By John Schmeelk
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This was never going to be easy for the Knicks, so it should have come as no surprise that the team lost to one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference by 11 on the second game of a back-to-back. Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague dominated the Knicks’ backcourt, and made every fear that Knicks fans had about their starting backcourt become reality.
Arron Afflalo needs to come back soon to end the Sasha Vujacic-Jose Calderon starting-backcourt experiment. It doesn’t work. With those two players on the floor the team’s perimeter defense is awful. The offense is slow, neither player can penetrate and get to the line, and Calderon isn’t shooting the open three well enough to spread the floor for Carmelo Anthony. Calderon is 1-of-10 to start the year, including hitting only one of six three pointers. Teague went around him like he was standing still on Thursday night, and Vujacic couldn’t hang with Korver around screens. Korver made Vujacic look slow. That’s right, Kyle Korver made the Knicks’ starting shooting guard look slow. Throw in Anthony’s struggles in chasing three-point shooters, and the Knicks will struggle defending proficient offensive teams like the Hawks.
Right now it is obvious to anyone with eyes that the Knicks’ two best healthy guards on the roster are Jerian Grant and Langston Galloway. Galloway’s shooting and defense complements Grant’s penetration and passing extremely well. They play fast and can match up athletically against most backcourts in the league. They are a huge reason that the Knicks’ second unit has been far more successful than the starting five.
There is a fair question as to whether or not Derek Fisher should break up such an effective backup group, but at the very least Galloway and Grant should be finishing games with Anthony, Robin Lopez and Kristaps Porzingis. There have been far too many times in which either Lopez or Porzingis have had to fly over to help after someone dribbles right past Calderon or Vujacic. With Anthony helping the offense as much as he does, defense will still be the challenge for the Knicks, and if real improvement is going to happen they have to stop penetration from opposing guards. Right now it doesn’t seem like Calderon and Vujacic can stop it.
Afflalo’s return will help fix the issue and probably allow the second unit to stay together, but only if Calderon starts hitting some of his open jumpers. His return should also push Vujacic out of the rotation, considering the success of Galloway and Grant.
The NBA backcourt game is about speed, quickness and getting to the rim. Neither of the Knicks’ guards can do that. Until that changes, the Knicks’ first unit is going to be hampered. It’s just a matter of when Fisher pulls the trigger.
– Kyle O’Quinn plays like someone went back to the 90s and transported a player to the present time. O’Quinn plays the game like Charles Oakley. He boxes out extremely well, is very physical, can hit the mid-range jumper and can’t jump more than a handful of inches off the ground. Much like Oakley, he struggles to finish in traffic after grabbing offensive rebounds. If they haven’t already, Knicks fans are going to fall in love with him. He can be a little too brave with his passes sometimes, squeezing the ball into too tight of spaces, but he is very unselfish.
– Porzingis is going to be really, really, really good if he can stay healthy. His jumper will start falling, but until then he is doing everything else pretty well, including blocking shots, passing and rebounding. He is taking the ball to the basket with no fear. He even had a steal, went full-court, executed a spin move and dunked the basketball. He is much better than I thought he would be this early in the season.
– Anthony is going to start hitting shots. It is only a matter of time. But his continued inability to finish around the rim consistently is a problem.
– You love Derrick Williams’ aggressiveness, but his shooting to start this season is far more in line with his career stats than what he did in the preseason. He can be useful and effective. Just don’t expect an efficient scorer, and be prepared to groan at some of his decisions with the ball.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants and the world of sports.