Defense, Health And Enhanced Commitment To Youth Would Go A Long Way In Season's Second Half And Beyond

By John Schmeelk
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With New Year’s fast approaching, the Knicks are in decent position in the Eastern Conference standings. They sit in the fifth spot, which would give them a real shot to win a first-round playoff series.

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That would be an accomplishment that would make this season, on some level, successful.

Here are some resolutions the Knicks should follow through on to assure that happens.

1. Play better defense. If the Knicks were only to commit to one thing, this would be it. Even though they are slightly improved from the start of the season, they are still 24th in the NBA in defensive efficiency. They have climbed out of the bottom fifth of the league, but where they are now is not good enough if this team wants to make a serious playoff run.

There’s no reason at this point of the season for there to still be confusion over how a team wants to guard a pick and roll. Jeff Hornacek and others (like Brandon Jennings) have complained that the players are not following the defensive gameplan. The pick and roll is the most common play in modern NBA basketball. If defending it doesn’t get better, the defense as a whole won’t get better, either.

The team also struggles with its transition defense, and in the paint, but pick-and-roll defense needs to be prioritized.

2. Grab more defensive rebounds. One reason why Knicks have struggled so much in their own end is because they don’t finish possessions by grabbing boards. Only the Celtics have a worse defensive rebounding percentage in the league, and only the Nets have allowed more transition baskets. A big part of the problem is Joakim Noah, who is a far better offensive rebounder than defensive rebounder. Kristaps Porzingis hasn’t improved enough as a rebounder, either. This needs to be a team effort, from the guards to the bigs, and it is largely a matter of commitment more than anything else.

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3. Noah must get healthier. Noah has looked better over his last four  games, posting a neutral or positive plus/minus in all of them. He has had more bounce to his step and has played more minutes. He even switched on to a guard at the end of the game against the Hawks on Wednesday and did a decent job guarding him. That’s the type of thing he used to do in Chicago. Noah returning to some semblance of his old form is the Knicks’ best hope of becoming a significantly better defensive team. The last few games have been encouraging, but it needs to continue to trend up to make a meaningful difference.

Sacramento Kings v New York Knicks

Derrick Rose of the New York Knicks in action against Darren Collison of the Sacramento Kings during the second half at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 4, 2016. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

4. Keep Derrick Rose on the court. One thing that has been very obvious over the first couple months of the season is the Knicks are significantly better with Rose on the floor. They do not have a third point guard to help Jennings when Rose is not in the lineup. The Knicks also lack any real penetration ability to get the defense moving when Rose is not on the floor. A subheading to this resolution could also be to find a third point guard to mitigate any potential loss of the team’s best one.

5. Hold on to your draft picks. One thing Phil Jackson has done extremely well during his tenure has been to make sure this team’s future is secure. The Knicks own all of their first-round picks going forward and it needs to stay that way. Even though the team has win-now players like Anthony, Noah and Rose, it still needs to focus on putting young players around Porzingis going forward. With a pick this summer that will likely land somewhere in the teens, the Knicks should have that opportunity.

If Jackson does want to make a trade around the deadline, he should focus on finding a young point guard by moving one of the team’s excess big men. Hornacek struggles to find time for Noah, Kyle O’Quinn and Willy Hernangomez, and the latter two could be valuable trade assets given their contracts.

***

There are some other things the Knicks need to consider, like continuing to move the ball on offense, and Anthony not settling for too many contested jump shots. But the above five  resolutions are the most important. If the Knicks can check all those boxes by the end of the season, they could be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs.

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