring during the first quarter of Madison Square Garden. / Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday night in early December. New York is now at 10-13, after blowing a 15 point lead to the Dallas Mavericks to fall by 21. This is their sixth loss in eight and fifth consecutive home games. Twitter users call for firings and trades from the president to the janitorial staff.

What a difference a week can make.

This embarrassing collapse was not the first of its type this season. Knicks Four straight wins have been recorded. They’re now sixth in the East with a 14-13 record, and their advanced metrics perked up big time, vaulting them above league average in all marks, with a return to a near-top-10 defense.

All four victories were blowouts. It was the first time against a Cleveland Cavaliers team. Jarrett AllenThe shorthanded Atlanta Hawks were followed by the struggling Charlotte Hornets, and finally the Sacramento Kings. De’Aaron Fox. Not an overly impressive bunch, but these are games the Knicks of a week ago weren’t winning, let alone skating by.

No, this isn’t a mere fluke of the schedule and injury gods. Following the Mavericks’ loss, the Knicks were a fifth-place defense. They couldn’t string together more than two consecutive wins in all of November.

What they’ve done differently boils down to two interconnected things: their defense and star play.

While Tom Thibodeau teams of the past were known for their defense, this year’s Knicks struggled mightily out of the gate. They struggled to get out on three point shooters and secure defensive rebound. Two of their most important players were — Julius Randle RJ Barrett — were inconsistent in the effort department.

The two have since locked in, which, combined with changes to the rotation, have unleashed New York’s defense.

When Randle wants to be, he’s the connective tissue of the Knicks’ defense. Randle’s athleticism makes him a versatile threat. He can switch between positions and bully men inside. We know from the 2021 season that he’s able to be a plus on that end, and we’re seeing a return to that form now.

Barrett’s ambitions to be an All-NBA Defensive Team member were once dashed. His growing offensive role detracted from that over the last two seasons, but he’s stepped up his energy and poise on that end as of late.

It is helpful to have more assistance around them. Thibodeau benched Derrick Rose Cam Reddish After the Mavericks’ loss, inserting Miles McBride In the rotation

McBride, who replaces a lesser-respected defensive guard and a more experienced Reddish, is able to stop perimeter offense and cause chaos with his high-effort efforts. His addition immediately had an impact as the Knicks’ bench has locked down its opponents and even shut out the Kings game. Jalen Brunson Being injured.

The defense isn’t the only side of the ball seeing improvement. We’re seeing vintage Randle on the offensive end during this stretch, in the nick of time with Brunson struggling.

In his last 19 games, he had clear All-Star numbers of 24.2 points and 8.6 rebounds with 3.4 assists. He shot 47.2 percent from the field, and 36.5 percent from behind the arc. He’s put up 30 points or more three times in the last fortnight.

Randle’s been feeling it from deep while limiting his bad attempts, and is exposing teams down low when they’re short on real size or deterrence. Although the assist numbers aren’t as high as fans would like, the offensive process between Randle & the team is cleaner and more efficient than ever.

Barrett has simplified his game, and appears to have taken some of the film sessions to heart. His struggles to start the season were self-inflicted and mentally based on his talent.

We’re seeing that talent shine closer to expected now. In his last 10 games, Barrett had 20.4 points and 6.8 rebounds. He also had 3.1 assists. His shooting percentage was 43.9 percent from the field and 35.3 from deep. His uptick in rebounding is huge given the Knicks’ struggles on that end and what he’s able to do in transition off a defensive board.

Although efficiency is still a possibility, it can be improved. Barrett’s last two outings combined for 53 points on 39 shots thanks to his free throw shooting.

New York is in solid form after the recent downturn, with two Chicago Bulls matches and a meeting with the Indiana Pacers on the horizon. We could see a prolonged winning streak if they keep playing at this level even if Brunson gets injured.

They can’t rest on their laurels, however. We’ve seen lackadaisical effort and poor play from their big three bury them before. Is this a temporary respite before they go back to square one?

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