By John Schmeelk
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Nope, that’s not a typo. The Knicks are winning with defense. Mike D’Antoni’s Knicks are winning with defense. It’s the first time that could be said of any Knicks team since Jeff Van Gundy was the coach more than ten years ago. Don’t believe me? Just look at the numbers.
The Knicks have won their last two games y scoring 91 and 85 points, something that would have been impossible in recent years. Charlotte shot just 41.5% from the field and the Knicks followed up with an even better performance against the Sixers, holding them to 39.5%. The number against Philadelphia is doubly impressive since they are third best in the entire league, shooting nearly 48%. Granted, they were on third game of the dreaded back to back to back, but so far this season NBA teams have won far more than they have lost in those situations.
The additions of Tyson Chandler and Iman Shumpert have been difference makers. Chandler is constantly in the right place in help situations, and he plays the pick and roll perfectly. Shumpert has the most active hands on the entire team, and he keeps his man in front of him. Landry Fields has been good on his rotations and in help situations. Josh Harrellson has proven himself a smart defender. Carmelo Anthony has done a good job guarding his man and hasn’t been a liability off the ball. Everyone seems to be buying in and understands the importance of defense.
Except for Amar’e Stoudemire. He continues to be a mess on defense in every sense of the word. A 40 pound overweight Boris Diaw abused him for two straight games with jumpers and drives. He is slow on his rotations and is often found simply spectating as his man hits wide open mid-range jump shots. Worst of all, his pick and roll defense is lazy and uninspired, often forcing switches that create mismatches all over the floor. The most frustrating part of it is that he has the athletic ability to defense. Especially since he is being used less on offense, he should have the energy to be a better defensive player.
Credit must also be given to Mike Woodson, who has installed some defensive principles that have really made a difference. The one part of his philosophy I don’t like is the constant switching on screens. If the matchup is right, a switch is fine. But too often I’m watching Josh Harrellson or Tyson Chandler trying to stay with a team’s opposing point guard after a switch on a high pick and roll. Both the guard and the big man need to be less lazy, and get back to the original men. It appears that this is how they are being coached. Undisciplined switches like that can be deadly at the end of games and against the more athletic backcourt men in the league.
Give some credit to Mike D’Antoni too. If fans want to kill him for a lack of defense it is only fair to give him credit when it improves, even with Mike Woodson being labeled the team’s “defense coordinator”. He is still the head man and deserves praise.
Unfortunately, the improvements on defense have coincided with a complete disintegration on the offensive side of the ball. Mike D’Antoni is going to have to fix that. I’ll take a look at that in a post tomorrow. The good news is that the Knicks are showing they can win in a number of different ways, something they haven’t been able to before. Tyson Chandler has made a difference, and one that will be even more important in the postseason. For years, Knicks fans have decried the team’s lack of defense. Well, it’s starting to change and there’s no reason to think it isn’t going to continue to improve.
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