By John Schmeelk
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As the Knicks completed their 12th sub-.500 season out of 15 since Jeff Van Gundy quit back in 2001, they continue to be plagued by the same problem: They can’t play defense.

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Here are where the Knicks have ranked in points per 100 possessions allowed post-Van Gundy:

2016: 18th

2015: 28th

2014: 24th (playoff season)

2013: 17th (playoff season — 50 wins)

2012: 5th (half D’Antoni, half Woodson playoff season)

2011: 21st

2010: 27th

2009: 24th

2008: 29th

2007: 25th

2006: 27th

2005: 26th

2004: 15th (playoff season)

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2003: 25th

2002: 18th

That’s what historically bad defense looks like. In eight of the 15 years they were in the bottom 20 percent of the league. Only twice did they have defensive rankings below 105.9. (both playoff season) Only once did they have a negative relative defensive rating, which indicates points allowed per possession when compared to the rest of the league. For reference, the Knicks were in the negative column the 14 years prior to Van Gundy, Riley and others.

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Only once were the Knicks in the top 10 in defensive rating since 2001, and only one other time did they rank in the top half the league (15th). Not surprisingly, they made the playoffs both those seasons. Out of the five times the Knicks finished in the top 20 they made the playoffs three times.

Notice a pattern? If a team wants to be in the playoffs, it needs to be ranked at worst near the middle of the league defensively. There are exceptions, but they are rare. This season the Knicks finished a not-awful 18th but it wasn’t close to good enough to make the playoffs given their inconsistent offense.

There are only a few players on the Knicks roster that statistically had a positive impact (more than a point better per 100 possessions when they were on floor) on the defensive end in meaningful minutes: Kristaps Porzingis, Langston Galloway, Jerian Grant, and Kevin Seraphin. The Knicks were also slightly better with Sasha Vujacic and Kyle O’Quinn on the floor, but those differences are less than a point per 100 possessions. Only Porzingis, Grant, and O’Quinn are guaranteed to be back from that group.

Not surprisingly, there were other players who made a significantly negative impact on the team’s defense (more than 2.5 different between defensive rating off floor vs. on the floor): Arron Afflalo, Jose Calderon and Carmelo Anthony. In other words, the guards that the Knicks played the most this season killed the team’s defense.

When Grant and Galloway play together the team had a defensive rating of 100.2. When Afflalo and Calderon played together, the team had a rating of 108.3. That’s the difference between being the third-worst and third-best defensive team in the league. That’s the difference two good defenders make in place of two bad defenders.

Anthony’s (and Lopez’s to a lesser extent) defense got dragged down by Calderon and Afflalo, since both were much better when they played with the much better backcourt of Grant and Galloway. Being starters, most of their minutes came with Afflalo and Calderon.

Anthony’s defense is never going to be better than average, if that, but with Porzingis and Lopez protecting the rim inside, (the Knicks held opponents to one of the lowest field-goal percentages at the rim this season) the Knicks can be good defensively if their guards can improve on that end. Afflalo opting out will help, but reducing or eliminating Calderon’s minutes are perhaps even more necessary.

The team would be wise to bring back Galloway and Lance Thomas, two of their best defenders. Grant and Tony Wroten splitting time at point guard next season would make the Knicks better at that spot. They would also be wise to focus on strong defensive shooting guards in free agency, like Nicolas Batum and Kent Bazemore.

Of course, the easiest way for the Knicks to improve defensively would be hire a great defensive coach like Tom Thibodeau. Without question the best defensive coach in the league, he would immediately turn the Knicks into a top 10 defensive team. Unfortunately, Phil Jackson doesn’t see it that way. Kurt Rambis has shown little to make anyone think he is a defensive mastermind.

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If the Knicks can improve to a top-15, or even a top-12 defense next season, they can be realistic playoff contenders even if their offense only moderately improves. That’s the best and fastest way for this team to improve, focus on defense. It’s something the Knicks haven’t done for 15 years and it needs to start now.

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For everything Knicks, Giants and the world of sports, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk