Saturday afternoon was one of, hopefully, many joyous occasions at Madison Square Garden in the coming weeks.
The Knicks began their playoff run with a solid 85-78 win over the Celtics to take a 1-0 lead in the first round, best of seven series.
New York was able to pull out the win, despite allowing Boston to shoot .415 from the field, compared to their own .405. The Celtics were also a +7 from the free throw line.
How do you go about making up that difference?
You create more possessions and hit three pointers. The Knicks were a +12 from behind the arc and put up 14 more shots than Boston. According to NBA.com, New York rebounded 88.2% of the available defensive boards, 21.7% of the offensive boards and turned the ball over on 14.7% of their possessions. The Celtics turned the ball over on 23.2% of their possessions. The Knicks cleaned up the boards and turned the ball over less, precisely what was expected going into the series.
The Knicks’ defensive improvement in the second half was also a huge part of the victory. The Celtics ORtg in the first half was 108.3, compared to a ORtg of 60.4 in the second.
New York’s offense suffered a similar fate. The first half ORtg was 105.3 and the second was 85.6.
The numbers across the board make it look like New York played better offensively the first half than the second half. In the first and second quarters, the Knicks shot 46.2% overall and 60% from three. In the third and fourth quarters, they shot 35% from two and 20% from three.
That shooting percentages, plus difference in ORtg, paints a picture that New York’s offense was better in first half than it was in second half. Despite what the numbers say, I believe it was the opposite.
The Knicks adjusted in the locker room and got back to what made them one of the best offensive teams in the league after 24 minutes, featuring a stagnant offense with no ball movement.
Before halftime, the Knicks averaged 1.67 passes per possession in half court sets. That number looks better than it actually was because of a stretch with Felton, Shumpert, Novak, Cope and Martin when they totaled 3.6 passes per possession. In the time Melo was on the court, New York tallied 1.35 passes per possession. Melo’s usage % in the first half according to NBA.com was an unseemly 48.4%, up 13% from his regular season number of 35.3%. The numbers from Synergy Sports show Anthony isolated on 15 possessions.
As a team, the Knicks assisted on 8.3% of their two point makes and all five of their three point makes.
In the second half, despite the numbers taking a drop, New York got back to moving the ball side to side and relied less on isolations, or more importantly isolations that killed ball movement.
In half court sets after halftime New York averaged 2.47 passes per possession.
Melo’s usage dropped from 48.4% to 29.1%, he took three of his four spot up shots in the second half and he only isolated five times.
If J.R. Smith hit catch and shoot jumpers at comparable rate to his regular season percentage instead of going 0-5, New York would have won by double digits.
The Knicks assisted on 36.4% of their made twos in the second half and 66.7% of threes. The monster jump on the twos is what jumps out the most.
For New York to sustain offensive success against the Celtics building on the formula they used in the second half will be imperative.
There is no doubt the Knicks need to rely on Melo and Smith in isolation situations at times — they can be effective plays, but there use needs to be associated with shot clock and specific match up advantages. It is much easier to attack a defensive player when he is on the move instead of squared up and balanced – this is what ball movement creates. The majority of the iso shots the Knicks were taking in the first half, specifically Melo, can be had at almost any time in the shot clock. He can wait until the first and second options of the set are run before the offense digresses into a one on one situation. This is exactly what happened in the second half for the majority of the sequences. If New York builds on what they showed offensively after the break, it will show up better in the numbers than it did in Game One going forward.
Ah, the memories. Any you think should be added?
Big thanks to @RubenSBorges for helping me track all these down.
The home colorway of the playoff edition M9 boasts White/Game Royal/Team Orange, while the away version will feature Deep Royal/Bright Citrus/Game Royal. This updated colorway is a refreshing take on the preview M9s, highlighting the orange accents more prominently. Thoughts?
Yeahhhh I’m talking Melo. Yeahhhh I’m talking Tyson/
And that’s a gold medal. Amar’e, he known to spike it/
And we got Thomas. Went back and copped Felton/
Mixed Prigioni with Jason and ohhhhh Lord help ‘em/
If you told me Iman Shumpert was a member of the throwback ’90s Knicks, and was re-joining his former locker room pals Camby and Kurt, I would be inclined to forget he was drafted in 2011 and believe you.
