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Schmeelk: Are The Post-D’Antoni Knicks A Mirage Or The Real Thing?

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Carmelo Anthony (left) is congratulated by Jeremy Lin. (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Carmelo Anthony (left) is congratulated by Jeremy Lin. (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

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By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks look like a new team. It should come as no surprise as teams often turn things on after a coaching change is made. When a coach leaves, especially the way Mike D’Antoni did, it puts pressure on the players to perform. With one coach out the door, they know the pressure and attention shifts to them. How long will this uptick in effort and intensity last? Can it be permanent?

Give Mike Woodson a lot of credit. Like I wrote last week, this group of players clearly needed more of a hands-on and authoritarian approach, and Woodson realized that early on. It was a great sign to see the Knicks’ new coach berate JR Smith after he picked up a technical foul for taunting after a dunk in garbage time against the Pacers. He had a similar exchange with Landry Fields after a turnover. He also seems to be holding players accountable on the defensive end of the floor, both in games and in practice. Improved defense has been the key to this Knicks’ turnaround.

As much as Linsanity propelled the Knicks to their prior winning streak, a strong commitment to consistent defense had just as much to do with it. Of course, the Knicks’ two defensively deficient stars were both absent for the majority of that stretch. When they returned, defense turned back into a major problem. So far Woodson has gotten Carmelo Anthony to play defense for four games. Amar’e Stoudemire looks like the same guy, but for whatever reason (is it effort or complete lack of defensive instinct?) he has never played any defense. It has been night and day for Anthony. It has nothing to do with strategy. It has everything to do with effort.

There has been a little less switching since the coaching change (though more again versus Toronto), but by and large the defensive strategy and talking points have remained the same. Offensively I haven’t seen many changes either. When he got the job, Woodson wisely played to his two stars, talking about how he was going to ride them, especially in crunch time. Yet, in the team’s first four games ball movement has reigned supreme and the shots have been evenly spread out. There are a couple new sets in the half-court, and a little more isolation, but not much. The team still runs. Jeremy Lin has the ball in his hands an awful lot. The players talk about the same things they did when D’Antoni was coach. They talk about ball movement, defensive intensity and playing together. Except now they are actually doing it.

Will the players, and specifically Carmelo Anthony, be fine with playing the same way they did under D’Antoni? Carmelo Anthony has only averaged thirteen shots and fifteen points a game since Mike Woodson took over. He’s only shooting 40% and still looks fairly uncomfortable on offense. He isn’t getting great looks at the basket. But he’s passing well, playing inspired defense and the team is winning. It’s enough for now but whether it stays that way when the team starts to lose some games will be interesting to see.

Perhaps Woodson’s personality and coaching style is enough to keep the star and team happy. Maybe his insistence on holding everyone accountable will keep the effort and intensity where it has been.  For that, we’ll have to wait and see. Give it two weeks and we’ll know if Woodson is a real answer. We’ll know if Anthony and the rest of the team have truly bought in. Or the team will start losing again, and the Knicks questions will become much harder to answer.

SCHMEELK’S SNIPPETS

-          Tonight’s game against Philadelphia could not be more important. The Knicks still desperately need to get to the sixth seed in the playoff picture, and the best way to do so is by passing Boston and Philadelphia to win the Atlantic Division. The clock is ticking, and the Knicks need to start making their move.

-          Stoudemire continues to look better finishing around the basket. He still isn’t as explosive as he was in his prime or even last season, but he isn’t getting his shot blocked anymore and is finishing shots after contact. His jump shot is still inconsistent but it looks like that weight loss has paid dividends.

-          Anthony not caring about shots is a good thing. That being said, when the Knicks start playing the better defensive teams, they are going to need him to score a lot more. He also has to do so more efficiently. His shooting percentages are at an all-time low, as is his scoring average. Perhaps those early season injuries are still bothering him, because he doesn’t look like the same guy.

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

What do you think? Will this new surge of intensity last? Let us know…

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