Thanks in part to the frequently injured status of Amare Stoudemire, Mike Woodson has been forced to be very creative in his approach to lineup building this season. Using the talent pool available to him, he’s completely twisted the traditional point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, center lineup into something uniquely special and effective. This has been especially challenging, due to the ever changing pool of available players on the team, but by the end of the season he’d found and shaped something special. The dilemma comes from trying to find a place for Steve Novak in this new Knickerbocker vision, or for that matter, Stoudemire, if and when he makes it back from injury.
Point Guard: Raymond Felton, JR Smith. New York starts a fairly traditional point guard in Felton. His job is to run pick and rolls, drive and score, drive and kick and stick the occasional three. If he can defend one of the other team’s guards reasonably well, so much the better. For most of the season, no one on the team seemed able to duplicate this role and the team struggled when Felton was playing hurt or not playing at all. Not only is Felton healthy now, Smith seems to have figured out that he should prioritize attacking the basket. While Smith is not considered one of the team’s point guards per say, when he’s on the floor and Felton isn’t, he’s the one that has been filling Felton’s role of bringing the ball up the court and attacking the basket. While Smith is obviously more of a scorer than a passer, Woodson seems to like having his point man be one of his primary scorers supporting Carmelo Anthony.
Shooting Guard: Pablo Prigioni, Jason Kidd. Woodson prefers to have two point guards on the floor whenever possible, which may be one of the reasons that New York had the fewest turnovers in the NBA this season. Since neither Kidd nor Prigioni have the ability to attack the rim that Felton and Smith have, they’ve played the role of off guard, helping facilitate the offense with their passing from the perimeter while spreading the floor with their three-point shooting. Another benefit of having Kidd or Prigioni on the floor all the time is their defensive acumen, which leads to numerous turnovers by the opposing team, often in the form of steals.
Small Forward: Iman Shumpert, JR Smith. Another reason why the Knicks have so few turnovers is instead of playing with two forwards, they play with three guards. Shumpert is versatile enough defensively to defend forwards and he can even rebound like one on occasion. His primary roles are to defend the opposition’s best perimeter player, provide a three point threat and occasionally attack the rim. One of the reasons Smith is the Sixth Man of the Year is his ability to fill multiple roles off the bench. In the fourth quarter when Felton and Kidd are manning the backcourt, Smith plays this role. While not quite the defender that Shumpert is, he makes up for it on the offensive end and by being an even better rebounder. Ronnie Brewer started the season filling this exact role, but as his play fell off and Shumpert returned from injury, he was sent to the end of the bench.
Power Forward: Carmelo Anthony, Chris Copeland. Using Melo at power forward is one of the biggest keys to the Knicks’ success on the offensive end this season. By having an elite perimeter player at the four, New York has opened up the paint for their pick and roll game which is a major part of their offense. Not only do Smith and Felton have extra room to attack the basket, but Melo gets mismatches which forces double teams and opens up New York’s options further. Having Melo or Copeland on the floor at the four gives them a primary scorer and makes it almost impossible for the opposition to prevent at least one of New York’s now four shooters from getting an open look from behind the arc. Melo’s transformation into an elite three-point shooter this season while playing the four has been a major part of why New York led the league in three-point attempts and makes. Unfortunately for Woodson’s lineup preferences, after a terrific regular season, Copeland has played so poorly in the playoffs that Woody was forced to use Novak at the four in game three instead.
Center: Tyson Chandler, Kenyon Martin. The role of the five for the Knicks is to backstop the defense, participate in the pick and roll with Felton and grab rebounds. With only one real big man on the floor at a time for New York, it’s critical that he be able to defend the rim/paint and rebound. By having the five be the screen and roller, it gives him an important role on the offensive end, while the rest of the team can be trying to get open from behind the arc. Rasheed Wallace filled this role behind Chandler at the beginning of the season, but fortunately for New York after most of their bigs got hurt, they discovered Martin, who has done an incredible job of filling this role off the bench.
So, Woodson has found a unique combination of roles that works well with his personnel and has enabled the Knicks to become an elite team. The problem is this carefully crafted system doesn’t really have a place for two highly paid forwards: Steve Novak and Amare Stoudemire.
Novak is a good enough three-point shooter to play the three or the four, but he’s not a good enough ball handler. Not only does Woodson use the three as an extra ball handler, he frequently has Melo bring the ball up the court and he runs isolations through Melo and even on occasion, Copeland. While big enough to play the five for New York, Novak doesn’t have the necessary skill set to be the primary defender in the paint. Frankly, other than being a terrific three point shooter, Novak brings very little to the table.
Last season, that was enough. Last season, Novak led the league shooting 47% from deep, while no one else on the team shot even 35% from three. Novak provided the team with essential and amazingly accurate three-point shooting. This season is much different. This season, Novak’s long range shooting is down to 42% and he’s one of eight Knickerbockers shooting 35% or better. While 42% is still quite good, Novak’s lone skill set is now being duplicated by several other players, all of whom bring lots of other things to the table. While the threat of Novak’s shooting helps spread the floor when he’s on the court, so does the threat provided by the Knicks’ other fours: Melo (38%) and Copeland (42%). If Copeland continues to be unable to work through the playoff jitters Novak may get some minutes this post-season, but his role with the team going forward is definitely in question.
