There are similarities between this year’s Knicks and the version two years ago.
Both teams entered the season with low expectations and were resilient during difficult stretches early in the year.
They each proved their detractors wrong and enjoyed surprisingly strong regular seasons.
There are differences, too.
“I think we’re a better team,” Julius Randle said. “More talented team.”
The 2020-21 team finished the COVID-shortened season in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with a 41-31 record and a .569 winning percentage.
This current group is winning at a .591 clip through 66 games with a 39-27 mark.
A fourth-place finish is realistic as the Knicks entered Monday one game behind the Cavaliers with 16 games left.
The two rosters are very different.
This one is younger with what feels like a much higher upside.
For instance, Jalen Brunson is the point guard, giving the current version a major edge at the all-and-important position.
Elfrid Payton started for the team two years ago, although Derrick Rose played major minutes off the bench at point guard.
RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley are better players than they were two years ago, and Mitchell Robinson is healthy.
The rim-protecting 7-footer broke his foot and only appeared in 31 games that season.
These Knicks are fifth in offensive rating and seventh in NET rating (points outscoring the opposition by per 100 possessions).
The edition two years ago was 22nd and ninth, respectively. It was fourth in defensive rating, giving it an edge over the present-day Knicks, who are ranked 14th.
The big question is one that won’t be answered for a while: Can these Knicks fare better in the playoffs than their predecessors, who lost in five games to the Hawks in the first round?
“We’ll see. I can’t really speak on that yet,” Randle said. “We’re not in the playoffs yet, so I don’t want to speak on that. But I definitely think it’s a team that every day we’re taking the necessary steps and getting better for sure.”
Randle was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week after leading the Knicks to four wins and averaging 29.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists.
Robinson played a career-high 44 minutes in Sunday’s double-overtime win over the Celtics.
He was terrific in the 10 minutes of overtime, notching four rebounds and playing quality defense.
He defended Al Horford’s potential game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer of the second overtime well, at least partly impacting the shot that came up short.
“He has great value to obviously the whole organization but particularly [to] his teammates, his coaches, because he does a lot of the dirty work that you need to win,” coach Tom Thibodeau said.
The Knicks are 27-17 when Robinson plays and 12-10 without him.