By John Schmeelk
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For a few days after the Carmelo Anthony trade, the running joke for some Knicks fans was to say things like, “Boy that Chauncey Billups trade is really working out.” Well, now it’s not. Let’s call it like it is: Chauncey Billups is killing the Knicks.
After the trade first happened, Billups played well and the Knicks went 2-2, including a good win against the Heat. Then Billups got hurt and missed six games. In those games the Knicks went 4-2 including quality wins at home against the Hornets, at the Hawks, and at the Memphis Grizzlies. The Knicks offense flowed in those games and Carmelo and Amar’e Stoudemire played fairly well together. Since Billups came back, the Knicks are 1-6.
Billups presence also seems to have a negative effect on Carmelo. With Billups out, Anthony shot 49% and averaged 24 points and five assists a game. In this system with Stoudemire those are ideal numbers for Anthony. In the 11 games with Billups in the lineup, Anthony still averaged 24 points a game but he only shot 42% and averaged two and a half assists.
This is somewhat counter-intuitive since Anthony should be more comfortable with Billups. It’s possible that with Billups on the floor, however, Anthony is more apt to revert to his methods from Denver (iso, hold, shoot) since they are so familiar with each other. In fact, it’s possible that Billups feeds into Anthony’s bad habits since that’s what he knows. He was used to getting it to Carmelo in isolation situations and getting out of the way, so that’s what he does since now he is not yet comfortable running Mike D’Antoni’s system. Both players managed to avoid that last night, but it hasn’t been the case in the other games.
I’m not saying that Billups is a lost cause. Despite two awful threes in the 4th quarter (Billups seems to like taking “hero” shots to live up to his “Mr. Big Shot” moniker), he did a much better job of keeping the game at a good pace. The offense was crisper and everyone was making quicker decisions, hence Anthony’s 9 assists. It has to come from the point guard and the rest of the team will follow suit. Billups can’t over-dribble. He has the tendency to hold it after a high screen and roll, rather than moving the ball, taking a shot, or driving. It becomes especially apparent in the 4th quarter when opposing defenses turn it up, and Billups falls into bad habits. The ball has to move fast all the time. Otherwise, the offense will stagnate.
This can all improve. Billups is certainly capable of doing all these things. He’s smart enough to do make the adjustment and can physically make all the plays. Maybe the thigh is still bothering him. It should just take some more time, but for now his play is really hurting the Knicks. It has to get better if the Knicks want to be a true threat in the playoffs. Remember, it has only been 11 games with Billups in the lineup. He has 11 more to figure out how to make D’Antoni’s system work.
– Improvement by Billups won’t solve all the Knicks issues. They still defend poorly, and that still comes down to the two stars taking responsibility on that side of the floor. Stoudemire and Anthony both take far too many possessions off defensively. They need to buy into what D’Antoni is selling, and then and only then will the rest of the roster follow suit. If they don’t, D’Antoni will have to start calling them out either in team meetings, or if that doesn’t work, the media. All the Knicks need to do is to limit opponents to 100-102 points a game. That’s above the league average. It’s more than possible.
– The reason the Knicks lost to Orlando last night can be summed up very simply: Dwight Howard. He simply took the game over in the 4th quarter, and the Knicks had no answer with their lack of size. Defensively, no one can guard him one on one. The fact the Knicks have to play Jared Jeffries or Ronny Turiaf really hurts them on offense too. Howard or whoever is guarding those guys can cheat off them to help on Stoudemire or Anthony. It exposes the Knicks Achilles heel, lack of competent size. This won’t get fixed until the offseason. It makes the Knicks best lineup Stoudemire, Anthony, Fields, Billups (assuming he improves), and either Douglas or Shawne Williams.
– Carmelo played one of his best games as a Knick against Orlando. When the Magic sent extra help he constantly found the open man for an easy shot, often times layups. He also made his moves quickly, and made good decisions with the ball. If Carmelo plays like that every game, he will become a true superstar, winner, and good teammate.
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