This brings us to Stoudemire. Amare has a skill set that no one else on the team has: the ability to be a superior low post scorer. Unfortunately, Woodson has been forced to design an offense that not only doesn’t need a low post scorer, it may operate better without one. Woodson’s system requires the four to be a three-point shooter and the five to be a superior defender and rebounder. None of these things describe Stoudemire. Given STAT’s overall talent level and the team’s investment in him, I’m sure Woody will make some use of him when he gets healthy. I’m just not sure if that will be in the best interests of the team’s success, based on their performances this season.
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.
If we take an NBA snapshot right now, the Carmelo Anthony trade sure looks good for the Knicks. First, let’s review:
The Knicks gave up:
- Raymond Felton
- Danilo Gallinari
- Timofey Mozgov
- Anthony Randolph
- Wilson Chandler
- Eddy Curry
- 2014 draft pick
- Carmelo Anthony
- Renaldo Balkman
- Chauncey Billups
- Sheldon Williams
- Anthony Carter
- Corey Brewer
How are these players doing now?
Raymond Felton- At 28, Ray’s still in his prime. This season he’s averaging 14.1 points/game, while shooting 43%FG, 36% on threes and 79% from the line, all of which are above his career averages. His assists are down slightly, but so are his turnovers. The kicker, of course, is that he’s doing all this for the Knicks, not the Nuggets. To be fair to the Nuggets, they traded him away for Andre Miller, who’s giving them 10 points and 6 assists a game this season.
Danilo Gallinari- The 24 year-old was averaging 16 points and 5 rebounds a game this season, while showing signs that he might have the potential to eventually be an all-star. Unfortunately, he is currently out of the Nuggets’ lineup with a season ending knee injury.
Timofey Mozgov- The 26 year-old center has been unable to crack the Nuggets’ rotation, as he averages less than nine minutes a game.
Anthony Randolph- At 23 he still has time to blossom, but like Mozgov he’s languishing at the end of the Nugget’s bench averaging less than eight minutes a game. In the actual trade he was sent to the Timberwolves, who sent Kosta Koufos to Denver. The 23 year-old Koufos is giving the Nuggets 8 points and 7 rebounds a game.
Wilson Chandler- The 25 year-old Chandler is the actual only member of this trade really contributing to the Nuggets at the moment, putting up 12.5 points and 5 rebounds a game.
Eddy Curry- This was just about his expiring contract. He hasn’t played more than 14 games in a season since 2007-2008 and his career seems effectively over.
2014 draft pick- It remains to be seen who this will end up being, but the Nuggets used this pick to help them acquire 29 year-old Andre Iguodala, the one player on their roster who’s played in an all-star game (last season) and he’s averaging 13 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds a game.
Carmelo Anthony- At 28 Melo’s having the best season of his career, averaging a league best 28.7 points a game, along with 7 rebounds a game.
Renaldo Balkman- Out of the NBA.
Chauncey Billups- The 36 year-old is averaging 8 points a game for the Clippers. The Knicks amnestied his contract, which enabled them to sign 30 year-old center Tyson Chandler, who is currently the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and an all-star this season.
Sheldon Williams- Out of the NBA.
Anthony Carter- Out of the NBA.
Corey Brewer- The 26 year-old is back with Denver, where he’s averaging 12 points a game.
So, basically, the Knicks ended up with Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler, while the Nuggets have Gallinari, Chandler, Mozgov, Miller, Koufos and Iguodala. Both teams are headed to the playoffs this season. With Gallinari out for the season, Denver is currently getting 45 points and 21 rebounds a game from the players they got courtesy of the Knicks. Anthony and Chandler are giving the Knicks 39 points and 18 rebounds a game. While this seems to give the Nuggets a slight edge, you need to consider that Denver is getting that production from a total of five players and NY is getting almost as much from only two players. Both Anthony and Chandler made the all-star game this season and no one from the Nuggets made the Western Conference team.
Quality is a much bigger deal than quantity when it comes to NBA players. It’s not like the Knicks are being forced to play with less players than Denver. Players that give you 10 points and 5 rebounds a game are relatively easy to find. NY recently picked Kenyon Martin up off the NBA scrap heap and he averages 7 points and 5 rebounds a game. All-star quality players are obviously a much rarer and more precious commodity in the NBA.
While Denver is obviously hoping to change this, the NBA title has never been won by a team without an all-star player on the roster. Denver’s entire roster has one all-star appearance between them. It was made by Iguodala, but it was before he became a Nugget. Anthony and Chandler have seven all-star appearances between them and they were both selected this season.
While this trade looks great for the Knicks, it was good for Denver too. Melo wanted out of Denver, so they had to at least try to get something in return, rather than see him walk at the end of the season and get nothing. The Nuggets currently have five decent players under 30 years old on their roster because of this trade. Miller, Koufos, Chandler, Gallinari and Iguodala are a huge part of the reason they’re going to the playoffs this season and Denver already has more wins this season than their last full season with Melo on their roster. If Gallinari, Koufos or Chandler eventually has a career spike and becomes an all-star, this trade may be one of the best moves they’ve ever made, up there with drafting Anthony.
