Mike Smalls wrote this piece. As the biggest Knicks fan I know, I felt he could best describe the pain and suffering one experiences by being a New York basketball fan. Be on the lookout for more posts coming this week. -Coh
Sometimes it’s not always a quick fix. It’s not always as simple as cutting out carbs after dinner. Sometimes you’re presented with such a disaster that one just hasn’t the slightest clue where to begin. I now present you with the New York Knicks. In a season in which expectations were as high as the city’s skyline, things have progressively gone anywhere but up. The team certainly has accumulated more criticism than wins, but I guess that’s what happens when a preseason “title contender” rolls out a 18-24 record with just 24 games to play. The biggest issue isn’t even their record though, because getting into the NBA playoffs is like throwing a rock into an ocean. The issue at hand is that there is just no simple solution. It seems like after every game, every dribble, someone new gets the blame and needs to be on their way out. It’s Mike D’Antoni. Carmelo’s selfish. The d-league point guard making the minimum is killing us. Amare doesn’t defend (just for the record, when did he ever?) Let’s just stop pointing fingers and just face the facts. Right now, the Knicks are not a good basketball team. Don’t get me wrong, the team (I use that 4 letter word very loosely) is very talented, but right now they just cannot put it together. Perhaps a lockout shortened season wasn’t the best time to mix and match talent and potential and hope chemistry appears over time, but this is the NBA. Players need to be able to adjust. And let’s just stop the comparison’s to last years Miami Heat team. Yes, the Knicks are also a collection of players just thrown together and are looking for that click thatMiamiseemingly has found. ButNew Yorkhas no LeBron James. Dwyane Wade isn’t suiting up at the Garden. Heck, they don’t even have a Chris Bosh. So what do the Knicks have? Issues. Problems. Differences. Let’s take a look at what’s gone wrong.
WHAT’S WRONG: DEFENSE
It probably seems cliché by now but guess what, the Knicks don’t defend. Wait!? A team coached by Mikey D and a lineup with Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire doesn’t defend!? Preposterous! Oh.. wait.. that’s exactly what we expected. How can you give up 96.5 PPG over the season, and a nauseating 109.5 PPG during the current 6-game skid, and expect to win basketball games? Granted the competition has been stiffer since the all-star break as Knicks opponents have had a combined 166-125 record (a win percentage of .570). But that can’t be an excuse. There’s no rotation on defense, there’s no help in the paint, and there’s just no team defense. Guys aren’t getting back in transition, and to me that’s a major indicator of a defeated team. In the half court, you see way too many perimeter players penetrating undeterred, and either getting to the line or throwing down a highlight dunk with no Knicks in sight (see: Derrick Rose). Speaking of last night, the Bulls grabbed over 20 offensive rebounds including 3 by Taj Gibson in the span of 2 possessions. The team also is giving up far too many open looks from beyond the arc. I feel like every night I’m watching and saying to myself, “Man, they’re on fire tonight. Hope they cool down.” Then it dawned on me, it’s the NBA, and they’re wide open. It’s not even daily scapegoat Mike D’Antoni’s system anymore, it’s the effort.
Like I said before, there really is no simple solutions. But for me, it’s effort. It’s about attitude, it’s about hustle, and it’s about heart. The brightest spot we’ve seen on the defensive side of the ball is rookie Iman Shumpert. There needs to be more minutes for this young guy because whether it’s on the ball defense, or cutting off passing lanes, he does it all. He’s always hustling and always working. The much maligned gunner J.R. Smith even gives that energy on defense that is needed to win. There’s a handful of players giving 100% on defense and committing to making stops, but collectively that effort is just missing. And ifNew Yorkwants to make a real run, they had better start playing some defense and having some pride.
