Are the New York Knicks Legitimate Playoff Contenders?

The Knicks have started the season with a strong record, but how good are they?

New York Knicks fans haven’t had much to cheer about over the past two seasons, as the team has gone 49-115 over that span.

This season, however, the revamped Knicks have turned things around and currently own a 14-11 record, tied for the 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Are the Knicks finally a legitimate playoff team again -- based not on star power but on analytics?

Four Factors

First, let’s take a look at the Knicks' production at the offensive end based on the Four Factors.

Knicks Offense eFG% TOV% ORB% FT/FGA
Stat 0.497 12.4 26.4 0.183
League Rank 18 13 5 25

The Knicks actually have a capable offense, as their team 107.9 offensive rating is the 11th-highest in the NBA. Clearly, New York hits the offensive boards as well, ranking fifth among all teams in offensive rebounding rate.

Joakim Noah, 14.1%, and Kyle O'Quinn, 15.2%, lead the charge. Noah’s offensive rebounding rate ranks fourth in the league, and if O’Quinn qualified for the leaderboard, he would rank third.

So, although the Knicks’ effective field goal percentage is below average (50.5%), they make up for it with their offensive rebounding prowess.

The Knicks take care of the ball relatively well, turning it over 12.4% of the time, slightly above average (12.9%). They could benefit by getting to the free-throw line more often, but overall, the Knicks’ offense is pretty solid.

Now, we dive into the Knicks’ defensive performance, which certainly doesn’t paint as pretty of a picture for the team.

Knicks DefenseeFG%TOV%DRB%FT/FGA
League Rank15233027

Ironically, the Knicks are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league, but they are the worst defensive rebounding team, corralling just 74% of possible rebounds. The Knicks also rank in the bottom third in the league in both preventing opposing players from getting to the free throw line and forcing turnovers.

For the season, the Knicks own a defensive rating of 110.2, which is the fourth-worst in the league. If the Knicks want to continue competing for a playoff spot, they need to step up their defensive efforts.

Based on their true offensive and defensive performance, the Knicks have a Pythagorean Win-Loss record of 11-14.

Lineup Combinations

The first thing the Knicks can do to jumpstart their season is changing up their primary lineup.

Derrick Rose, Courtney Lee, Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis, and Joakim Noah have played 248 minutes together this season, easily the most of any other five-man combo, but they have been outscored by 6.2 points per 100 possessions.

Here are some other broken down lineup-combinations that have led to better results for the Knicks this year, according to Basketball-Reference.

Players Minutes Played Net Rating
J. Holiday - J. Noah - K. Porzingis - D. Rose 52:42 +22.5
C. Anthony - J. Holiday - K. Porzingis - D. Rose 94:03 +18.1
C. Anthony - J. Holiday - K. Porzingis 137:55 +11.6
J. Holiday - K. Porzingis - D. Rose 140:16 +12.7
C. Anthony - J. Holiday - D. Rose 146:58 +6.4
J. Holiday - K. Porzingis 313:44 +6.3

Interestingly enough, the only name that comes up in all of those combinations is Justin Holiday. He plays just 18.8 minutes per game but is a good shooter, hitting at a 36.5% clip from deep this season.

The Bright Spots

Although it seems the Knicks' solid start will slow down soon, there are a few bright spots from these first 25 games.

First off, Porzingis is establishing himself as a true star in this league.

If he keeps up his current production, Porzingis will become just the fourth player ever 21 years old or younger to post at least 20.5 points per game, 7.6 rebounds per game, and 1.8 blocks per game -- joining Shaquille O’Neal, Anthony Davis, and Tim Duncan.

Also, O’Quinn has performed well in a limited role with the Knicks this season. He’s only playing 15.5 minutes per game, but his per-36 numbers are impressive: 15.1 points, 12.6 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks with a 59.3% true shooting percentage.

O’Quinn has also set personal bests with a 21.5 PER (Player Efficiency Rating), and .175 win shares per 48 minutes, which are both the best on the team. It might be time to start giving O’Quinn some more minutes.

Lastly, besides the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers, the Eastern Conference as a whole is close top-to-bottom to start the season. Just two games separate the 3 seed from the 10 seed!

So, as long as the Knicks stay respectable, they will certainly have a shot to stay in the playoff hunt over the course of the season.


The Knicks' win-loss record to start the season doesn’t accurately assess how well (or, poorly) they’ve played. The offense is impressive, but the defense needs a lot of work. It will also be a challenge for head coach Jeff Hornacek to find the right combinations of players to put out on the floor together.

Porzingis gives Knicks fans a lot of hope for the rest of this season, as well as into the future, and if they can keep utilizing efficient role players like O’Quinn, the Knicks may have a good shot at their first playoff birth since 2013. Our algorithms give them a 45.6% chance to make the playoffs.