There’s no denying Shump has an unmistakable love for that #post90s attitude. He’s arrogant; He’s cocky; He talks trash; He steps to guys’ faces; He gets technical fouls for staring down opponents after yam’ing home a vicious poster dunk. Simply, he’s awesome.
But, our tower-haired guard has notedly regressed from the promise and potential he dazzled us with since the unofficial Lockout Summer League in Las Vegas two summers ago. A wonky, roller-coaster season culminated in a somber and inglorious first-round-Game-1 exit via ACL tear for Shump. His rookie campaign was over, and questions loomed about his future. Having already sustained a knee injury in his 22nd minute of official NBA action, Shump now needed surgery to repair damaged ligaments.
And it sucked.
New York Knicks fans have an undying fetish for “homegrown” talent. It’s why we fell in love with Wilson Chandler. It’s why we fell in love with Danilo Gallinari. Shit, we even gloated over Timofey effin’ Mozgov enough to propel him as the “make or break” asset in a trade deal to net the eventual 2013 scoring champ. So, when the Knicks drafted Iman Shumpert, while later jettisoning Landry Fields and Jeremy Lin, it became clear: THIS is our future.
Much to our pleasure, however, Shump has gradually rounded back to form during a sophomore season in which his head coach still refers to him as “rook” (he’s the youngest member of the Knicks by a 5-year margin and 9 years younger than the average team age of 31). Shump is back to doing general Shumpy things. He’s peppered flashes of his otherworldly athleticism with beguiling slashes along the baseline and nifty finishes at the rim. He’s honed a questionable jumper with fluid form mechanics and has become somewhat of a corner three specialist. He’s back to playing that stingy on-ball perimeter defense that enamored us to him in the first place. Simply, he’s awesome again.
Leg cramp in game 82 of the regular season aside, Shump will look to be a key component for the Knicks in the Playoffs. His corner three will probably be more valuable to a trigger-happy squad than his defense at this point, and realistically, he’s not shutting down Dwayne Wade, should New York meet Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Still, Shump is Shumpin’ again. Is anyone messing with his Knicks? We will find out shortly.
In the meantime, quit hating on the hair, haters.
After the Knicks got off to a hot start at the beginning of the season, it was popular to discuss what a great candidate for Coach of the Year Mike Woodson would make. When the Knicks cooled off over the course of a mediocre midseason, so did the COY talk. Now New York has ended the season even hotter than it began and won its first Atlantic Division title in 19 years, yet Woodson remains out of the COY conversation in many experts‘ circles. I decided to take a close look at his candidacy.
There is a strong COY narrative for almost every team in the playoffs this season. The two biggest exceptions to this are the Lakers and the Bucks. After acquiring all-stars at two key positions, the Lakers were expected to challenge for the best record in the NBA. Finishing as the 7th seed in the West is too big of a disappointment to foster any serious COY talk for Mike D’Antoni. Sure, the Bucks made the playoffs, but finishing with a losing record is too much to overcome for any serious COY talk. So, as we take a look at whether Woodson should be the COY, I’ll be comparing him to the other 13 playoff coaches.
There are five major criteria commonly used for evaluating if a coach would make a good COY candidate.
- Team performance compared to the previous season. If a team’s record has a big spike in wins from the previous year, this is a huge point in favor of their coach.
- Team performance compared to pre-season expectations. Various things happen during the offseason that clearly hurt a team or improve a team. Much like the Lakers, this creates an expectation for the team’s performance (for better or worse) that may have little to do with the previous year’s results.
- Overcoming adversity. Some teams face greater challenges to achieving success than others. This usually comes in the form of injuries to key players and major losses via free agency.
- Demonstrating high level coaching technique. One thing that sets the best coaches apart from their brethren is elite technique and innovation. This often takes the form of formulating offenses and defenses best suited to personnel and finding ways to take advantage of major NBA trends, as well as starting trends using innovative methodology.
- Player development. Some coaches are just better at getting the best performance from their players. When a veteran player suddenly has a career year or a younger player suddenly blossoms, often much of the credit is due to good coaching.
Let’s see how our candidates stack up using these criteria.