Yet the positive impact in New York has been much greater. In their last full season without Anthony on the roster, they finished 29-53. This season, thanks in large part to Anthony’s career year, they already have more than 50 wins and their first Atlantic Division title in almost 20 years.
In a league dominated by superstars, the Knicks found a way to acquire one without having to get lucky in the draft lottery. Since the 1986-87 season, nine different players have won the NBA scoring title. Six of them have helped their team win championships and two of the others, Kevin Durant and Allen Iverson, helped their teams reach the finals. There is a very good chance Carmelo Anthony will win the scoring title this season, now let’s see if he can help the Knicks make it to the Finals.
The New York Knicks have just five games remaining in their 2012-13 regular season campaign. Where the other 77 games went, we have no idea. Currently, the Knicks sit in second place in the East right now, having won 51 games, and they just locked up the Atlantic Division for the first time since the ’93-’94 season. With the playoffs right around the corner, a lot of different storylines are hanging over the Knicks’ collective heads.
To discuss this exciting time and the surely exciting weeks ahead, The Knicks Wall team sat down and answered some questions.
1.) The Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, and Boston Celtics are all jockeying for seeds 5-7 in the East. Who do the Knicks have the best chance against and why?
Scott Davis (@WScottDavis): I want no part of the Chicago Bulls in the first round, whatsoever. Though they’re a slightly bruised bunch as well, they’ve shown utter disregard at playing short-handed. Furthermore, they’re a step closer to sweeping the season series with the Knicks (and those first three wins came pretty handily). The thought of knocking out the Celtics gets my blood rushing, but they remain (cliche coming) a veteran team with experience. And I don’t trust Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to not pull a Tonya Harding on ‘Melo’s knee before Game 1. It seems that the best option is to hope to get the Hawks – a good team, but a team I feel confident the Knicks could be four times in seven games.
Jonah Kaner (@TheKnicksWall): While it would be awesome to defeat, better-yet, sweep, the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs, I think the Knicks have the best chance against the Atlanta Hawks. Simply put, the Hawks don’t really have a go-to guy that they can rely on down the stretch of crucial games.
Steve Meza (@ecualibrium): Nothing would bring me joy more than eliminating Boston in a playoff series for undisputed supremacy over the Atlantic Division. The sweet glory of Carmelo Anthony performing a 40-point-per-game series-style exorcism, assisted by JR Smith and his catch-and-shoot holy water, on the green clad demon neighbors would be an ecstasy beyond belief. Alas, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and the bottomless wisdom pit that is Doc Rivers’ brain scare me enough to look elsewhere. Even lacking their granite faced star, the Bulls flaunt a defense so ferociously zany, it would serve the Knicks better to hope Nate the Great and company soften up the Heat for 6 games before the ECF. So, kinda by default: the Atlanta Hawks.
David Vertsberger (@_Verts): It’s got to be the Atlanta Hawks. The Chicago Bulls’ defense has stifled the Knicks to no end, enough so to keep New York from taking a win in the season series thus far. The Boston Celtics are still the Boston Celtics, and although they are a more depleted version of them, they still play with tremendous enough effort that no series they’re involved in will be an easy get-by. The Knicks have had an edge against the Atlanta Hawks all year, not surrendering a single game to them and matching up with them quite well. Tyson Chandler has done a terrific job defending Al Horford, and there’s no player on Atlanta that can hope to contain Carmelo.
Rami Levi (@RamiofTeaneck): Like many Knicks fans, I’m hoping the Knicks hold onto that 2 seed and the Hotlanta Hawks drop to 7. It has become blatantly obvious in the past couple of seasons that teams need a superstar in the playoffs. We have ours. The Hawks? While the Knicks have made Kyle Korver look like Larry Bird, and I’ll concede that Josh Smith is an above average player, the Hawks have nobody who can seize the collective hearts of Knicks Nation and eat them. Paul Pierce can do that. Without Rose, the Bulls don’t necessarily have a superstar, but they do play a brand of bruising basketball that tends to result in a barrage of Knicks Ts, not 3s. I am also scarred by soul crushing series losses of years past to the Bulls and Celtics. Give me the Hawks!
Tony Arnoldine (@tonyarnoldine): The Knicks have fared worst against the Bulls this year, going 0-3 vs. Chicago ahead of their Thursday night clash. The Bulls give the Knicks fits because they have a strong interior presence. The best matchup is probably Boston, thanks to Rajon Rondo’s injury and Kevin Garnett also being banged up.
Matt Clark (jmatthewclark): As much as I’d love to eliminate Boston from the playoffs in the first round there is only one team on that list I want to see: the Hawks. The Bulls are a well-coached, defensive juggernaut with some versatile scorers, and are possibly one healthy Derrick Rose away from being the 2-seed in the East. I can say the same about Boston. And Paul Pierce would probably still find a way to kill us! So, that leaves the Hawks and while Larry Drew has done a good job with that roster, they are still not a very good basketball team.
