The New York Knicks are back in the playoffs for the first time since the Giants last won the Super Bowl. What lessons can Big Blue learn from them to get to the postseason this year?
John Schmeelk: Despite the fact the Knicks are the fourth seed in the NBA playoffs and the Giants only won six games last season, Joe Judge's crew is - in some ways - ahead of the Knicks. They might already have some of the things in place that has allowed the Knicks to finish 10 games over .500 and earn home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
One reason the Knicks are where they are is the success of their front office (Leon Rose, World Wide Wes, Scott Perry) working with head coach Tom Thibodeau and getting him the players that fit his system, allowing his team to play the way he wants them to. By all accounts, there appears to be a similar connection between Judge and Dave Gettleman.
Unlike Joe Judge, Thibodeau is an older coach with a long record of success. Both men, however, have a similar hard-driving style that requires their players to work extremely hard at all times. There is a lot of Thibodeau in Judge, and as Judge gets more games under his belt it would not surprise me if there's a similar track record of success.
The other thing that drove the Knicks this year was their ability to find the engine that makes their team go: Julius Randle. Everything the Knicks do runs through him and he has played well enough to earn that responsibility and a place on the All-NBA team. In the NFL, only one player can take on that kind of responsibility: the quarterback. For the Giants to get where the Knicks are now, Daniel Jones needs to continue to improve and be that kind of player for the Giants.
Finally, the Knicks drafted relatively well. Not every pick has hit, but RJ Barrett is a Top 3 player on the roster, and Immanuel Quickley will get votes on the rookie of the year ballot. Mitchell Robinson was the team's starting center before he got hurt. The Giants draft picks over the past four seasons have to make the same sort of impact those players did for the Knicks.
The next step for the Knicks is reaching into the free agent or trade market to acquire another star-caliber player to help Randle as their youngsters develop. The Giants already did that the last couple of seasons when they acquired Leonard Williams, Kenny Golladay and Adoree' Jackson. Both franchises are in a good place, and if the Giants can find their Julius Randle, we will likely be talking about the playoffs for them this year, too.
View photos of Giants first-round pick Kadarius Toney touring the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
Dan Salomone: Unlike John and Lance, I am neither a native New Yorker nor a basketball expert. (Lance somehow ended up a Bulls fan, but that's a story for another day.) But if there is one thing I've learned since being in the area for more than a decade it's that the real Knicks fan appreciates toughness over flash. The same holds true for Giants fans.
The exciting part for both fan bases is they have a new head coach who understands this concept.
"I want this team to reflect this area," Joe Judge said when he was introduced as head coach on Jan. 9, 2020. "I want the people that pay their hard-earned money and the neighborhoods of New York, North Jersey, South Jersey, to come to our games and know that the players on the field play with the same attitude they wake up with every morning. That is blue collar, it's hard work, it's in your face. We're not going to back down from anybody. We're going to come to work every day and grind it out the way they do in their jobs every day, and they can invest their money in our program knowing it's worthwhile. They put a Giants uniform on, they put a Giants hat or jersey on, that it's not representing just the 53 on the field, but it's representing their neighborhoods, their communities and their families with the values they have instilled in their children."
"I have a great understanding of New York," Tom Thibodeau said when he took over the Knicks just six months after Judge. "I think we have the best city in the world, we have the best arena in the world, and we have the best fans in the world. I was there throughout the 90s, and it was an incredible experience for me."
Once that foundation is laid, it's time to start winning games. Seeing the Knicks return to the playoffs backs up Judge's philosophy of coaching his players hard – but not just for the sake of it. Everything is done with the purpose of developing players without skipping any steps.
Lance Medow: Comparing basketball and football is very difficult because the structure of the rosters, economics and games overall are so different. In the NBA, star players have a far bigger impact on the results because they play both sides of the ball, which isn't the case in the NFL. Case in point, Julius Randle's emergence and breakout campaign is a big reason why the Knicks are heading back to the postseason for the first time since 2012-13. He's improved his scoring, three-point field goal percentage and free throw percentage.
Tom Thibodeau's arrival has certainly made a significant impact, especially his emphasis on defense, so that's a common theme between basketball and football. Good coaching and quality defense can make a noticeable difference. On top of that, the team has remained relatively healthy with the exception of the injury to Mitchell Robinson, but Nerlens Noel has been solid in his place, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The depth chart in football is just as critical.
But the Knicks have also benefited from a relatively down year in the Eastern Conference. Just six of the 15 teams in the East finished with winning records. In comparison, the West had nine. You also can't overlook the fact that they played 10 less games this season because of COVID-19 and capitalized on a stretch of the schedule when they played several teams that were sub-.500 or lost key players due to injury. For example, when they won 12 of 13 from April 9-May 3, they faced just six teams sporting winning records at the time of the game and of those six, the Lakers were without Anthony Davis and LeBron James, the Hawks lost star guard Trae Young at the end of the third quarter due to injury, and they lost to the Suns. A win is a win but circumstances and context can't be dismissed. While I don't think there are many parallels or takeaways, the emergence of a key player/breakout player, production from the bench/depth chart and solid coaching are all valuable lessons.