Heading into their December 12 matchup against the Suns, the Knicks had won 9 of their last 12 games. They're 14-13 overall (9-4 at the Garden) and currently sit just one game out of the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
Unfortunately, following three straight losses, New York's primary vulnerabilities are beginning to rear their heads in big ways. Not many predicted the Knicks would hit their stride so quickly. This is just a taste. Much easier to foresee, however, were the problems that have led to the team's recent downfall.
Such potential issues were raised as early as training camp. Here's an update on what they were, and a look at whether or not the Knicks can overcome them moving forward...
The health of Joakim Noah
This season has been a disappointment for Noah. His points and minutes per game are hovering dangerously close to career-lows. His rebounding numbers are his worst since his sophomore season and his 31 percent free-throw shooting is especially discouraging.
In the four games he's missed, the Knicks have gone 4-0. Lingering hamstring and ankle issues have really limited his ability to make an impact at 100 percent.
What comes next? As Noah fades into the background, head coach Jeff Hornacek has done a tremendous job revitalizing Kyle O'Quinn, and Willy Hernangomez has been quite the revelation this season. Both players have answered the calls in place of Noah, in rather masterful ways. Can the duo continue to play at this level the rest of the season? That remains to be seen, but there's no doubt New York would prefer to get something more out of their big free agent acquisition.
They need Noah to serve as the defensive anchor, and he'll only be able to do that by being more aggressive and actually staying on the court. He's been an offensive liability and has struggled to hold his own underneath the basket when defending and fighting for boards.
Thoughts on this, Tommy?
The case to replace Noah with either Hernangomez or O'Quinn may not be as justified if you're not comfortable replacing Lee with Holiday. In fact, both drop Lee's field goal shooting percentage significantly. Of the 1.2 passes per game that Hernangomez throws to Lee, he's shooting just 25 percent and of the 2.2 passes per game from O'Quinn he's shooting just 33 percent.
Hornacek has a tough job in managing all the minutes and trying to find his best offensive combinations. Defensively, the Knicks have struggled as a team (26th overall), further evident by the loss in Denver. Despite being a team game, when you play for the Knicks, your team is bad defensively and you make a lot of money you're going to be public enemy number one.
Welcome to Joakim Noah's world.
The Knicks' lack of point guard depth
Acquiring Derrick Rose and Brandon Jennings in the offseason, the Knicks now boast as strong of an one-two punch as there is from the point guard position around the league. The way each one is able to penetrate and attack the basket perfectly fits the Knicks' style of play. It leads to more offensive opportunities -- not only for them, but for their teammates.
Rose and Jennings have been so effective, in fact, that Hornacek often prefers to play them together late in games. That, paired with the fact that the duo has a well-known history of injuries, leaves this team very thin at the position. With Rose sitting out as of late, that's boded especially true recently.
Jennings can't do it all. Having a third point guard is essential for any NBA team, let alone one with two injury-riddled players like the Knicks have. There was a lack of foresight in training camp.
Instead, the team has a plethora of young big men on guaranteed contracts. At a time like this, one has to go. The little-used Maurice Ndour is all about the energy, but his skills aren't polished enough to ensure he makes immediate and meaningful contributions. Should the Knicks sign a young floor general like Chasson Randle in Ndour's place, he'd be tasked with making an impact much quicker. New York needs that assurance.
Is Jeff Hornacek a good fit for this team?
Hornacek's hiring took many by surprise because he isn't a triangle offense disciple. Of course, that doesn't mean he can't coach. Hornacek found success in the past with the uptempo Phoenix Suns because his message resonated and he was able to get the most out of his team's young, underrated talent.
Much of the same can be said about his success with the Knicks. This team has made noise in a positive way. Hornacek has guided New York in the right direction, even amid Noah's ineffectiveness. Even the team chemistry continues to rise.
Hornacek's next challenge will be getting the Knicks to turn things around, regardless of how long Rose is out. So far, that seems like it could be more of an uphill battle.