Bryan Gibberman (@Gibberman10): Out of the Bulls, Hawks, and Celtics, the team I am most comfortable with the Knicks facing in the first round is the Hawks. Despite the fact Atlanta has advanced to the second round in three out of the last five years, I don’t trust them in a playoff series. New York is 4-1 against Atlanta over the past two seasons.
Steve Scafidi (@Steve_Scafidi): All three teams would present a great test early in the playoffs. Boston, however, is not the Boston of years past. The momentum coming off a tough-fought series win beating the former rulers of the Atlantic Division could probably carry us all the way through the second round. Boston’s bench is pretty thin, and young, which will end up in more minutes on Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. The speed of the Knicks will probably be too much to handle in a seven-game series.
Matthew Bove (@RAYROBERT9): I would most want the Knicks to play Atlanta. I think the Knicks would beat Atlanta or Boston easily in around five games. The Knicks have beaten the Hawks twice this year and Melo scored 40 in both games, so clearly they have nobody to guard him. The only thing about the Hawks that scares you is that Jeff Teague is a quick point guard who can give the Knicks issues.
Eduardo Guerrero (@DannyG_NYC): Based on the regular season, I’d have to say the Hawks. Bulls have handled the Knicks pretty well while all three wins vs the Celtics came against battered Celtics squad (no Rondo for first win, no Rondo & KG in last two wins). It did take a fantastic game from Melo to beat the Hawks in MSG earlier this season, but the Knicks then took them apart in Atlanta. As long as Tyson and K-Mart are healthy come playoff time to hold down Al Horford, I don’t see the Hawks being much of a challenge to the Knicks.
2.) What is essential for the Knicks’ success going forward into the playoffs?
SD: I feel like I’ve seen this movie before. Carmelo Anthony’s right hand hot enough to fry an egg, the Knicks executing with machine-like precision, injuries slowly dwindling the ranks…. Things are kinda really great and really bad at the same time. Going forward, getting a player taller than 6’10″ back on the court (and healthy, too) is really important, as is the Knicks’ ability to drain three-pointers at a laughably insane rate. I’m scared to see what happens if the Knicks go through an ill-timed shooting slump. And don’t get me started with an injury to ‘Melo….
JK: Ball movement. This season, we’ve seen two completely different Knicks teams. One moves the ball around, the other doesn’t. The former gets pooped on, while the latter poops on opponents — It’s that simple.
SM: Health. The Knicks’ front line has been unmercifully ravaged by the injury bug. It’s been more like a locust-infested injury plague. On the flip side, the Knicks have been remarkably adept with the small ball lineups. The crisper ball movement and the reemergence of the 3-point weapon could motivate Woodson to throw Chris Copeland more minutes. That, and the fact that he really has no other choice at this point.
DV: It’s a multitude of things: stay healthy, don’t lose composure in physical contests, don’t iso-Melo your way through the offense, don’t try out any new lineups, play the ones that work well, like dual point guards and ‘Melo at the four. If a successful playoffs for the Knicks is getting out of the first round, then you don’t have to do all of these things. But if the standards are much higher, which I hope they are, all aforementioned keys are pivotal to having a great playoffs run.
RL: Obviously health is a critical factor when it comes to the Knicks’ playoff success. And yes, the belabored point of “they need to keep knocking down shots” holds true. But I firmly believe it comes down to composure. As we’ve seen throughout this streak, the Knicks are at their best during a blowout. The best player on the Knicks is their confidence. This does not happen in the playoffs. With exception of the occasional blowout, you gotta slog through a seven game series. Throughout the season, the Knicks have struggled in grind-em’-out-games…they lose their composure. If they can stay strong mentally, they can move on in the playoffs.
TA: The key to Knicks’ playoff success is their health and the continued high-level play of Carmelo Anthony. Melo is playing like an MVP and providing defense and rebounding along with his usual high-octane scoring. If opposing teams key in on Melo and slow down his offense, he can still make everyone around him better with great passing and drawing double teams. It will then be up to the perimeter scorers to hit shots.
MC: Health, of course, but the real key is going to be ball movement and the ability to catch and make three-pointers. I don’t need to revisit how deadly this team was in the first 25 games of this season or how good they are right now; but it all comes down to the ability to knock down open threes. In order for Melo to be truly devastating we have to always pose the threat that if you double him or collapse on him in the post, our shooters will make you pay. This gives Melo more one-on-one opportunities, and I’d argue with anyone about there being a better player in the league in that scenario.
BG: For the Knicks to have success in the playoffs it will be following the same pattern they did in the regular season – a highly efficient offense and an average defense. This blueprint got the Phoenix Suns to the Western Conference Finals in 2009-2010 and it can do the same for the Knicks this season.
SS: That has to be JR Smith. We all pretty much are assured Anthony will be locked and loaded when the playoffs get rolling—if Smith can maintain his efficiency and rebounding, it will be tough for opposing defenses to try and keep tabs on both Anthony and Smith.
