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Schmeelk: Chandler’s Return Doesn’t Solve Knicks’ Biggest Problem

And What Would That Be, You Ask? Answer: The BRUTAL Backcourt
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Knicks guard J.R. Smith (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Knicks guard J.R. Smith (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks would have lost Wednesday night without Tyson Chandler playing (a ridiculous amount of minutes) against the Milwaukee Bucks.

He did enough defensively and on the boards to allow the Knicks to beat one of the worst teams in the NBA in double overtime. New York will be better defensively with their anchor guarding the paint and will win more games.

Chandler won’t, however, fix an anemic Knicks offense that finds its troubles in the backcourt.

To say the Knicks’ guards have been bad this year would be an understatement. To call them the worst collection of guards in the NBA would be accurate. It’s been that horrid.

First, some basic numbers:

Raymond Felton: 32 minutes, 10.3 points, 2.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 2.0 turnovers, 1.1 FTA, 39% FGP, 28% 3PTP, -2.3 +/-

Iman Shumpert: 28 minutes,  6.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.1 turnovers, 1.2 FTA, 36% FGP, 32% 3PTP, -.4 +/-

J.R. Smith: 31 minutes, 11.0 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.6 turnovers, 1.6 FTA, 33% FGP, 33% 3PTP, -.9 +/-

Pablo Prigioni: 18.8 minutes, 3.9 points, , 1.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists, .8 turnovers, 44% FGP, 43% 3PTP, -.3 +/-

Tim Hardaway Jr.: 17.4 minutes, 8.1 points, 1.3 rebounds, 1.0 assist, .6 turnovers, 1 FTA, 47% FGP, 43% 3PTP, -1.6 +/-

Beno Udrih: 16.6 minutes, 5.8 points, 1.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.3 turnovers,  .7 FTA, 46% FGP, 52% 3PTP, -2.8 +/-

I don’t need to tell you how bad those numbers are.

Every single guard has a negative plus-minus. Of the three Knicks guards that combine for 90 minutes a game (Felton, Smith, Shumpert), none shoot better than 36 percent from the field or 33 percent from behind the arc. They combine for a measly four free-throw attempts per game.

Do you want to know why the Knicks can’t score points? Just look at those three guys.

Even worse, of the three, only Shumpert can be a positive on defense. Smith doesn’t hurt the team too much on defense, but Felton has been a disaster guarding quick point guards.

If coach Mike Woodson has an argument as to why he should keep his job, it’s those numbers right there. How can you win in the NBA in this day and age without good guard play? They don’t hit the open three when Carmelo Anthony actually moves the ball. They don’t get to the basket and draw fouls. Felton is the only one of the three that makes those around him better with his distribution off the pick-and-roll. Last year, the play of Felton and Smith was essential to the Knicks getting 54 wins. Both have played well below expectations. Felton has had to deal with injuries all season, while Smith is not back 100 percent from offseason knee surgery.

Shumpert, meanwhile, was expected to take a leap this season. If anything he has regressed. His three-point shooting has gotten worse, and he hasn’t gotten any better at using his athleticism to get to the basket and finish. He still doesn’t distribute well and on defense is still often making mistakes that hang teammates out to dry. At this point it’s no longer a question of whether Shumpert can become an All-Star, but rather if he can even be a 30-minute-per-game roleplayer. His confidence has been shattered and the head coach has not been able to get him out of his funk. Woodson has likely had the opposite effect on the young player.

Shumpert at the very least has a positive net rating this year, and the team is much better with him on the court (1.0), than off (-9.4). If you want a real judge of his defensive impact, there it is right there. Felton and Smith don’t have that positive impact statistically. The Knicks have actually been better when Felton hasn’t been on the court (-2.8 net rating vs. -3.9 when he plays). Smith makes the team one point better per 100 possessions when he plays. The team’s offense gets much better when he plays but the defense suffers.

The other place Woodson doesn’t escape blame is his refusal to take minutes away from a struggling Smith. Hardaway Jr. has at the very least been a consistent shooter and good finisher in transition, even while his defense has left a lot to be desired. There’s no reason he shouldn’t be getting more of Smith and Shumpert’s minutes. Beno Udrih has been an effective offensive player, and has been pretty consistent with his jump shot. His defense, however, is probably worst on the team. Prigioni has been the best of the group with a consistent jump shot, and a great assist to turnover ratio. When he was healthy, Woodson wasn’t playing him enough, and now his fractured toe has taken him out of action. These three guys need to play more, and Toure’ Murry can get a little run too if the team needs a defender at the point guard position.

Unless the Knicks trade for Kyle Lowry, these are the guys that we’re depending on to save the Knicks’ season. They have to shoot better, which will in turn motivate Anthony to pass more. Felton has to get back to 100 percent before he returns so he can be an effective passer and penetrator in the pick and roll. Shumpert needs to get out of his own head and play with confidence offensively. Smith needs to get on one of his hot streaks, and start getting to the basket rather than settling for long two-pointers. Shooting above 40 percent wouldn’t hurt either. Amar’e Stoudemire is only now getting into rhythm after offseason surgery, so maybe its Smith’s turn.

In the meantime, Woodson needs to play more of Hardaway Jr., since he is the only shooting guard making baskets.

Firing the coach might help this team in other areas, but unless this group of guards begin to play better, any effect of a new guy in a suit will be minimal.

You can follow John on Twitter @Schmeelk for the latest on the Knicks, Giants and everything else New York sports.

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