Even the Knicks’ players know something has to change

Former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy wasn’t the only one to point the finger at the Knicks’ starting lineup Wednesday night in Miami.

A member of the team’s first unit, Evan Fournier, also firmly criticized the Knicks’ strategy following a blowout loss to the Heat.

After scoring just seven points on 2-for-7 shooting from the floor, Fournier said the Knicks’ offense failed to “adapt” to the Heat switching defensively on screens.

“It wasn’t about the physicality, to be honest. It was more about the organization,” Fournier said following the skidding Knicks’ fifth loss in six games. “They switched with Bam [Adebayo], forcing us to get out of our rhythm.

“We did not play well offensively. We did not take advantage of the switch. It kind of took us away from ball movement.”

The Knicks’ starting unit was dominated by the East-leading Heat, with slumping Julius Randle finishing minus-34 over 27 minutes. RJ Barrett netted a minus-36 rating despite scoring 17 points over 24 minutes, Kemba Walker posted a minus-30 in 19 minutes and Fournier was minus-27 over 20 minutes.

Evan Fournier walks back to the Knicks’ bench
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“My point is we have to adapt to what other teams are doing,” Fournier added. “When we had that good stretch, we were playing a certain way. Because the guys in front of us were doing something similar every time. When we play a team that does things differently, we have to adjust.”

After trailing by as many as 30 points in the third quarter, the Knicks (23-26) eventually closed the final margin to 14 because of their second unit – led by Obi Toppin (18 points, plus-20), Immanuel Quickley (12 points, plus-16) and Quentin Grimes (six points, plus-18).

During the ESPN broadcast, Van Gundy charged that the Knicks – who are a half-game behind Washington for the No. 10 play-in position in the East ahead of another daunting road game Friday in Milwaukee – “just need major changes.” He added that the starting unit doesn’t “bring it on a nightly basis” and the second unit is more “enjoyable” to watch.

“I just don’t know how they continue on like this,” Van Gundy said. “That’s the definition of insanity, seeing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

Thibodeau was an assistant on Van Gundy’s coaching staffs with the Knicks and the Rockets, and they remain close friends. Asked after Wednesday’s game if he’s considering making significant changes to his starting unit or rotation, however, Thibodeau replied, “We’ll see. The thing is it’s not just the starters. The bench did some good things. But we need everyone to play well.”

Thibodeau benched Walker for nine games earlier this season before COVID-19 and injury issues forced the four-time All-Star’s return to the rotation on Dec. 18. Walker averaged 19 points over the next six games – including a 44-point performance against Washington and a triple-double on Christmas against Atlanta – before re-injuring his left knee and missing nine additional games.

Kemba Walker on the court with the Knicks
Kemba Walker on the court with the Knicks
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Since netting 19 points in his second return to the lineup, Walker has totaled just 20 points and three assists over his past three appearances. With Derrick Rose still sidelined following ankle surgery, Alec Burks – who mostly started during Walker’s absences – has scored just three points on 1-for-12 shooting over the past two losses.

Randle’s regression from last year’s second-team All-NBA breakout also continues; he’s shooting 37.4 percent from the field and 23.3 percent from three-point range over his past 14 games. For the season, his shooting rates aren’t much better at 41.2 and 30.7 percent, respectively. The latter figure is down from a career-best 41.1 percent from long distance one year ago.

Fournier’s shooting also has been inconsistent throughout his first year in New York, although a hot streak earlier this month has upped his 3-point percentage to .389.

Tom Thibodeau argues with a call
Tom Thibodeau argues with a call
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“You can’t control what the other team is going to do. If they’re going to switch, they’re going to switch. You can’t force them not to. That’s impossible,” Fournier said. “So try to use it to your advantage.

“We have to adapt. That’s the main thing. Because we have the weapons, let’s be honest. We have guys who can score. It shouldn’t be a problem for us to score.”

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