MB: The Knicks need to be healthy first and foremost. Their last two postseasons have been derailed by injuries and it cannot happen again. They need to do whatever they can to get Chandler and Martin healthy. Secondly, they need to hit their threes, as they attempt the most in the NBA and hit on 37.7% of them. The majority of them have come in the flow of the offense this year and if playoff teams are taking them away they cannot force them. The offense is what has gotten the Knicks this far and will determine how far they go.
EG: Health. It’s seemed like everyone on the team has had to deal with injuries this season. Now that Tyson is banged up and with K-Mart hurting his ankle, the team needs to get as healthy as possible for the playoff. The pieces are in place for a deep run. They just need to stay healthy.
3.) How far is this Knicks team capable of going into the playoffs?
SD: It always depends on a number of variables: ‘Melo’s jumper, the health of the big men, efficiency of the offense, and obviously, the opponents. I feel fairly confident the Knicks could get past anyone in the first round. Assuming they play the Pacers in the second round… it could get scary. But the Knicks have generally persevered through injuries, and at their worst, they played slightly better than .500 ball. With a few lucky rolls, I could see this team making it to the Conference Finals. After a decade in basketball doldrums, that’s a successful season to me.
JK: Assuming the team is playing solid basketball (ball movement, knocking down threes, defense, etc), I see no reason for them to not get to the conference finals, setting up an interesting series with the Miami Heat. Should they get that far, I see the Knicks v. Heat series going 7 games, with the Knicks winning. As a Knicks enthusiast, Knicks in 6 over the Clippers.
SM: If the universe feels like blessing New York with a reversed 1999 Finals run campaign, when it seemed like the Knicks lost a player to injury in every round (seriously, the Knicks started CHRIS DUDLEY at center against The Admiral), the Knicks can bully their way to the ECF and potentially beyond. If Kenyon Martin, Tyson Chandler, and either Rasheed Wallace or Marcus Camby can return healthy and provide some staunch paint defense, I’m sure (or, I hope) Carmelo Anthony will oblige by putting on a net-splashing parade on the other end. Here’s to hoping.
DV: The peak is likely the Eastern Conference Finals. The Knicks can take on any team that isn’t in Miami, and if they maintain the second seed, they won’t have to up until round three. Once they get there, well, the season’s probably over. It’ll be a tight series – Miami won’t walk away easily like last year – but they will once again be victors.
RL: I’m having too much fun to let my overwhelming skepticism put a limit on this team. I have reason to believe they don’t even make it out of the first round. But you know what? 16 wins, and you call yourself a champion. The ‘Bockers are riding a 13-game winning streak right now – who’s to say they can’t do it in the playoffs? Nobody wants it more than a ring-less ‘Melo right now, and just maybe the basketball gods will smile on NY once more.
TD: If the Knicks are the No. 2 seed in the East, they should make it to the Conference Finals. Although the Pacers – the likely No. 3 seed – would give them headaches in the second round, the Knicks should be able to take them in a seven game series if they continue to play at the level they have been. All of this, of course, is dependent on everyone staying healthy.
MC: If K-Mart, Camby, and ‘Sheed can return from injuries and contribute, then we can beat the Heat. Grunwald and company built this team to beat Miami, and I believe that the big men are the crucial piece there. The Bulls showed the entire league how to beat Miami when they snapped their 27-game winning streak, and that is to be be bigger, tougher and more physical. If you can force their role players to make plays, you can beat the Heat.
BG: I think the Knicks’ ceiling is the Eastern Conference Finals. I do think the Knicks will put up a fight against the Heat, but in the end will fall short. New York matches up pretty well against Miami compared to others teams across the league because their offense has the ability to exploit Miami’s defense. In the end, going up against LeBron James will be too much to overcome.
SS: A realistic expectation would be the Eastern Conference finals if the Knicks stay on the level they’re on now. Indiana will most likely face New York in the second round – a team that has given them trouble all year. Our big men will need to be healthy for a deep run. Having our big men available at the same time would supply an endless amount of options for Woodson to use matching up against a big Indiana team, and eventually, Miami.
MB: The Knicks are capable of making the Eastern Conference Finals if they are healthy. If the Knicks were to lose in the first round, it would be a disaster, and a loss in the second round would be disappointing as well. If they make the Eastern Conference Finals, anything after that would be gravy. Is it impossible that they could beat the Heat? No, but obviously it’s not likely. The Knicks have played the Heat well this year; however, if Lebron James plays at the level that he has this season, there really is no beating them.
EG: Being that I think they’ll get the 2nd seed, I don’t see how the Knicks don’t get out of the first round. I don’t see the Bulls falling to 7th, so it’ll either be the Hawks or Celtics in the first round, and I believe the Knicks will beat either of them. As for the 2nd round, I can see the Knicks getting past either Indy or Chicago, but I can also see the other two advancing as well. The one advantage I do believe the Knicks have in their favor against Indy or Chicago is having Melo. The other two don’t have that guy who can get them a basket whenever they need on. To answer the question simply, I can see the Knicks getting to the Conference Finals….or losing in the second round.
