By John Schmeelk
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It’s bad for the Knicks. It’s really, really bad. At 3-10, only one team — the Philadelphia 76ers — has more losses, and they’re actually trying to lose games in order to give themselves the best chance to secure the top pick in the draft. The Knicks play them on Saturday, so there is actually a way for this to get worse. That’s what you call a tease in this business.READ MORE: New York Weather: CBS2’s 12/2 Thursday Morning Forecast
Derek Fisher is learning on the job, and as would be expected he is making tons of mistakes. Compound that with the fact that he doesn’t have a lot of talent at his disposal, and it becomes fairly clear why the Knicks’ record is what it is. Despite all the focus on the triangle, Fisher stressed from the first day of training camp that defense must be the foundation of any good team. He was right, and the Knicks’ foundation right now is nonexistent.
Some Knicks defensive statistics:
Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions): 110.00 (third-worst in the NBA)
Opponent 3pt%: 43.4 percent (worst in the NBA)
Opponent Free-Throw Attempts: 27.2 (third-worst in the NBA)
Opponent FG%: 46.1 percent (eighth-worst in the NBA)
Opponent Field-Goal Attempts Within 5 Feet of Hoop: 342 (ninth-most in NBA)
Pick your metaphor. The Knicks’ defense is a sinking ship. A dumpster fire. A nuclear wasteland. Nicolas Cage’s acting career. The president’s approval ratings. Take your pick, they all work. They do nothing well on defense. Nada. Zip. Zilch.READ MORE: Kreider, Shesterkin Lead Rangers To Win Over Flyers
It’s obvious that Fisher has told his players they have to play defense. They practice it. He has coached them the basics like fighting over screens, helping and rotating, and forcing guys to the sidelines, all of which are the basic tenants of most successful defenses in the NBA. I promise you that the Knicks’ scouting report on Wednesday night said that Kevin Martin was the Timberwolves’ only three-point shooter, and you can’t give him room to spot up and shoot. The Knicks (and their supposed best perimeter defender, Iman Shumpert) allowed him to do just that all game long. There is no fundamental flaw in the Knicks’ defensive strategy. They just don’t play defense well, or at all.
It’s probably the main reason that Fisher keeps playing 11 or 12 guys a game. He is desperate to find some combination of players that play defense on a consistent basis. The numbers don’t give much help. The only Knicks who have a positive impact on the team’s defense are Samuel Dalembert, Pablo Prigioni, Cole Aldrich and Travis Wear. Those are the only players who give the team a significantly better defensive rating when they are on the floor.
For Wear and Aldrich, their sample sizes are too small to take too much out of it, and as a rookie, Wear would not likely be a plus defensive player in major minutes against top players from opposing teams. Aldrich could be used more as the team’s backup center since he could at least give the Knicks a semblance of an interior presence when Dalembert has to sit, but that impact is limited. Prigioni and Dalembert are limited in the number of minutes they can play due to their age.
In other words, Fisher doesn’t have many, if any, options. Even players that are known as defenders — looking at you, Shumpert and Quincy Acy — have struggled this year. What Fisher can do is start penalizing players more if they fail at some of the basic tenants of team defense. If one player happens to come out extremely lackluster defensively on a particular night, bench him and don’t put him back in. Fisher needs to find out which guys are truly incapable of playing defense, and which guys choose not to give the effort or focus enough to succeed on that end of the floor. Punishing them with a lack of playing time is the only way to do it.
Those are the players that must get weeded out. When Phil Jackson addressed the media a couple of weeks ago, he said that by the end of November the team would know who the learners are. It’s obvious that too many can’t learn defense. Those players can’t play. The only positive that can come out of this transition season is Fisher establishing a culture that can help the team in future years. That’s impossible if the team is either unable or unwilling to buy into the commitment to defense that he is selling.
Many have pointed to the returns of Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani as possible help on Saturday. Calderon will make the team better, but neither player is known to be a positive defensively. They will not help the Knicks’ biggest deficiency. Everyone on the roster needs to buy in, or they have to be sat down or shipped out. It’s the only way the Knicks can get something out of this extremely ugly season.
You can follow me on Twitter @for everything Knicks, Giants and the world of sports.
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