Team performance compared to the previous season. This is the easiest one to measure. Normally, you could just compare the number of wins, but not this time, since last season was strike shortened to 66 games, instead of the usual 82. This is solved by using winning percentage and then measuring the increase or decrease in percentage from last season to this one. Five of our candidates actually led their teams to a worse performance this season than last season:
- Pacers -4%
- Spurs -6%
- Hawks -6%
- Celtics -8%
- Bulls -20%
This should be a serious obstacle to the COY prospects of these coaches, especially Tom Thibodeau. On the opposite end, there were five coaches that led their teams to a double digit improvement in winning percentage:
- Heat +10%
- Knicks +11%
- Nuggets +12%
- Warriors +22%
- Nets +27%
Based on our first criteria, this makes Erik Spoelstra, Mike Woodson, George Karl, Mark Jackson and PJ Carlesimo our COY frontrunners. Probably the two biggest surprises to me here are the Heat and the Nets. After winning it all last season, who knew there was room for the Heat to improve their record by 10%? This season they won an astonishing 80% of their games. The Nets are surprising because there is an absolute lack of COY buzz for Carlesimo, despite the astronomical 27% improvement. Avery Johnson actually led them to a mediocre 14-14 record at the beginning of the season, before Carlesimo replaced him and turned their season around. If you were to just consider the games coached by Carlesimo, the improvement from last season jumps to 32%. Shockingly, there is even talk about replacing Carlesimo this offseason.
Another thing to consider along these lines is the improvement shown by New York last season when Woodson replaced D’Antoni midseason. The Knicks were actually 18-24 under D-Antoni, but finished an impressive 18-6 under Woodson. If you to compare this season’s winning percentage to just last season’s record under D’Antoni, the improvement dramatically increases to 23%. Clearly New York responds much better to Woodson’s guidance than they have done to any of their other recent coaches. The Knicks won 66% of their games this season. The last time they did as well was 16 years ago, when they won 70% of their games with the guidance of Jeff Van Gundy and featured the talents of Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson, Allan Houston, Charles Oakley and John Starks.
Team performance compared to preseason expectations. For this criterion I scoured the internet for preseason NBA ranking and in incredibly scientific fashion, I chose the first three that I could find to work with: ESPN, Fox Sports and Hoopsworld. I averaged the preseason rankings of the 14 teams in question and compared them to their actual order of finish based on record. Two of the teams actually did worse than predicted. The Pacers finished eighth, after being ranked seventh in the preseason rankings and the Celtics finished 16th, after being ranked fourth. This is probably explains the lack of COY buzz for Doc Rivers and is a definite strike against Frank Vogel’s candidacy. The Heat showed zero improvement to their preseason ranking of first, but it’s pretty impressive that they lived up to that ranking.
Four teams showed an improvement of five spots or more from their preseason ranking.
- Knicks +5 (12th to 7th)
- Nuggets +5 (10th to 5th)
- Warriors +8 (17th to 9th)
- Rockets +14 (24th to 10th)
Given how dramatically the Rockets have exceeded expectations, it’s a pretty big surprise that Kevin McHale isn’t getting any COY buzz. The James Harden trade isn’t an excuse either, since the preseason rankings were posted after he was acquired. To be fair, it’s not that the Rocket’s made a big improvement to last year’s winning percentage (just +3%); it’s more that they avoided the collapse that many “experts” expected from them this year. The other surprise is just how high the expectations were for the Nets, considering their 33% winning percentage last year. They finished with the NBA’s ninth best record, but they were predicted to finish 10th.
After two criteria, four pretty clear leaders are starting to emerge: Spoelstra, Woodson, Karl and Jackson.
Overcoming adversity. Injuries to major stars were a pretty common occurrence throughout the NBA this season. The exception seemed to be the teams that experienced better health than most. This criterion is probably one of the things hurting Jackson’s COY credentials. His only major rotation player to miss more than four games was Andrew Bogut, and not only was he not on the team last season, they knew he would miss the beginning of this season when they traded for him. Last season their best player, Stephen Curry missed half the season, David Lee missed nine games (out of just 66) and Monta Ellis only played 37 games before being traded for Bogut, who played zero games. Thus it’s easy to attribute much of Golden State’s improvement to just having healthy star players in their lineup this season, rather than to elite coaching.
This is a point that also fails to work in Spoelstra’s favor. Not only did the Big Three only miss an average of eight games apiece (out of 82), but they also added more weapons this season, in the form of Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and Chris Anderson. So it’s pretty hard to argue that the Heat had to overcome any major obstacles this season, other than the pressure of high expectations.