As the Knicks roll into a big time match-up with the Oklahoma City Thunder on an 11 game winning streak, there are lots of things going right for New York. Carmelo Anthony is red hot, scoring 40+ points in three consecutive games, making New York fans hoarse from cheering at their TVs as he’s embarrassed opposing defenses; JR Smith has scored 30+ points coming off the bench four times during the streak; Iman Shumpert hit 17 three-pointers in the first nine games of the streak; Kenyon Martin has resurrected his career in glorious fashion and Raymond Felton is playing some of his best basketball of the season; Even Pablo Prigioni has gotten in on the action, breaking into the starting lineup and helping stabilize the back court with his solid play.
Yet, the Knicks have been a solid offensive team all season, averaging over 99 points a game, making over 800 threes and having the third highest offensive rating in the league. The problem the Knicks have experienced during various points in the season where they have struggled is with their defense or the lack of it. The Knicks’ defensive rating ranks 16th in the NBA.
The biggest key to the streak has been a re-invigorated defense. Over the 11 game span, the Knicks have given up 89.7 points a game. To put that into perspective, the Memphis Grizzlies, which lead the league in fewest points allowed this season, give up 89.8 points per game. No team has hit more than 50% from the field against New York during the streak and twice they’ve held opponents to 38% shooting. Five times, New York has held their opponent to 85 points or less and the most they’ve given up is 102 (ironically to the basketball challenged Bobcats).
This defensive renaissance has been somewhat surprising, given that, for most of the streak, the Knicks have been without their defensive backbone, current Defensive Player of the Year, Tyson Chandler, who’s been nursing a sore neck. Not only did the Knicks’ defense not collapse in his absence, it prospered.
Perhaps the biggest reason has been the play of Kenyon Martin. A few weeks ago this would have been like saying the biggest reason Star Wars is a good series of movies is the character of Jar Jar Binks. Martin was a man without a team, seemingly too old and too diminished for a team to take a chance on him. Then with Chandler going and joining New York’s long list of injured big men, Martin was asked to be their starting center. Well undersized in the middle at 6’9”, Martin was expected to shake off the rust and hold his own against centers that were younger and bigger.
He’s done more than hold his own. It’s not a coincidence that this winning streak and in particular this streak of good defense has coincided with Martin getting big minutes for New York. In the 14 games where Martin has played 20 minutes or more the Knicks are 11-3. New York has given up more than 105 points in those games only once. His Defensive Rating is 104, the same as Chandler, and Jason Kidd is the only rotation player on the team with a better one: 103. His defensive numbers per 36 minutes are solid: 7.9 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks, but this hardly tells the full story. His physical style of play seems to inspire the whole team to greater effort while at the same time making the other team think twice about coming into the paint. His 5.2 fouls per 36 minutes lead the team and he somehow makes it seem like a virtue. His fouls, though plentiful, are usually well timed and seem to have a positive effect on the team’s defensive intensity.
This streak is very reminiscent defensively of the beginning of the season. New York started the season 8-1, allowing more than 100 points only once. At that point, many were hailing the Knicks as an elite defensive team. Yet after starting the season strong, New York’s defense slid into mediocrity and so did their results, as they followed their 8-1 start with a 30-25 record. The entire season the one constant has been offence. Both of their streaks of sustained excellence have been highlighted by superior defense. Hopefully having both a healthy Chandler and Martin available at the same time will only help and New York will be able to carry their new found defensive vigor and excellence into the postseason. Of course when we’re talking about the Knicks, sometimes having players stay healthy seems like a lot to ask.
Resting on the shoulders of an absolutely torrid Carmelo Anthony and a rejuvenated defense, the Knicks continued their hottest stretch in decades, winning their tenth in a row by using a dominant fourth quarter to blow up a close game. While neither New York nor Atlanta played their best basketball through the first three quarters, the teams went opposite directions in the final 12 minutes. The Knicks strung together several solid possessions on both ends of the ball, locking down Atlanta’s offense, and exploiting a defense keyed in on stopping Carmelo Anthony. Raymond Felton took advantage of this neglectful defense and repeatedly burned the Hawks in the pick-and-roll, getting to the basket for easy layups and organizing a Knicks offense that nearly doubled up the Hawks in the final quarter.
The Knicks opened the game in a little bit of a daze as they missed seven of their first eight shots, while Atlanta canned open threes, layups, and contested, improbable deep jumpers. Carmelo Anthony knocked down his first shot attempt, but struggled shortly thereafter, misfiring on some turn-around jumpers and failing to finish around the rim. J.R. Smith checked in early to give the Knicks’ offense a boost, but he, too, missed on several close attempts after working his way towards the paint off the dribble.
The Hawks, meanwhile, jumped out to a surprising 10-2 lead, before the fortunes switched. For Atlanta, Josh Smith, Jeff Teague, and Al Horford began to eat up a majority of the Hawks’ possessions, bricking routine jumpers close and far, and bricking bunnies at the rim. For the Knicks, after an initial slow start, both Anthony’s work on offense began to pay dividends as he found success driving to the cup for layups and fouls, and eventually began snapping the net on some pull-up jumpers and catch-and-shoot three-pointers.
