New York Knicks

The Knicks are ... good again? The keys to New York's strong start to the 2020-21 NBA season

For the first time since the 2012-13 season, the New York Knicks have a winning record after eight games.

A 112-110 home win over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday has the Knicks at 5-3, having won five of their last six after starting 0-2.

Have the Knicks caught lightning in a bottle with their early start or is the new "winning attitude" and culture established by recently appointed head coach Tom Thibodeau here to stay?

Only time will tell, but until then, here's a look at what's working so far for New York.

The new Julius Randle

It's clear the Knicks are playing through the 6-foot-8 forward from Kentucky. Here's a look at Randle's stat lines through the first eight games:

He is averaging career-highs across the board with 23.1 points, 12.0 rebounds and 7.4 assists in 38.6 minutes per game. Through eight games, he's recorded 35 points, 15 rebounds and five assists twice, the most by any Knicks player since 1995.

To put into perspective how good Randle has been, he's currently averaging more points than Devin Booker, more rebounds than Anthony Davis and more assists than Luka Doncic.

"He's our engine," Thibodeau talked about Randle after he put up 30 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists against the Jazz.

"He plays with a lot of toughness, and there's a lot of multiple-effort plays that he's making, but he's also playing very unselfishly. If you cut and you're open, he's going to hit you. He can handle the ball, he's got very good skills with the ball. I think those guys are very hard to guard, and his shooting has improved.

"When you look at most players in this league, there's a progression to becoming that type of player," Thibodeau continued. "They don't just get there overnight, there are steps that they have to take along the way, and I think he's done that ... I think you learn through listening, and trial and error is a big part of learning."

If Randle can keep this going, especially with the team winning, a first career All-Star selection could be on the cards.

Defence, defence, defence!

Given his reputation as a defensive genius, it should come as no surprise that the biggest impact Thibodeau has made on the Knicks comes on the defensive end.

Through eight games, the Knicks have the seventh-best defensive rating in the league (105.7), a tremendous leap from their 23rd ranked defence last season. It's early, but they're on pace to have a top-10 defensive rating for only the third time this century.

It's not just the numbers. The team's wrapped up a few games with their work on that end of the floor. Most convincingly in Indiana, where consecutive clutch defensive plays were what set up the win.

Bench sparks

The Knicks have had someone come off the bench and provide a spark with double-digit scoring in all but one game this season.

In the first three games, it was Alec Burks, as he averaged 20.7 points in 27.6 minutes per game on shooting splits of .531/.667/.900. Once he was injured, Austin Rivers, who missed the first four games, stepped up.

In these last four games, Rivers has averaged 13.3 points in 26.1 minutes, including stellar clutch performances. Most recently, he scored 14 straight in the fourth against the Jazz to propel them to victory.

It's just two games but rookie Immanuel Quickley, the 25th pick of the 2020 NBA Draft, has shown promising signs in the road wins in Indiana and Atlanta, impressing his head coach.

Against the Pacers, Quickley scored nine points and dished out two assists in 14 minutes. Against the Hawks, he scored 16 in 19 minutes on 4-of-7 shooting from the field.

Winning attitude

The Knicks have come out on top in the three games that have gone down to the wire. They've either had a veteran like Rivers come up big or have got it done with their work on defence.

And Randle, the team's best performer by far, credits that to Thibodeau for setting up a "winning attitude" and culture.

"I've been on bad teams before, this isn't one," Rivers said after the Jazz win.

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