By John Schmeelk
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The New York Knicks have a million problems.
Whether it’s ownership, coaching, effort, defense, rebounding or shooting, the team has to improve across the board to start winning games. But they’re trying to solve all their problems at once by shuffling lineups and rotations.
The fact remains is that nobody knows if this group of players — with this coach — can ever become a good defensive team. They were bad last year and are worse this season. The Knicks have no rim protector with Tyson Chandler out, and Mike Woodson’s switching pick-and-roll strategy is simply unworkable.
What we do know is that the Knicks can score. Last year the team won 54 games because their offense (third-best in the NBA) lifted up a porous defense. I think fans would be thrilled to see that team show up in 2013-14. There’s no reason Andrea Bargnani should keep them from doing that again. His offense has been excellent. Before the Knicks try to improve their ‘D’ from last year, they should work on recapturing the offense that made them special.
In Woodson’s defense, it isn’t as easy as copying last year’s formula. There are a number of reasons. Chandler, the Knicks’ best roll man and finisher at the basket, is out. Bargnani, Kenyon Martin and Amar’e Stoudemire should be able to replace him on pick and rolls. Raymond Felton is hurt also and has not played up to his normal level. Despite his great performance against Houston, Carmelo Anthony hasn’t shot well. Neither has J.R. Smith.
One has to believe these guys will play to their career averages eventually. If they don’t, the team has no chance, so there’s no point worrying about it.
There’s also this: the coach hasn’t put them in a position to succeed.
The first thing Woodson needs to do is stop shuffling his lineups. Moving guys in and out of the rotation won’t help anyone, and will destroy any type of rhythm the Knicks might find on offense. Based on last season, the Knicks should know that the starting combination of Felton (once he’s back), Pablo Prigioni, Iman Shumpert, Kenyon Martin and Anthony works. Nothing against Bargnani, who has played well. It’s not opinion. It’s a fact. That was the Knicks’ eighth-most-used five-man lineup last year and they finished with an offensive rating of 122.5 and a nearly plus-17 net rating. Why not go back to it considering the team’s current problems?
Offense was the Knicks’ identity last year, even if Woodson refuses to admit it. I’m not sure if he’s delusional, but he actually said in a presser Tuesday that defense is the where the team needs to find its identity to start winning. The Knicks’ defense is only slightly worse this year (two more points allowed per 100 possessions), but their offense has fallen off a cliff completely (a difference of nine points per 100 possessions) in 2014.
Woodson hasn’t been helped by the terrible shooting of some of his best players, but he hasn’t done much to correct it either. Ball movement has come to a grinding halt, and open three-point shots have been few and far between. The team isn’t getting to the free throw line either. The Knicks can’t win that way. No NBA team can.
Throw in his downright incompetent defensive strategy and Woodson is quickly coaching himself out of a job. His players are even openly yelling at one another on the floor.
In all seriousness, is Woodson coaching one facet of the game well right now? I don’t see it.
The Knicks looks like a team that won 30 games last year and has five new players in their rotation, not a club coming off 54 wins with only one new major piece in Bargnani. It also looks like New York didn’t have a preseason or training camp. What the hell were they doing during the month of October? Did they practice offense or defense at all? Have they ever played together before?
The game plan is just as bad as the execution. The team looks lost. That’s on the coach.
The Knicks were supposed to build on their success last season. Instead they’ve completely moved away from what got them to the Atlantic Division title. They took all the wrong lessons from that playoff ouster to the Indiana Pacers.
The way they’re playing now, the Knicks are going to lose by 30 to the Pacers. The team will get booed off the floor and “Fire Woodson” chants will rain from high above Madison Square Garden.
James Dolan will be there to witness it first-hand. It’ll be ugly. Change is coming. A move is on the horizon.
Odds are, Woodson is going to find himself on the wrong side of it.
And right now that would be completely understandable.
You can follow John on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything on the Knicks, Giants and New York sports.
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