Derrick Rose lost weight since last season. So did Julius Randle. The Knicks’ roster has more youth and a true playmaking point guard.
It all points in one direction: a more uptempo style than fans have been accustomed to.
Coach Tom Thibodeau gave hints of that adjustment Tuesday when he said: “Pace is oftentimes determined by your players.” Though he didn’t commit to playing faster in speaking with reporters, behind the scenes Thibodeau has preached that style to his players.
Randle said Saturday that one of the points of emphasis through the first week of training camp has been to play faster, to get up and down the floor more quickly than in 2021-22 or the season before.
“Obviously you’re thinking about what are the right type of shots and how do we create those shots,” Thibodeau said. “We can’t do it at the expense of taking bad shots. They have to be the right shots. So we want to play with pace and we want to create movement.”
Last season, the Knicks were next-to-last in the league in pace, according to NBA.com. They were dead last the season before. As Thibodeau said, playing fast doesn’t guarantee success. The Knicks had a breakthrough season playing slowly two years ago, but they struggled last season. The game is changing, though, and the Knicks plan to evolve with the rest of the league.
“Overall, you’re trying to get as many possessions as you can, get as many opportunities to score as you can and I think defensively will be the start for us to get those possessions,” Randle said. “I think we were trying to emphasize it last year and it’s just kinda a carryover to now. As you play games and season by season goes on, the game is constantly evolving and adjusting and that’s just one of the ways the game is going.”
The composition of the roster will clearly play a part in that. Randle and Rose, two of the team’s top veterans, arrived for camp in top condition, both looking leaner and in better shape. Randle, who has declined to disclose his weight, said he wanted to come in lighter because it will allow him to play faster and recover quicker.
The addition of Jalen Brunson gives the Knicks the floor general they have lacked, one who can push the ball. Young players, such as RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, Obi Toppin and Quentin Grimes, all have shown the ability to thrive in the open court. Plus, Barrett, Brunson and Randle are all effective inside the 3-point arc, which could create spacing issues, but not when it comes to transition opportunities. For the Knicks, faster may be better.
“I think it all starts with us defensively,” Randle said. “If we’re able to get stops and we’re not constantly having to take the ball out the net, naturally we can play faster. The ball always moves faster up the court with a pass rather than a dribble. So, at least for me, that’s a point of emphasis. How can I [advance the ball], quick hit-aheads, quick strikes to get the ball up the court.”
So far, the early returns have been positive, but the Knicks have of course yet to play a game. Everyone looks like a contender this time of year. One of the team’s stars, however, is thrilled by what he has seen and the plan in place to get out in transition more often.
“I think we’ll be great,” Randle said. “We got a mixture of vets, young guys, guys who have experience who are young, so it’ll be good. I like what I’ve seen so far, for sure.”