Onlookers trying to pin this disappointing Knicks season on one particular party over another are having trouble hitting their mark.
It’s Julius Randle’s fault, except for when he’s out or playing well and the Knicks keep losing. Then it’s Tom Thibodeau or the front office not making the right decisions and hampering the other.
While the ultimate answer is a mixture of everything that has haunted the Knicks this season, we’re quick to point to who’s on the court and not to who’s missing from it. For 30 games now, New York has been without Derrick Rose, the best point guard on their roster and arguably the stabilizing force to last year’s success.
Rose had ankle surgery a couple months into the new season and has yet to make his return, though it’s questionable if he should. The Knicks are 25-34, 11-15 with Rose and 14-19 without him. Those results suggest a comeback would be too little too late, but don’t let that take away from Rose’s impact on this team.
Last season, the Knicks traded for Rose about a third of the way into their season, when they were well under .500 and staring down another lottery appearance. Come the end of the year they were 24-11 with Rose and 17-20 without him, though a number of factors played a role in that turnaround. Rose may not have started until the playoffs, but closed out nearly every close fourth quarter along the way, finishing third on the team in scoring and third in the league in Sixth Man of the Year voting.
His impact wasn’t quite as black-and-white record-wise this year, but the lineup data point to his effectiveness.
Back when the Knicks bench was keeping them afloat to start the season, Rose was the leader of that group. In lineups that have played at least 50 minutes together, two Rose-led Knicks bench lineups are still atop the leaderboards in net points per 100 possessions. The subsequent regression from the backups was likely in part due to missing Rose.
The starters miss him too. Without Rose, the point guard rotation is down to Kemba Walker, Alec Burks and Immanuel Quickley. None of the three have done enough to close out games from their position.
Walker’s been unplayable in fourth quarters, in large part due to his defense, and his offensive production in the first three quarters has not been effective or consistent enough to warrant his minutes.
Burks is trying his best, but is ultimately being forced into an unnatural position amidst a shooting slump. That combination has unsurprisingly fared poorly.
Quickley once looked like the best option of the bunch, but is also mired in shooting woes and pairs every three-minute stretch of jaw-dropping, potential-packed guard play with three minutes of poor decision making. He’s not ready for this gig quite yet, though the Knicks may need him to be.
Rose arguably has the best chemistry with Randle compared to the above three, on top of being the superior player when healthy. Looking at some of the Knicks’ biggest bugaboos this year – creation, consistency, point-guard play, among others – it’s clear they had a desperate need for Rose these past few months.
Does that alleviate the players, coaches and front office of their mistakes? No. At the same time, Rose was unquestionably the team’s second-best player last year and is still a mightily important one this season.
While this Knicks season didn’t need much to go off the rails, losing Rose certainly didn’t help. Perhaps he doesn’t turn things around, but in the grand calculus of this lost year his importance shouldn’t be forgotten or dismissed.