Denver has faced slightly more adversity, with Ty Lawson missing nine games, Danilo Gallinari missing 11 games and Wilson Chandler missing almost half the season. Though one could make the case missing a player to injury is less of a big deal for the Nuggets, since their rotation featured nine players that averaged 18 minutes or more and zero all stars.
New York on the other hand, has had to face a constantly changing roster of available personnel, with frequent injuries to key players. Their best player, Carmelo Anthony, missed 15 games, their starting point guard Raymond Felton 14, their starting center Tyson Chandler 16 and starting wing Iman Shumpert missed almost half the season. This is in addition to all-star big man Amare Stoudemire starting and ending the season with major injuries and only playing 29 games. Yet somehow Woodson not only kept things together, he led New York to their best season in 16 years.
Demonstrating high level coaching technique. This criterion is obviously more subjective than the previous three. One could argue that any coach that has a team do well is meeting this criterion. While I’m not going to try to argue against other coaches’ ability in this category, I will make the case in favor of Woodson. Two of the biggest ways to show a high level of coaching mastery are to adapt your offense and defense to your personnel and to be a successful innovator. Woodson shines in both of these ways. After developing a reputation in Atlanta as a defensive guru with a relatively simple isolation heavy offense that somewhat eschewed three-pointers, Woodson has completely reinvented himself and in the process, the Knicks, this season.
New York has become a team built around a complex, innovative and highly efficient offense. One of the more revealing stats relating to this is New York’s three-pointer to turnover differential of -97. This may not seem that impressive until you realize to what a degree this number led the league. In the case of the 2nd best team in this regard, the Miami Heat, they had a differential of -426! The best previous differential in NBA history was the 2005-06 Suns, who were -251. So New York’s -97 shatters the previous understanding of how much teams turn the ball over in relation to making three-pointers. This is in part due to personnel changes and in significant part to how Woodson has shaped the offense.
Woodson leaned heavily on small lineups, often with as many as three excellent ball-handlers and typically with at least two point guards on the floor at all times. This resulted in New York leading the NBA in fewest turnovers per game. In addition, Woodson has suddenly completely embraced the three point shot as a weapon, usually having four high percentage perimeter shooters on the floor at all times spacing the floor, rotating the ball and using a series of screens to set up a barrage of open three-pointers. This has led to the Knicks not only leading the league in made three-pointers, but setting an NBA record for made threes in a season. Woodson developed an offense and a defense tailored to his personnel and to the changing face of the NBA. While his innovative, constantly rotating and switching defense hasn’t always been effective, when it clicks it’s very effective, and it may well be ahead of its time.
Player development. This is another area where Woodson shines. With the oldest roster in the NBA, you wouldn’t expect too many pleasant surprises from the roster. Best case scenario, you would think players would perform to their best previous levels of performance. Yet after nine years in the league Anthony suddenly had the best season of his already impressive career. After eight seasons, JR Smith is suddenly playing like the superstar that many had finally given up in him ever becoming. Raymond Felton’s scoring and FG% are much improved from last season. Chris Copeland has gone from playing in Belgium last season to averaging nine points a game and shooting 48%. These are stats that aren’t inflated by a Mike D’Antoni style pace either. These Knicks play at the 26th slowest pace in the NBA, yet Melo still led the league in scoring.
So, while it wouldn’t be a travesty if someone like Erik Spoelstra or George Karl won the Coach of the Year, I submit that the correct choice for the honor is Mike Woodson, as he shines in every major criterion for selecting a COY. Now let’s hope the actual voters agree.
Just as it seemed the Knicks had settled into a successful rotation, the team was hit with the injury bug, as the season wound down. Rasheed Wallace, surprisingly, returned and then retired in literally less than 5 minutes. Pablo Prigioni, unfortunately, suffered an ankle injury in the last game of the season, a meaningless game that Prigioni only had to play in, due to a lack of healthy bodies. The signings of Quentin Richardson and Earl Barron were seemingly just for the last game of the season, but you never know with the Knicks. After all, Woodson started James White for a few weeks and is now considering starting him again while Prigioni is out. Add in the uncertainty surrounding Chris Copeland and the mystery that is the health of Marcus Camby and Amar’e Stoudemire and Mike Woodson has an interesting dilemma. With that said,The Knicks Wall will attempt to map out Mike Woodson’s playoff rotation and how these decisions may impact New York’s success in the playoffs.