After one, the Knicks led 23-18.
The second quarter didn’t find either team executing their best, either. Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith kicked things off for both teams with five consecutive points, respectively, both hitting on three-pointers and jumpers off the dribble. Shortly after, however, points became hard to come by. Kyle Korver oddly missed on his most wide open looks from beyond the arc while the rest of the Hawks’ thin bench failed to generate much offense at all. J.R. Smith continued to do the lion’s share of the work, but the Knicks had almost nothing to show for it.
As both starting units came back into the game with a little more than half the quarter remaining, the heat turned up again. Anthony promptly returned to disregarding whoever put their hands in his face, and was able to score on a variety of pull-up jumpers and aggressive takes to the basket. Korver made up for his misses from deep by exploiting a shaky perimeter defense and hitting jumpers off the bounce or just taking it directly to the cup.
While the Hawks’ offense was hardly scorching, the Knicks once again exhibited bad tendencies on switches and doubles, and just plain slow-footed defense on the perimeter that allowed the Hawks to get easy baskets when they actually executed. Also, once again, Knicks not named Carmelo Anthony failed to hit open looks they received from the defensive attention being paid to ‘Melo who remained blistering.
The Knicks, however, were still able to build their lead in the quarter – a testament to the Hawks’ general listlessness – and went into halftime leading 47-40.
The third quarter found Carmelo Anthony at his tip-toppest offensive form while the Knicks’ defense took a collective nosedive. Kyle Korver continued to be the Hawks’ only consistent form of offense, while everything on that end of the floor went through ‘Melo for New York.
Anthony kicked things off with an offensive rebound and layup after a missed three from Prigioni. He then operated in the pick-and-roll a bit and found Prigioni with a kick-out pass for an open three on the elbow. Later, Anthony welcomed Josh Smith and the Hawks’ sturdiest defense by simply netting difficult turn-around jumpers and splashing one- and two-dribble pull-up jumpers over out-stretched hands. Even when Smith managed to deflect the ball out of Anthony’s hands, he was able to regain possession along the baseline before it went out of bounds, and launch a 20-footer that didn’t even touch rim. 15 of the Knicks’ 21 third-quarter points came through Anthony, either by shooting or by passing.
The same lackluster defense remained for the Knicks, however, and Atlanta was actually able to work their way back to take the lead at certain points. Korver managed nine points, all on threes, in the quarter, and gave the Knicks, particularly Iman Shumpert fits, as he benefited from the space given to him off the Knicks’ needless switching and doubling. In one stretch, Shumpert left Korver open for a corner three, then proceeded to get blocked by Korver on a pull-up jumper attempt. Shump then rotated and closed out slowly on Deshawn Stevenson who scooped in for a layup and a foul on Kenyon Martin.
Jeff Teague and Shelvin Mack also gave the Knicks problems as they scooted into the paint and took advantage of the Knicks’ general lack of size down low (Chandler sat out for most of the quarter, appearing in pain). The two teams traded baskets back and forth, capped off by a stepback jumper from J.R. Smith to beat the buzzer and tie the game up at 68 heading into the fourth quarter.
Once again, heading into a pivotal final quarter, the Knicks pulled themselves together, this time basically running over the Hawks. It began with far more aggressive perimeter defense, and some handsy deflection and steals in the pick-and-roll, as seen the previous night in Miami. Felton (who’d been quiet heading into the fourth) picked Mack’s pocket and went coast to coast for a layup. Smith, sensing his size advantage on Atlanta’s smaller guards, went back to work off the dribble, and spun and twisted his way for some easy, close buckets. Careless passes coupled with a feisty New York defense led to copious amounts of Atlanta turnovers; the cough-ups just kept piling up and giving New York more chances to score.
While ‘Melo sat, Felton took the reins of the offense and punished a lackadaisical Atlanta defense. Three straight times, Felton squiggled his way through the defense off the high pick-and-roll and finished at the rim for mostly uncontested layups. Quickly, the Knicks built their lead up to eight. Then, Anthony checked in.
The Hawks’ defense was already spread thin, but Anthony’s presence only furthered their problems. After checking in and executing a post-up-spin-off-alley-oop with Jason Kidd, the Hawks focused their efforts almost solely on Anthony. The Knicks used this defensive attention to get Smith going. On one gorgeous sequence, Anthony sucked in the defense, threw a cross-court pass to Smith, who blew by the later-arriving closeout, and took it in for a two-handed jam.
The Knicks built up their lead to double-digits and were slowly able to ride the game out, punctuating it with a baseline jumper from Anthony that gave him a 40-point follow-up to his 50-point explosion the night before.
- Simply stunning work from Carmelo Anthony. In his last 81 minutes, he’s netted 90 points on 35-53 shooting from the field, almost all of those coming from outside of the paint. The man is in a rhythm like never seen before while he’s worn a Knicks uniform, and his offense has been good enough to carry the Knicks through some comatose starts. It’ll be interesting to see if ‘Melo can continue to get off to hot starts (he’s scored 81 of his total points in the first three quarters of the last two games), and attract opposing defenses so much that it allows other Knicks to get hot in the fourth quarter. It’s not an ideal attack, but there isn’t a hotter player in the NBA right now.
