By Isa Khalid
New York City, New York
One of the best stories in the NBA this season has been the incredible play of the New York Knicks, a franchise that has not made the playoffs since 2013. This notorious organization has become a laughing stock throughout the league, going through six different coaches during seven seasons and failing to land any big name free agents, including losing free agent stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to its neighbor, the Brooklyn Nets. However, with a few small trades and the right leader at the helm, all of those disappointing seasons seem to be a thing of the past, as the Knicks finished with a 41-31 record and a homecourt playoff series. While we have all heard about first year All-Star Julius Randle’s stellar play, new coach Tom Thibodeau’s strong case for Coach of the Year and former number two overall pick RJ Barrett’s impressive sophomore year, we hardly hear about one of the most important and valuable players to this New York Knicks basketball club: Derrick Rose.
When the Knicks acquired Rose on February 7, they held a 11-14 record and were sitting at seventh place in the Eastern Conference Standings. Knick fans were slightly hesitant about the D Rose trade, worried that he might steal minutes from their exciting young rookie guard Immanuel Quickly. At the time of the trade, Rose was averaging a respectable 14.2 points per game to go along with 4.2 assists per game. This trade was seemingly insignificant; the Knicks were a middle of the pack team with small but possible playoff hopes, and Rose is a savvy veteran who was playing solid basketball for a team that is essentially in rebuild mode. There was confusion as to why Rose wanted to be traded to a team that many thought was not a contender. Questions arose about how impactful 32-year-old Rose could be to this young, inexperienced team. These doubts and questions were quickly answered by Rose and the Knicks. Reunited with the coach from his 2011 MVP season, Rose came off the bench and helped the Knicks win seven of their next first ten games, improving to an 18-17 record on the year. During these games, Rose averaged 12.5 points per game along with 4.9 assists per game, while playing about 24 minutes per game and, most importantly, being leaned on for scoring outbursts and poised play in key situations down the stretch. However, this momentum came to an abrupt stop when Rose was declared ‘out’ by the NBA due to Health and Safety Protocols. Rose had come down with COVID-19, sidelining him for ten games in March. Throughout these ten games, the Knicks had a decent 5-5 record, maintaining their status as a mid-level team but with not many high hopes to make a run in the playoffs.
Just as great players do, Rose did not miss a beat when he was reinserted into the Knicks lineup on March 27 after recovering and being cleared by the NBA from the Health and Safety Protocols list. When Rose returned, history repeated itself with Rose’s first ten games as a Knick; in his first 19 games back, the Knicks earned a 14-5 record, including a ten-game win streak during that span that allowed them to finish with sole possession of the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference heading into the playoffs. Overall, the Knicks have a 24-11 record in games that Rose plays in, with an increase in 8.9 Points Scored Per 100 Possessions and a decrease in 11.2 Points Allowed Per 100 Possessions when Rose is on the floor. In an eight game stretch towards the end of the season, Rose averaged 19.5 points per game and 4.8 assists per game while shooting a stunning 59% from the floor and an incredible 50% from beyond the arc. In total games without Rose, the Knicks have a subpar record at 17-20. Simply put, the Knicks are a significantly better basketball team when Rose is on the court. While other 6th man of the year candidates like Jordan Clarkson, Joe Ingles, Jalen Brunson, Montrezz Harrell and Shake Milton all present strong cases for this award, none of these candidates has directly impacted winning nearly as much as Rose has; all of those other candidates play for much deeper teams who have multiple stars on their roster––teams that, unlike New York, would likely remain competitive even with the removal of their respective 6th man candidates. As a young team desperate for a playoff appearance, Rose has been everything the Knicks needed; a smart, humble veteran who is able and willing to help mentor younger guards like Immanual Quickley and Elfrid Payton, while also coming off of the bench and consistently providing coach Thibideau and the Knicks with timely scoring and savvy defense whenever his number is called. Rose’s 24-11 record speaks for itself and should solidify the 32-year-old veteran’s case for the 2021 6th Man of The Year Award.