Let’s start out with what we do know: Carmelo Anthony will get the overwhelming majority of the minutes at power forward. Anthony played significant minutes the entire season, averaging 37.0 MPG, the second most in his career. It is likely that Anthony will see even more minutes come playoff time. For his career, Anthony averages 38.9 MPG in the playoffs, as opposed to 36.3 MPG in the regular season. This represents a 7.1% increase in minutes in the playoffs. Applying such an increase to Anthony’s minutes this year will yield 39.6 MPG. For the purposes of this estimate, Melo will be penciled in for 40 minutes, all at the power forward position.
Tyson Chandler will likely be forced to log heavy minutes in the playoffs, coming off a bulging disk in his neck that forced him to missed 16 of the last 20 games. This injury will make it more difficult to project Chandler’s minutes, as we don’t know how limited Chandler will be. For the Knicks to advance, Chandler must be healthy, and we should take him at his word (as hard as that can be with the Knicks and injuries) that he is healthy. Chandler played 32.8 minutes per game, slightly higher than his career average and slightly less than last season. Chandler’s playoff minutes have been roughly consistent with his regular season minutes (29.1 to 28.5), so considering this and the presence of Kenyon Martin as a legitimate backup, Knicks fans shouldn’t expect Chandler to play more that 32 minutes per game.
Other than Anthony and Chandler, the Knicks’ starter with the most consistent role for the entire season has been Raymond Felton. There is no reason to expect that Felton will see any decline in playing time in the playoffs. In fact, Felton likely will play more with the loss of Pablo Prigioni. Felton has only played 9 playoff games in his career and, because of this, his sample is ultimately too small to take anything from. Felton will likely play a similar number of minutes as he did in the regular season (34.o), with a slight increase while Prigioni is nursing his injury, to about 36 MPG, all at point guard.
Since he has returned from ACL surgery, Iman Shumpert has started every game for the Knicks. Shump will start in the playoffs, but how much he plays is not so easy to predict. Shumpert has seen his minutes relatively increase since coming back (20.2, 18.6, 22.4, and 26.7 minutes per game in the months January – April, respectively). However, it is highly possible that Mike Woodson will choose to play veterans like JR Smith and Jason Kidd over Shumpert, who has only played in one postseason game. Shump’s minutes will probably be more consistent with those when he came back from injury, about 25 MPG between the shooting guard and small forward positions.
The last Knicks starter remains somewhat of a mystery with the injury to Pablo Prigioni. Mike Woodson said it will likely be Chris Copeland or James White (Please No!) because he wants to keep Jason Kidd, JR Smith, and Kenyon Martin on the bench. Let’s hope that Woodson uses common sense and starts Chris Copeland because, honestly, I trust Quentin Richardson (not kidding) and Earl Barron (only kind of kidding) more than James White. Copeland has earned playoff minutes with his play in the past month, but the question remains how much due to his inconsistent defense (a generous assessment: subpar to bad would be more appropriate). Nonetheless, Cope’s ability to spread the floor and play a really poor man’s Carmelo Anthony in Melo-less lineups is something that should be valued. If (when) Copeland starts, he will likely play the first 3-5 minutes of each half before making way to JR Smith or Jason Kidd and come back in to play the power forward while Anthony is on the bench. Copeland averaged 15.4 minutes per game in the regular season and 15 will likely be an appropriate number of minutes for Copeland in the playoffs, split between the two forward positions.
The sixth man for the Knicks (and likely the NBA’s sixth man of the year) is JR Smith, the enigmatic shooting guard. JR will get his minutes in the playoffs; Mike Woodson has shown an unbelievable amount of confidence in Smith that has seemed to pay off in JR’s second season with the Knicks. JR may end up being the difference between an ECF run and a first round exit. Many say the Knicks live and die by the three, but they maybe even more dependent on JR (boy, is that scary to say). JR averaged a career high 33.6 minutes per game, despite not starting a single game. Looking at JR’s career numbers are pretty much useless at this point, because Mike Woodson trusts Smith much more than George Karl ever did. Last season, JR played 27.6 MPG in the regular season and 35.0 MPG in the playoffs. Expect Smith to play even more in the playoffs, let’s say 38 MPG at the shooting guard and small forward positions.
