Knicks see ‘fun season’ ahead with offensive changes clicking

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Judging by their first two games, the Knicks have a bountiful future in store for them.

Head coach Tom Thibodeau implored his troops to increase their volume in two areas — 3-point attempts and pace — and the Knicks have displayed more of both so far.

Gun and run.

As the Knicks prepared to host the Magic on Sunday to complete a home-and-home set, they are two-for-two and 2-0.

The Knicks lead the NBA with 41 made 3-pointers, nine more than any other club. They have launched 99 shots from 3-point range — also No. 1 in the league — and have taken 28 more than the next-highest clubs (Rockets, Nets) entering Saturday.

They made 24 3-pointers during Friday’s road blowout of the Magic to set a franchise record. No Knick hit more than four treys, however, as they spread the 3-point wealth.

Guard Immanuel Quickley said after the 121-96 win Friday he expects the Knicks to set another record. Heck, maybe even Sunday.

“I think we’re in for a real fun season,’’ Quickley added.

Knicks
The Knicks hit a team-record 24 3-pointer against the Magic on Friday.
NBAE via Getty Images

The long-range bounty was foreshadowed two weeks ago during a preseason game at Washington, when the Knicks also made 24 3-pointers, though that didn’t count as an official record. Now that the regular season has begun, they’re still gunning.

“It’s a reflection of them playing for each other and just making the right play,’’ Thibodeau said of creating more good 3-point chances.

While the Knicks were 24th in the league in 3-point frequency (percentage of shots beyond the arc) last season, they were dead last in pace and fast-break points.

Friday, the Knicks scored 24 fast-break points. Credit a lot of it to super sophomore Obi Toppin, the power forward who is setting an example by running out as soon as a rebound is caught.

Toppin has turned into a fast-break freight train as he looks to reverse a disappointing rookie year. Thibodeau said Toppin is able to consistently race downcourt at full sprint because he’s “in great shape.’’ Toppin is averaging 13.5 points even though his 3-point shot still isn’t perfectly consistent.

Amid chants of “O-Bi,’’ Toppin topped off one fast break Friday by going between his legs as he skied for the slam dunk.

Quickley is Toppin’s best friend on the team and they hung out exclusively during their rookie pandemic season. Quickley was the apple of Thibodeau’s eye last season, while Toppin didn’t have the defensive smarts to earn the coach’s trust and averaged just 11 minutes as Julius Randle’s backup.

“When Obi is playing good, I literally feel like I’m playing great,’’ Quickley said. “When he went between the legs, I thought I went between the legs. That’s my dog. Whenever he’s playing good, I’m feeling good.’’

Everyone’s feeling good now as the Knicks are off to their best start since 2012-13 — when they started 6-0. They are a virtual lock to move to 3-0 by late Sunday night as the Magic, even healthy, will compete for the NBA’s worst record.

Obi
Obi Toppin dunks the ball against the Magic.
AP

When the Knicks’ defensive centers return, Thibodeau has a tough decision. He’s enjoying the speed-ball, small-ball alignment — perfected by Mike D’Antoni — that moves Randle to center and plays Toppin at power forward.

But when Nerlens Noel (hamstring) and Taj Gibson (paternity leave), who are both lousy 3-point shooters, join starting center Mitchell Robinson, Thibodeau may not have the guts to go small-ball.

He may be setting the stage for Gibson’s and Noel’s returns. The coach has used rookie Jericho Sims for eight minutes at center in the first half before teaming up Toppin and Randle in the second half.

If Thibodeau decides the Toppin-Randle teaming is the way to go over Noel or Gibson, the Knicks’ identity will shift from a defensive, grinding, shot-blocking crew to “gun and run.’’ The Knicks are ranked seventh in pace so far.

“What we’re seeing in the NBA today is the premium that’s put on shooting,’’ Thibodeau said. “Oftentimes, there’s at least four 3-point shooters on the floor. Now we’re seeing that there’s five. One of the things why I think we’re effective when Julius is at the five and Obi’s at the four is because the floor is opened up and now we have driving gaps where we can get to the basket. The great value in our team is the versatility.’’

For all the talk about continuity, this is a different team that could give different looks — with even more depth than last season.

“That’s a big part of our teams success is our depth,’’ Quickley said. “We can go a full 15. Everybody does something real special with our team and everybody knows what they’re good at. And we play to each other’s strength and cover each other’s weaknesses.’’



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