During the first month of the basketball season, with the Knicks coasting the way they were, it was easy to think that everything was going to be okay. This team was built to beat the Heat. They had out-of-this-world three-point shooting. Their defense was incredible. And —finally! — they were winning.
December going into January wasn’t as positive for the Knicks, however. Maybe it was because Carmelo Anthony was out for a few games when they needed him. Or maybe they lost a little bit of intensity.
But there’s one player who went missing toward the end of the month.
An interesting statistic popped up on ESPN New York today: The Knicks are 4-5 when Rasheed Wallace is out, due to his foot injury. A team that dominates good and bad teams alike is below .500 without Rasheed Wallace.
I paused, thought about what I had experienced when watching Knicks games, and realized there was something else missing.
I can recall the season’s early games, when all of the players were talking to each other, telling each other about rotations and warning about opposing plays. They were helping each other – they trusted each other. If the guards couldn’t keep up—like they couldn’t against Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers—there were big bodies there to make the stop.
When Rasheed Wallace went out, that communication suddenly died. Even when he’s on the bench he’s calling out to the players, communicating, helping them notice holes in their defense. More importantly, he still communicates when he comes in … and he fights, too.
Fans are going to say, “But look! They are getting blown out in the first half!” And they’re quite right. But then the second half comes and the Knicks buckle down and close it out. While the last two losses were disappointing, what they showed was something very simple: There is absolutely defensive talent on the Knicks. It’s a lack of communication and trust that is hurting them right now.
That’s why Coach Woodson wanted guys like Rasheed Wallace, Marcus Camby. and Jason Kidd on the team. They’re old-school players who have done this all before – who have seen everything on the basketball court. They’re able to step up when they’re needed and get it done.
Missing Wallace, the most voracious of those leaders, is unquestionably hurting the Knicks. It’s not the points he puts up. Nor is it the fact that he plays good defense. No, it’s the communication.
When Rasheed Wallace comes back, he’ll be right back on the court barking orders and getting the players amped up. He’s an old-school player who knows how to get it done. And, really, who better than Rasheed Wallace to try and teach a 30-year-old Amar’e Stoudemire how to play defense?
Hurry back, Wallace. The Knicks need you.
Jacob is the co-founder of Curave, a morning newsletter that contains the best content from around the web all about the NBA.