Jason Kidd was brought to the Knicks for one reason:
to mentor Jeremy Lin to provide veteran experience in the playoffs. Considering Mike Woodson’s favoring of veterans and the injury to Pablo Prigioni, Kidd will likely have to initially play more minutes than he has during the regular season. This is especially the case if the Knicks want to continue to run the two point guard lineup that has been so successful in the regular season. Kidd averaged about 26.9 MPG in the regular season, a career low, but will likely see his minutes go to 30 MPG as long as Prigioni is out, playing all the backup point guard minutes and the rest of his minutes at shooting guard.
Few expected Kenyon Martin to be such an influential player when the Knicks signed him at the trade deadline, but here he is. Sheed and Kurt Thomas are gone, and Amar’e and Camby are always hurt, so K-Mart remains the only reliable big man off the bench. Martin’s presence on the teams has done wonders and he will likely receive significant bench minutes, especially in more physical matchups. Kenyon Martin and Tyson Chandler have not really been healthy at the same time, so Martin’s 23.9 MPG is likely more than what he will play in the playoffs. Martin will take all of the minutes Chandler doesn’t play at center and maybe even a few minutes at power forward where the Knicks want to play big for 18 MPG.
Someone’s minutes have to get cut, and that person will likely be Steve Novak. Had it not been for the plethora of front court injuries, it was possible that Novak would lose his playoff rotation spot entirely. Novak has been inconsistent this year, after leading the league in 3 point % last year, but his floor spacing ultimately makes the Knicks a better team. With Anthony taking up so many of the forward minutes and the emergence of Chris Copeland, Novak’s role will ultimately be minimized to 11 MPG. This number, however, could be even less if he is shut down the way he was vs. Miami last year.
This ten man rotation is clearly a tentative one, as the Knicks could see a plethora of players return in the coming games. The question remains whether the returns of these injured players will impact the Knicks rotation. While they may not have a set rotation that they have used the entire year, the Knicks have settled into a basic formula: Anthony at the power forward, spread the floor with shooters, and two point guards. Furthermore, the Knicks have one of the most successful crunch time lineups in the NBA of Felton-Kidd-Smith-Anthony-Chandler, a lineup that has a 124 OER and a 96 DER, according to 82games.com. Mike Woodson must keep to this for the Knicks to be successful, no matter who has to be squeezed out of the rotation.
Editor’s note: The Classical has an on-goining series titled, “Why We Watch.” Their content is superb and I encourage you all to check it out, but with the playoffs coming up, we’re going to run a series piggy-backing theirs, titled, “Why We Should Watch.” This new series will give you a little behind-the-scenes information about the Knicks’ starting lineup and one or two key bench players. Hope you enjoy!
On April 18, 2012, Chris Copeland had himself a 20-point, 7-rebound outing at SportOase, a basketball arena in Leuven, Belgium which houses a modest 3,500 seats.
On April 18, 2013, Chris Copeland is 24 hours shy of a 33-point performance in front of (an admittedly docile, if not giddy) 19-thousand, playoff-hungry, Madison Square Garden faithful.
As we, Knicks fans, heard many a times from Walt Frazier’s endless supply of token phrases and puns, “how quickly can fortunes change.”
When Copeland walked off the Garden floor on Wednesday, he probably glanced up to see the early dispersion of a crowd showing diminishing interest in the night’s basketball activities — a sight Cope has undoubtedly witnessed before in Europe. But that sight, that night at the Garden, capped a pivotal year in Cope’s mercurial basketball career.
After 6 years, chronicled by a D-League appearance in Fort Worth and stops throughout Europe’s second and third rate leagues in Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium, Copeland has finally found a niche on a NBA rotation. The dread-laden forward has carved out critical minutes with his unique offensive versatility that is almost Melo-esque at times, though awkwardly Predator-action-figure-like at others. With his quirky jab step, momentous rim-ward bully drives, and spot-up precision, Copeland punctuated a 486-point, on 48% shooting and 42% from deep, rookie season with back-to-back 30-point games for a 54-win team heading into the postseason as the 2nd seed. Not bad for a guy who was a journeyman in a different continent not too long ago.
