Pardon the hot take—actually, no, don’t pardon it—but the 2019-20 New York Knicks and Marist men’s basketball team make up a double-sided coin. They are both egregiously bad at basketball in the rough, unfortunate, same way.
As the Knicks come to the end of a two-decade stretch of incompetence and failure, the 2019-20 team has amped up the clownery. Through 21 games, they sit at 4-17, a worse record than last year’s squad (one that tied a franchise-low with 17 victories) at this point in the season. Despite spending over $85 million in free agency and using the third overall pick on Duke star R.J. Barrett, the team looks like an absolute mess.
Marist’s men’s basketball team has begun their season in similar fashion. Although they don’t have the management ineptitude New York does (very few, if any, sports teams on Earth do), the team hasn’t enjoyed much success. Their measly 1-4 record puts them at second to last in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC). As of Dec. 5, they’re riding a four-game losing streak.
Although both team’s records are inarguably bad, it should be noted that each team’s rosters were shuffled pretty heavily in the offseason. Only six Knicks were on the team last year while Marist has just five rollovers from last year’s team (only three of which have seen playing time this season). Additionally, both clubs’ head coaches have only spent one full year with their respective teams. There’s some chemistry to be formed here.
Still, there are some gaping holes in both the Knicks’ and Red Foxes’ playstyle that need to be patched. If they aren’t, their playoff chances are as good as sunk.
The biggest reason for why New York and Marist are playing so poorly is simple: neither can score. Both teams rank dead last in scoring (New York in the entire NBA, Marist in the MAAC) and are at the bottom in field goal percentage as well. The Knicks – again – rank last in field goal percentage. Only Saint Peter’s shoots worse from the field than Marist.
Buckets never seem to come easy for the two clubs because neither team’s offense has a centerpiece. Players on both teams take turns going one-on-one with their defenders when they can’t generate an open shot right away. As a result, their execution down the stretch can be messy and unorganized. Steve Popper, the Knicks beat reporter for Newsday, described the Knicks offense as “five guys who just met in the park.” Marist often plays in such a fashion, albeit with less selfish strangers.
Both teams also have woes for their three-point shooting, but for different reasons. Marist takes the fourth most three-pointers in the MAAC but own the fourth-worst three-point shooting percentage. New York ranks 25th in the NBA in three-point attempts but is ninth in three-point percentage. Marist, a poor shooting team from behind the arc, takes a lot; New York, a good three-point shooting team, doesn’t take that many.
Additionally, both teams STINK at free throws. Drawing fouls and making free throws is one of the best ways to put points on the board and pressure on the defense. The Knicks get to the line at a high rate, ranking seventh in the league in free throw attempts per game, but convert just 67.4% of their attempts at the charity stripe. They’re the only team in the league shooting below 70%.
Marist, meanwhile, falters in both aspects of free-throw shooting: they don’t take or make many of them. They’re the only team in the MAAC that shoots under 60%, converting at an abhorrent rate of 56.1%. They average 13.2 free throw attempts per game, which ranks second-worst in the conference.
The players who average the most free throws on each team are among the worst free-throw shooters on their respective teams. Julius Randle and R.J. Barrett rank first and second respectively in free throw attempts, but rank tied-for-eighth and 14th on the team in percentage. For the Red Foxes, Tyler Saint-Furcy and Michael Cubbage are top two in free throw attempts and bottom two in free throw percentage.
Part of the reason scoring is so hard for the teams is that they rarely create shots for each other. They’re both bottom dwellers when it comes to team assists, just as they are when it comes to points. The Knicks average 19.6 assists per game, putting them at the very bottom of the NBA. Marist averages 9.2 assists per game, putting them second to last in the MAAC.
Both ball clubs have improved their ball movement as their seasons progress, but they have few assists to show for it. Offensive possessions for both teams (more so for Marist) start with swinging the ball around the perimeter but often end with someone going into isolation mode. One of the singular saving graces seems to be that neither squad is overly turnover prone.
Marist’s offense of late actually has some nice flow to it. There’s a good amount of off-ball movement and quick passes. The same can’t be said for the Knicks, who just stand around watching the ball-handler. So, I guess that’s one thing to write home about.
Allowing Their Opponents to Light it Up From Three
The most glaring difference between the clubs is defense. Marist allows the fewest points per game in the MAAC, while New York allows the 17th fewest. Defense is clearly each team’s stronger side of the ball, but they share a fatal flaw: they’re inept at defending three-pointers.
The Knicks’ opponents have shot 37.8% against them from behind the arc, the third-highest mark in the league, while averaging 13.1 makes per game, tied for fourth highest. The Red Foxes allow opponents to make 9.2 three-pointers per game on 35.7% shooting; both rank third-highest in the conference.
Both have suffered what could have been close game losses at the hands of their inability to stop multiple threes late in the game. The Knicks suffered an 18-point loss to the Chicago Bulls because they let Coby White go nuclear in the fourth quarter — he hit seven threes. The Red Foxes lost by four to Citadel partly because Kaiden Rice and Fletcher Abee hit multiple threes in the second half, some of them on consecutive possessions.
Playing porous defense on three-pointers is a recipe for disaster as teams shoot them more and more. Marist might jeopardize their tough defense by allowing too many threes. New York won’t advance from the middle of the pack if they do the same.
The Knicks and Red Foxes each have a pair of big men that make life easier when they’re on the court. Where New York has Mitchell Robinson and Taj Gibson, Marist has Zion Tordoff and Jordan Jones.
By the numbers, they’re among the biggest benefits to their teams. Going off PER, Robinson ranks 16th in the entire league with a monstrous 22.5, good enough for first on the Knicks by far. Gibson, at 15.4, ranks fifth on the team. Jones and Tordoff rank second and third on Marist with PER ratings of 15.6 and 15.3 respectively.
None of the four are key cogs in the offense. Mainly they’re tasked with setting screens and finishing inside. Marist will occasionally dump Jones or Tordoff the ball down low so they can take their defender one-on-one in the post. Otherwise, the big men don’t have big offensive roles.
Their primary use is as a sturdy interior defender. Robinson, despite committing as many fouls per game as there are stars in the sky, is the most effective of the four. His cat-like reflexes and 7-foot-4-inch wingspan allow him to contest nearly any shot in his field of vision.
Gibson, Jones, and Tordoff are much more comfortable with the ball than Robinson, who tries to create his own offense just once in a blue moon. The other three are comfortable posting up and shooting the occasional jump shot.
Overall, the similarities between the two clubs is an unfortunate development for basketball fans in New York. They’re a Spider-man meme for basketball ineptitude. The Knicks have 61 more games on their schedule while Marist has 24 left, excluding the MAAC tournament. Perhaps they’ll solve their problems as their seasons move along and start winning more. Perhaps they won’t.
Edited by Lily Caffrey-Levine & Will Bjarnar