By John Schmeelk
» More Columns
The Knicks’ mini All-Star break couldn’t have come at a better time.
Despite their win on Sunday, the Knicks are reeling and playing their worst basketball of the season. Dating back to December 17 they are 6-8, including losing three of their last four. If I went in-depth on all of their problems you’d be looking at a 10-page dissertation.
The list is that long.
But the Knicks have only one game in seven days, and this is valuable time that should be used to get things right.
1. The Knicks are now officially a bad defensive team. There are no more excuses about sample sizes or anything else. The Knicks are bad defensively. Removing only the first nine games of the season, the Knicks are the eighth-worst defensive team in basketball, according to points allowed per possession. People in the league often say it’s easy for a team to play defense right out of the gate after a training camp filled with emphasis on that end of the floor. It gets a lot harder in this area of the schedule, and the Knicks have backslid considerably. We’ve detailed the reasons, whether it is excess switching or simply a lack of effort.
The team has shown flashes of great defense in big games and in fourth quarters, but it has been inconsistent at best. If the defense remains this poor, the Knicks will not be the No. 2 seed, nor will they get out of the second round of the playoffs. Mike Woodson needs to take this break and reintroduce the Knicks to the importance of defense, and begin to hold those accountable that don’t commit on that end of the floor. The return of Iman Shumpert should help things as well, since the Knicks have had so many problems guarding quicker guards. Others point to Rasheed Wallace’s return, but someone averaging 15 minutes per game can’t have too large of an effect on overall defense. Fixing this comes down to effort, coaching and focus.
2. The past week the Knicks’ offense has been stagnant, with ball movement very limited. They’ve had to rely on isolation plays from the likes of J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony, and it has been ugly. Many people have linked these offensive problems to the lack of Raymond Felton, but the numbers aren’t that decisive. Since Felton has been out with his hand injury, the Knicks are still the eighth-best offensive team in the league based on points per possession. I do think, however, that his loss is felt against some of the best defensive teams in the league, who the Knicks happened to face last week. The Celtics, Bulls and Pacers are good defensively because they force teams into isolations, since their fundamental principles and discipline are so strong. If it were easy to get open looks after just a couple of screens and passes, they wouldn’t be great defensive teams. Felton is the Knicks’ best pick-and-roll player, however, and his return would help force offensive continuity against even the league’s best. A huge part of the Knicks’ offense is based around the pick-and-roll, and that has been missing. That being said, I still think the recent offensive woes have a lot more to do with playing top defensive teams than some other fatal flaw in the Knicks’ offensive machinery.
3. The fact that Jason Kidd appears to be wearing down has been a common refrain in the last couple weeks. Rather than fatigue, I believe his decreasing effectiveness has a lot more to do with the new role he has had to take on since Felton’s injury. Kidd is simply not a player who is good running the offense with the ball in his hands anymore. His diminished athleticism makes him a non-threat on the pick-and-roll, and he offers no dribble penetration. He was most effective as a spot up shooter and someone who would make the extra pass. As fellow Knicks blogger Jared Dubin (@jadubin5) pointed out yesterday, the Knicks have been a far better offensive team with two point guards on the floor. This would also take Kidd off of quicker point guards, improving the Knicks’ terrible perimeter defense. Seeing some Kidd- Pablo Prigioni backcourts might be a good thing going forward.
4. Anthony, and to a lesser extent, Smith, have not played well recently. Some people want to attribute Anthony’s issues to playing more traditional small forward, but neither the eye test nor the numbers indicate it is much more than him missing shots that he usually makes. His shot selection might have gotten a little worse too, but that’s probably because he feels more pressure to score due to the Knicks’ other injuries. Smith is a streaky shooter, and like Anthony has had to force some shots since the Knicks’ offense struggled so much against the top defensive teams. I don’t think there’s a long-term issue here, either. Their shooting should come back around.
5. Amar’e Stoudemire has not been good since his return. His offense has been slowly improving and his post game does look better than it has in the past, but he still looks sluggish laterally and his mid-range jumper still isn’t falling. His defense looks slightly improved but it is still bad by any standard. His rebounding is … not good. I’m being kind. Stoudemire needs to be given some more time, and Woodson needs to make sure when he is on the floor that he gets more touches in the post and gets to be the roll man in the pick-and=roll. If he isn’t featured offensively, he is truly useless out there. He really needs that mid-range jumper to start falling if he wants to become truly useful to the Knicks.
6. The Knicks have not started games well for the better part of the season, and it has everything to do with their starting lineups. Ronnie Brewer has been paired with either Kurt Thomas or Marcus Camby, and the Knicks simply have not been able to score. Smith has been good coming off the bench, but inserting Chris Copeland or even Steve Novak needs to be investigated. Once Shumpert is healthy enough, he can be considered for a starting spot as well.
7. The Knicks need to control their emotions better. We’ve seen Anthony lose his cool against Kevin Garnett, and the entire roster lose their cool against the Bulls and Grizzlies. Some teams play better when they are angry. The Knicks do not, and Woodson needs to figure out how to keep his team’s emotions under control. Woodson can throw his own name into that hat since he has gotten a couple of technical fouls this year as well.
The good news is that none of these are fatal flaws. All of them are correctable. The Knicks really don’t have a roster weakness that is impossible to overcome. Woodson has the tools in his belt that he needs to make a real championship run. He just has to use those tools correctly to guide this team where it needs to go. Perhaps a trip over the Atlantic is exactly what this group needs to take a long look at how they’ve played this year. They have a lot of time this week and they better use it wisely.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York sports.
Are you more concerned about the Knicks’ defensive woes or their recent offensive struggles? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…