New York Knicks: The young core takes a huge step forward

RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

The New York Knicks defeated the Houston Rockets by the score of 125-123 on Monday night. The win was nice, but the way the team won made this a standout performance.

The New York Knicks have struggled as of late, losing six of their past seven games before Monday night. Almost all of those losses came by single digits, further displaying the team’s poor ability to close games. The Rockets had won six straight games heading into their matchup at the Garden. Most fans expected a blowout. The exact opposite happened, thanks to three key contributors.

Mitchell Robinson

Robinson feasted on the boards against Houston’s small-ball lineup, securing 13 rebounds in just 24 minutes of play. He also used his height to dominate on the offensive end, as New York ran the pick and roll over and over again. This either resulted in either a mismatch or a defender out of the paint, letting Robinson throw down some easy dunks.

The 21-year old has been playing some of the best basketball of his career, and it’s starting to show up on the stat sheet. Over the past eight games, Robinson is putting up 12.1 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game on a ridiculous 76 percent shooting from the field.

Even more encouraging is Robinson’s discipline, as he’s averaging just under three fouls per game over that same stretch. Monday, the center had just one called on him despite going up against noted foul-drawers James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

Frank Ntilikina

While his defense was as great as ever, his offense really helped the team keep pace with the high-scoring Rockets offense. Frankie Smokes came off the bench to contribute 11 points and four assists, on shooting 5-for-10 from the field. While his numbers look mostly similar compared to last year, Ntilikina has made a few noticeable improvements.

His free throw shooting is a career-high 87 percent, and he’s developed a respectable mid-range jumper. On shots taken 16 feet or more from the basket, the 21-year old Frenchman is shooting 45 percent. Throughout his first two seasons, that same number was just 32 percent. The most impressive part is while his offense has started to come around, Ntilikina’s defense is still outstanding.

RJ Barrett

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The 19-year old rookie finished Monday’s tilt with the absurd line of 27 points, five rebounds, and five assists. He did this all in just 30 minutes of action, shooting 55 percent from the field and 38 percent from deep.

After Barrett air-balled a late three, he came right back down the court to hit the game-winning layup against noted defender PJ Tucker. His confidence as a rookie is a welcome sight, as he constantly seems unfazed on the court.

After an ankle injury sidelined him just before the All-Star Break, Barrett has come back with a vengeance. Over the last five games, the former Duke star is averaging 17.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game on 49 percent shooting.

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With new Team President Leon Rose taking charge, the offense will likely be run through Barrett similar to how it was on Monday night. With Mitchell Robinson and Frank Ntilikina there to compliment him on both ends of the court, the future is looking bright for the New York Knicks.