Let’s, however, keep this in perspective. The ever-changing inactive list for the Knicks presented Copeland with the proverbial golden opportunity to make a case for himself; the slew of injuries robbed Mike Woodson of many Cope-less alternatives, after keeping him locked away in what seemed like an eternal doghouse. Given the Knicks’ adaptation of the “small ball” philosophy and their consequential success with it, Copeland ably filled various voids in the absence of New York’s injured stars — the scoring, the rebounding, the occasionally passable effort on defense. Copeland even started at center when the Knicks were left with no healthy player over 6-feet, 10-inches. (Nate Robinson discount double-checked the Knicks into a crushing defeat that night, but let’s not get into that.)
Who knows where Copeland will go from here? For all the jokes of “Copesanity” we love to throw around on Twitter, Cope more than likely will not field many “poison pill contract” offers this summer. The fact remains that he’s closer to the twilight of his playing days than the dawn. Who knows if Cope will even stick around MSG next season? But, who cares about all of that right now? You made it, Cope. And you made it here. In the eyes of the infamously disillusioned New York Knicks fans. In the spotlight of the gaudy “Mecca of Basketball” cult slogan. In the trenches of an injury-riddled 82-game grind. In the shadow of Carmelo Anthony’s re-emergence to the NBA’s elite. Following a sports story phenomena that spurred way too many puns and left a fan base effectively divided. Through Woodson’s glares, hollers, and head-scratching minute-allocation. Under scrutiny of the notoriously unforgiving New York area press. You were forced to grab a microphone and sing Jason Kidd a Happy Birthday lullaby in front of 19-thousand people. You were paid roughly $19-and-a-half million LESS than a player you leapfrogged in the Knicks depth chart. You dislocated your shoulder with little to no sign of concern, or even remorse, from your glazed-faced mentor. Hell, you’re 29 years old and you wore a pink backbag for the better part of 6 months.
And yet, you’re inches away from starting in your first NBA Playoffs series.
You made it, Cope. You’re finally here.
When the New York Knicks acquired Rasheed Wallace this season, I got goosebumps. For years, I longed for the return of the era when real bruisers played for the Knicks. I’m talking like the real bad boys of the NBA I grew up liking: Anthony Mason, Charles Oakley, Latrell Sprewell, Marcus Camby. These are the types that made the games chippy between their opponents. Add a rivalry to the equation, and you’ve got yourself a boiler maker. Wallace helped bring along his “take-no-shit” attitude, which is what the Knicks needed this season to bully their way beyond the regular season. Right now, with New York basketball bogarting the spotlight from that other transplant team, of course, it would have to be reflected in its players, namely Rasheed Abdul Wallace.
Sheed is versatile; able to bang in the paint, post up, and make critical three-point shots. His reputation exceeds him as being vocal and brash with other players and referees, but he’s as physical too. His career reached its apex when he won a championship as a Detroit Piston in 2004. This year, when Sheed played against his former team as a Knick, he hung his warmup jacket on his chair in the locker room. It was a reminder of his achievement. For other players who had yet to taste the ecstasy of victory, this was a glimmer of the promised land he still would pursue now in the twilight of his career.
Aside from the tender moment of the jacket, Sheed’s loyalty to the Nike Air Force 1 High has underscored his fashion sense on the court. The Air Force 1, it’s the shoe that’s woven into the culture of sneakers in the Mecca of basketball. To see Wallace retire yesterday in the city that called the Air Force 1 “Uptowns” was a storybook ending the way I hoped it would. He’s come full circle with the 1982 classic sneaker he has become synonymous with. The only other player I could compare Sheed to is Penny Hardaway who came to the Knicks in ’04, also past his prime. All editions of the Penny were timeless, the same way Sheed’s AF1′s were. Although Sheed would see more player exclusives with more teams than Penny, that actually gives him the advantage. Although versions of the Air Penny would become fashionable on and off the court, the Nike Air Force 1 one of Nike’s silhouettes has universal appeal that has crossed over into mainstream, like a pair of Converse All-Star, shell toe adidas, or Reebok pumps. Sheed soldiered this season in his player exclusives. Nicekicks.com highlighted his three pairs of Player Exclusives he wore this season. He’s now hanging up those AF1′s for the second time, since retiring as a Celtic in 2010. You gotta give him credit though, the dude actually came back and gave it a go for one game ahead of schedule. Derrick Rose hasn’t even done that much. Sorry, I won’t touch that one. But, real talk, ball don’t lie.
Well done, O&A.