Schmeelk: Mike D’Antoni Has 27 Games To Save His Job

By John Schmeelk
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Up until now, my defense of Mike D’Antoni was that he was constantly showing up to a gunfight with a water pistol. His first two years in New York saw the team constantly broken down, with scant playoff talent. Last season, he had the team playing good basketball until the Carmelo Anthony trade changed the entire roster. Once in the playoffs, injuries to Chauncey Billups and Amar’e Stoudemire made any chance of beating the Boston Celtics vanish into thin air. Early this season, the Knicks had the worst backcourt in the NBA. With Jeremy Lin, JR Smith, Baron Davis, Landry Fields and an improving Iman Shumpert that is no longer the case. The time for excuses is over. But success is going to take some time.

The Knicks have the talent on their roster to make a serious playoff run and their head coach has less than two months to get that talent to come together. As much as people want it to happen tomorrow, it’s rarely that easy. It took the Miami Heat a full 82-game regular season and full playoff run to the finals to figure out how to play the type of basketball they are playing now. Knicks fans have to be patient, and with 26 games left on the schedule and the team only a few games out of the sixth seed, they can afford to be.

But patience will end this season, and rightfully so if the team can’t put something together in the playoffs. If D’Antoni can get the Knicks out of the first round, I think he saves his job. But in order for that to happen the team needs to figure some things out, and it all starts with Anthony. Injuries plagued him early in the season, and I think that more than anything else is to blame for his horrid shooting numbers, but it hasn’t improved much in recent games. Lin’s presence is not to blame either.

The only way the Knicks go a long way this year is if Anthony is the team’s best player. It’s the reason they traded so many young assets for him last season. Stars still win in this league and Carmelo is the Knicks biggest weapon down the stretch of games. We’ve seen him score in this system last year with Billups and Stoudemire both playing with him, so it isn’t as though it can’t work. But D’Antoni has to make sure it does, and one thing he can do to help Carmelo’s shooting is get him the ball in the post more. He’s comfortable there and it might help him get his shooting numbers up. Less specifically, D’Antoni has to help him find a comfort level playing off the ball and within the system, while still getting the shots he needs for the team to be successful. That’s the real trick.

If the last two games are any indication, Stoudemire appears to be on his way back. Perhaps his weight loss has given him back some of the spring in his legs. Whatever the reason, the Knicks also need him to be the explosive player he was last season. His point totals will be down due to the team’s depth but he needs to be more efficient and get his shooting percentage up. The coach can help him by putting him in more high screen and rolls with Lin, which should get him some easier looks at the basket. But honestly, Stoudemire’s success is going to depend on Stoudemire more than the coach.

It’s also a matter of finding a balance between Lin playmaking with the ball and getting the stars their shots in places where they can be most successful. It looks as though Lin has lost a lot of his aggressiveness, and thus effectiveness, in an effort to get everyone involved and avoid turnovers. He needs to be attacking, and so does Anthony and Stoudemire. If teams collapse on one, they pass out to the open man. It’s simple “find the open man” offense that Mike D’Antoni preaches but the team has to accept. It’s the only way to get the most out of their best players at the same time. Neither can be thinking too much or hesitate.

Perhaps D’Antoni’s biggest challenge will be figuring out how to use the bench. The Knicks have 11 legitimate players that deserve to play, and the coach has to figure out how to use them best. If one night the second unit is lighting it up, it’s okay to stick with them for extended minutes. It’s a good luxury to have and it takes pressure off the starters from having to carry the team every night. If they get hot, players like Baron Davis, JR Smith and perhaps even Steve Novak or Iman Shumpert can carry the team on any given night. The Coach has to trust them and not feel too beholden to his starters.

The defense is much improved but I will nitpick on one thing. Switching can be effective with the right people guarding the screen and roll. It is not effective, however, when the switch puts a small player on Kevin Garnett, which in turn forces the Knicks to double team. More times than not that series of events turned into a wide open look for the Celtics last Sunday. The same thing happened when a big like Stoudemire winds up on team’s opposing point guard. Mike D’Antoni has to be far more selective in when he allows his players to switch on defense.

