By Ryan Schneider
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It’s Carmelo Anthony, it’s Amar’e Stoudemire… it’s (cue Superman theme song) Toney Douglas? On a night when the Knicks rolled out their red carpet to a new marquee name, it was their point-guard understudy that stole the show. Douglas was nearly perfect from the field and hit one tough shot after another as he played arguably his best offensive game in a New York Knicks uniform.
Not only was he the most efficient offensive player on the floor tonight (hitting on 10-12 shots, 3-5 from distance, 23 points), but Douglas also came up with the biggest rebound of the game. Up 106-102 with 46 seconds left in regulation, Chauncey Billups launched a deep three (which like every shot of the night rocketed off the back rim) and Douglas, the smallest guy on the floor, leapt through the lane, secured the ball and gave the Knicks a fresh 24. ‘Melo subsequently knocked down a tough bucket in the lane over Andrew Bogut’s outstretched arms. It was his first clutch-hoop in a Knick uniform and 2 of 11 fourth quarter points, which helped seal his first Knick W.
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In the next couple of weeks there will be some growing pains. Despite the newly acquired talent an obvious adjustment period will be needed to learn the ebbs and flows of Mike D’Antoni’s offense. There was a noticeable increase in pace when Anthony and Billups were replaced by Knick regulars. At many points the first unit was flying by the seat of their pants, and justifiably so… half the team showed up 6 hours before game time.
Offensively the Knicks are going to pose a lot of problems…especially in the fourth quarter. ‘Melo can set up anywhere between the elbow, foul line extended, or the low block. At the 4:20 mark, Anthony was trying to establish position, with his back to the basket, a step outside the lane on the left side. His defender was three quarter top-side which drew help from Bogut on the bottom side…Bogut didn’t commit all the way, as Billups hadn’t yet thrown the pass, but, he was drawn far enough away from Stoudemire. STAT hovering around the charity stripe received a great pass from Billups, attacked the basket hard, and got fouled.
A similar situation was set-up on the next play. Carmelo this time was isolated foul line extended on the right wing, this time he had possession. He eyed up his defender, which once again was enough to draw the attention of Bogut. ‘Melo this time whipped the ball to Amare (same spot) who again attacked the cup and was sent to the line.
The first problem is that Carmelo is so good with his first step, that if a help-defender isn’t moving by the time he puts the ball on the floor, that help will be too late. The second part of the problem comes when 6’8” 230 is ready to dunk on you. What ‘Melo now needs to incorporate into his game, is the dump off to Amare who is roaring down the lane. It happened at least on one occasion yesterday. ‘Melo ripped-thru hard and attacked on a baseline dribble-drive, drew Bogut, and attempted a tough double-pump lay-up, while drifting sideways to the middle of the key. Amare was charging down the lane ready for a vicious throw-down.
This comes with time and chemistry. My good friend and long-time Knick fan Jon complained adamantly to me after the game about the stagnant state of the offense when ‘Melo had possession. I tend to agree…partially. Remember, ‘Melo has been accustomed to George Karl’s up-tempo style, however it is fundamentally different than D’Antoni’s system. Karl likes to get out and run, which by all means is considered an up-tempo style of play. However, D’Antoni’s half court system emphasizes the constant movement that was absent from Karl’s half court sets.
You see, Karl would allow for ‘Melo to consistently stall the offense because he would simply isolate Anthony on the wing and let him “operate.” The problem is everyone else stood and watched. With D’Antoni’s system he will initiate a post-up, send the weak-side guard on a back door, which in turn opens up the opposite wing for a wide-open three. It’s how Galo got so many open looks when Amare was posting. I also love the frequent run-by, hand-off that Landry Fields has become so successful at.
It’s hard to fault Karl for that style of play, because Carmelo is that good in a one-on-one situation…Once Anthony becomes acclimated to the constant movement in D’Antoni’s system he will become a more complete player. It’s why Stoudemire has had games with 8 or 9 assists. ‘Melo will then be able to see the next pass.
Billups, who was magnificent, will quickly become a fixture in this offense and a leader defensively. I find it hard to describe the worth of Billups because he does so many things that won’t show up in a box score. He is in the right spot on defense, automatically falls into a leadership role, and is a mastermind at getting to the free-throw line. Believe me, it was hard for me to see Raymond Felton in street clothes the other night in Denver…the man looked betrayed, and I can’t blame him. But Billups brings a certain essence to this team, a winner’s mentality, a clutch mentality, and a calming factor that I was drawn to immediately.
At the end of the day Donnie Walsh has made this team drastically better than before. However, there are still two glaring weaknesses, one is the lack of size. This team will not be able to compete for a championship until they plug in a 7-foot center. It goes to show how much of a difference Mozgov made. Essentially, the kid was a raw big-man who was learning about the intricacies of the NBA game, and he proved to be a big help. Imagine upgrading to a middle-rate big guy. Plug in an Okafor, Varejao and this team becomes that much tougher (I know they are financial improbabilities, it’s an example).
Secondly, the Knicks need to become much more consistent defensively. There were times tonight when I was impressed with the effort on the defensive side of the floor. At other times, I wondered how five guys could look so bad during pivotal possessions. Some of that is due to the lack of a true center, while during other possessions it is simple indifference. At times the guards were doing a magnificent job defending the perimeter, however when they broke down the rotations were pitiful. On key possessions down the stretch a baseline dribble drive was met with ten feet of open space. Most of this will be in the hands of D’Antoni. The Knicks need for him to put a heavy emphasis on the importance of getting stops.
At one point during last night’s broadcast Mike Breen had Earl “the Pearl” Monroe sitting to his left, and Clyde to his right. They spoke about evolving into a cohesive unit that involved sacrifice from both players. The decision to sacrifice individual numbers resulted in the hoisting of a championship banner at MSG. It transformed two great players, into lifelong Knick legends…one can only hope that thirty years from now Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire are honored in such a magnificent fashion.
The Atlanta Hawks dropped their first game of the second half last night to the Phoenix Suns…the loss moves the Knicks within four games of the fifth spot in the conference. The Hawks have gone through ruts this season, and if the Knicks can get this thing clicking, there may be just enough time to sneak up from behind.
Madison Square Garden sounded incredible last night. The beast continues to awaken after a dormant ten years. Think about it…the young stars in this league haven’t even seen/heard the real Garden. LeBron, Durant, even ‘Melo
and STAT, they haven’t been around for a good Knicks team…just wait until the playoffs.
I find myself shocked to be saying this, but I really liked James Dolan’s comments yesterday. Sure it wasn’t the smoothest delivery, but it certainly got the point across. He adamantly denied Thomas’ involvement in the trade negotiations, and addressed the short-term strategy in dealing with Donnie Walsh’s contract. Could it be that Dolan is thinking about rewarding Walsh with a multi-year extension? If he does, all will be right in the Knicks universe.
How about those Knicks? Are they headed to the playoffs? Let Schneider know in the comments below…