WHAT’S WRONG: CHEMISTRY
Part of this lies heavily on the coach, but I will cut these guys some slack and credit a good amount to time. The coach has to be held somewhat responsible for this because in order to have chemistry you need the right collection of guys on the floor and the right rotation going forward. There are a lot of guys looking for minutes and there is always a lot of guys that require the ball in the hands to be effective. But far too often a guy or combination is being effective, and then that scenario inexplicably disappears. Last week against the Dallas Mavericks the Knicks went on a 15-0 4th quarter run to take a 1 point lead with just 4 minutes to play. Then D’Antoni throws Melo and Lin into the game cold turkey. They proceed to give up a 14-0 run and subsequently lose the game. Sometimes you have to ride the second unit, sometimes you need your superstars. As a coach it’s your responsibility to have the right guys in the right situation. Then there is the time factor. The major difficulty for New York right now is actually depth, and the fact that these guys have never played together. J.R. Smith debuted right off the plane, with not one practice under his belt last month. Baron Davis never had a training camp due to back issues and Jeremy Lin wasn’t even considered an option until about 20 games into the season. Both Amare and Melo have missed time due to personal tragedy and nagging injuries respectively. And now the defensive centerpiece, Mr. Chandler, has caught the injury bug. In a season when practice time is at a premium, the Knicks have struggled to really click as a team and really learn to play with and off of one another. Also, with the lack of familiarity with one another, no one seems to know their role. Jeremy Lin is coming down the floor to take hero shots in crunch time while Carmelo Anthony musters 2 4th quarter FG attempts. Amare Stoudemire developed allergies with the painted area, and J.R. Smith just forces poor shots. Each player on this team needs to “know your role, and shut your mouth” (Thanks Rock). And that starts with you, Coach.
As troublesome as a lack of chemistry is, I really feel like this shouldn’t be over-scrutinized. Time will tell whether this team can learn to play together, and the more they do, the better they’ll get. Once a legitimate rotation can be established and players can really get comfortable in their new roles, I think this team can finally live up to all the hype. Whether that happens in the next 24 games is yet to be seen, but fortunately for the Garden faithful, they have the pieces in place. It’s a matter of doing your job and trusting each other to do theirs, and doing that cohesively as a unit.
WHAT’S WRONG: TURNOVERS
If you were going to lay on the table the one thing that is truly killing this team, it has to be the turnovers. It’s easy to go ahead and blame Jeremy Lin for the turnovers. I mean the kid just puts his head down and drives and when he gets trapped, either throws up a prayer or chucks the ball out to the perimeter. But as a team, it is abysmal. It’s all of them. I’d go ahead and chalk a lot of it up to the lack of chemistry, but this is costing them game after game. Teams likeMiami,Philadelphia, etc. will run them into the dirt with transition bucket after bucket. We knew the Knicks wouldn’t be locking teams up to 80 PPG, and we knew there would be an adjusting period for gelling together, but the turnover margin is astounding and embarrassing.
While he’s certainly not the B-Diddy we saw knock out the #1 seeded Mavericks in ’07, I think this guy could really help. Look, I love Jeremy Lin. I love his energy and his game just as much as who he is off the court. But it’s time for the Linsanity to end. The kid is just too reckless with the basketball when he drives and since the all-star break he’s had some sort of epiphany telling him he’s a jump-shooter. Well, he’s not. He’s also not a starter. I’d love to see him give 15-20 good minutes off the bench, but I think inserting Baron Davis into the starting slot would give the Knicks much more stability at the point. As for the rest of them, I think time and chemistry will be the key.
As dim as the light looming at Madison Square Garden has become, there’s hope. With all the problems, there are some diamonds in the rough. As tough as some stretches have been for Jeremy Lin, he’s been brilliant at times and can only get better. He’s a young guy with barely half of a season under his belt, so right now you have to be patient. Landry Fields for one knows his job and does it well. He may be the best passer on the team and really seems to get ball movement going. Iman Shumpert and Steve Novak have been Godsend’s off the pine and give great minutes when called on. Tyson Chandler has done a great job defensively and has given much more scoring than expected. And despite their performance, Amare and Carmelo are willing to sacrifice and to make this thing work.New York, you have the stars, you have the role players. And thanks to the Eastern Conference futility, you’ll probably have the post season chance. Now is the time to make it happen. And just for history’s sake I’ll leave you with this: the last NBA lockout gave us a shortened season in 1999. In that year, the New York Knicks snuck into the playoffs as an 8 seed and went up against the rivaled 1 seed, the Miami Heat. The Knicks subsequently knocked outMiamion an Allan Houston runner and rode that momentum to the NBA Finals. With that first round matchup on the horizon, if you can’t stomach the play on the court, maybe just hang on to that glimmer of hope. With 24 games to play, the Knicks had better make this thing work or this offseason is going to be a circus. And we can count one thing being passed around, and that’s blame. Because it certainly hasn’t been the basketball.