There’s also been a notable lack of intensity on the defensive end in the last week, culminating in the no-show performance against the Spurs on Thursday night. Even if Tyson Chandler and Jared Jeffries are out, the coach has to make sure the team understands the importance of defense. Their run during Linsanity had as much to do with the defense as it did Jeremy Lin.

None of these are easy. D’Antoni is in a tough spot. For the first time in his career with the Knicks, he has the horses, but he has less time than ever to make it work. His job is literally on the line and the clock is ticking, both on the Knicks season, and the coach’s tenure. His players need to help him, but D’Antoni needs to help himself as well. You know what they say: “Winning solves everything.” It better start soon.

You can follow me on twitter for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York Sports at:!/Schmeelk.

  • Ron

    I’m tired of this “give them some time” alibi for the Knicks. Certain facts have to be faced — to play in the NBA, you have to be an excellent shooter. Virtually every starting player, and most reserves, in the league are damn good shooters. Unfortunately, this is not true of the Knicks. They need people who can shoot the ball, period. All of this hooey about giving the chemistry time to gel is nonsense. Face an obvious fact — Carmelo Anthony is damaged goods. He’s never going to play on a superstar level again. Denver clearly knew this when they unloaded. Indeed, he is more a liability on the court than an asset now. He’s washed up, injured, finished. Equally obvious: Jeremy Lin is not a starting caliber player. You want to know why Golden State cut him? You’ve seen it night after night since the Miami game.

  • Brotherd

    One decision D’Antoni is going to have to make to keep is job is keeping Shumpert on the floor. His defense, handle, and finishing ability are a perfect fit for playing with Lin, who is sub-par in all of those areas. JR Smith would be important if the Knicks didn’t have Shumpert, but they do, so unfortunately JR needs to be the one who loses minutes. And by the way, where was Shumpert last night! On a night when they needed defense!

  • KD

    FP, the Knicks should have been talking playoffs this season WITHOUT Lin. They were picked to win over 40 games in a shortened season, WITHOUT Lin. I am tired of hearing excuses for this team. The coach needs to go, period. This team plays no consistent defense, their switching is an absolute horror show & the bench shows more life than the starters. It’s a disgrace watching this team continue to play with no desperation. Hire a coach who WILL emphasize DEFENSE. ‘Melo needs to be sent packing. The team is several games under .500 with both ‘Melo & Amare in the lineup. The two don’t mesh well. You can’t trade Stoudemire with his contract not being insured. First & foremost, get rid of Mike D’Antoni. All of the hard work done by Donnie Walsh has been flushed down the drain since they acquired ‘Melo. Get rid of him, he is a scorer & nothing else. The guy doesn’t make anyone else better, period. A superstar? No way.

  • Omar

    The Knicks won 7 in a row and 8 of 10 because of Lin. They needed him to be aggressive and score when all the stars were hurt. Now that Amare and Melo are back, he’s being too cautious in trying to get them the ball and that is taking away from his aggressiveness. That and Melo needs to stop jerking around and score when he gets the ball.

    Lin cannot and should not carry the Knicks for more than a handful of games a season. They have two legit stars in Melo and STAT who should be shouldering the load and a legit bench that can hold its own for extended minutes each night. D’Antoni better figure it out quick or he’s gonna be shown the door. Time for excuses is over.

  • Demetri

    This is like 1999 all over again the team struggled because of all the new players but once they had a chance to gel they thrived. My thing is that Melo and Amare need to be dedicated to playing defense. If they can then the Knicks have a chance to make a good run. If they do not then I have a feeling Phil Jackson will finally coach the Knicks in 2013.

  • FP

    Really Larry? Jeremy is a rookie with 16 full games under his belt and you are striking him off like some one time deal? The fact that the Knicks are talking playoffs this year is due to him. Give Jeremy a couple of years before you write him off. I am not sure what his ceiling will be as there are many PGs that are more physically talented than him but I never write off work ethics, perverseness and intelligence. These are the qualities you need come crunch time. I got a feeling that Lin will follow the trajectory of Nash. Nash ‘s first few years were unspectacular.

  • Larry

    LIke with Tim Tebow, its a one (won) and done deal with Lin. Really, everyone is catching up to Jeremy and this team will be sinking before 27 games are up. See you Mike, and watch the “trade Melo” chants begin. Who is the leader on this team? I would rather watch the second team hustle and scrap even in a loss.

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