- To speak to the above point: Smith and Felton finished with a combined 33 points on 15-31 FG. In the fourth quarter they were a combined 9-11 from the field for 19 points.
- The buzzkill in all of this is that Chandler isn’t physically right, and now Kenyon Martin’s knee is “sore” which means he’s moments away from losing a lower limb entirely.
- Those fourth-quarter Hawks turnovers that I mentioned before – seven of them in the final 12 minutes. Some of it was pesky defense from the Knicks, some of it was carelessness from Atlanta.
- Tom Izzo randomly joined the ESPN broadcast in the second quarter and spoke pretty glowingly of about every person mentioned during his air-time. This was very different than what I imagined Tom Izzo to be like in person.
- Fun sequence in the 4th quarter: J.R. Smith fronts Josh Smith in the post, gets a steal, races down court, trips over his own feet, turns it over, DeShawn Stevenson picks up the ball, races down court, gets discombobulated between passing and dribbling, turns it over.
I’m not sure how I could handle a seven-game series between the two teams, but the Knicks, in both meetings, were able to out-execute the Hawks in the fourth quarter, and come up with the win both at home and on the road. If the two teams were to meet in the playoffs, as of right now, it’d bode well for the Knicks. New York will look to continue their streak when they face the Milwaukee Bucks at home on Friday.
Follow Scott Davis on Twitter: @WScottDavis
- A morale destroying losing streak.
- Major injuries to multiple key stars.
- A reserve guard suddenly putting up MVP type numbers.
- A surprising seven game winning streak led by some unexpected heroes.
The Knicks’ current winning streak isn’t their only impressive win streak this season, but it’s the one that most reminds me of the history making seven game win streak they went on last season, now better known as “Linsanity”. Let’s start with a look back.
February 4, 2012. Coach Mike D’Antoni and his Knicks were desperate. After starting off the strike shortened season an encouraging 6-4, the wheels had seemingly come off the Knicks’ season. New York had just lost to the Boston Celtics, their eleventh loss in 13 games. Now, the Knickerbockers’ record stood at 8-15, with thoughts of making the playoffs rapidly seeming like a pipe dream. After missing the playoffs for six straight years, the Knicks had made it back in 2011. Now it looked like they would be going back to their losing ways in 2012.
Yet, February 4 was the day things changed. With point guard Baron Davis unavailable due to injury, D’Antoni had been trying to get by using Iman Shumpert and Toney Douglas to run the show without success. Douglas had lost D’Antoni’s confidence and Shumpert was both playing out of position and playing too many minutes. Out of other options, D’Antoni had given six minutes of playing time to journeyman point guard Jeremy Lin against the Celts. Lin was solid but unspectacular, yet D’Antoni was happy enough with solid to get Lin into the game sooner the next night against the New Jersey Nets. Lin was ready. As Lin started piling up points and assists, D’Antoni took notice and left him out there for almost 36 minutes as Jeremy put up 25 points and seven assists. That night, the Knicks beat the Nets 99-92 and everything changed.
The discovery of a good point guard buried at the end of the bench was somewhat muted by the loss of Amare Stoudemire, hurt in the New Jersey game. If this wasn’t bad enough, the Knicks lost another key star, Carmelo Anthony, the very next night against Utah. At this point, D’Antoni was willing to try almost anything and he’d shoved Lin into the starting lineup and reached down to the end of the bench for another journeyman, forward Steve Novak. Novak had struggled so far that season and only played a total of four seconds in the two previous games. Yet this night he played over 17 minutes and as the Jazz defense collapsed to try and deal with the penetration of Lin, he found himself getting open and thanks in part to Lin, getting the ball. Novak made the most of this opportunity and went five of eight from deep.
With that, Linsanity was on. Lin and Tyson Chandler led a cast of second and third tier players to seven straight victories, with Novak coming off the bench and blazing away from almost as deep as he had been buried on the bench.
No one expected anything similar to happen this season. The main reason was because this time the Knicks had loaded up pretty much their entire roster full of aging veterans, with the plus and minus of them being known quantities, so the Knicks’ at least knew the ceiling of what they could likely expect from each of them. Last season’s roster featured nine players with five years or less of NBA experience. This year, the Knicks’ have only four, and two of those players, Pablo Prigioni and James White, are in their thirties. Last season, the Knicks included seven players 27 or younger, this season they only have one, the 22 year-old Shumpert.
While this may give New York a better shot at winning big this season, it does limit the number of pleasant surprises possible from their roster. There is less discovering new young talent like Lin, and more discovering nagging injuries and players losing a step from advanced age.
March 18, 2013. Coach Mike Woodson and the Knicks were desperate. They were reeling from a crushing four game losing streak where New York lost by an average of 20 points a game. Added to this were injuries to all three of New York’s front court superstars: Chandler, Anthony and Stoudemire. Suddenly, hosting a first round playoff series wasn’t looking like such a lock, never mind winning the Atlantic Division title.
March 18 was the day things changed. With the injuries to his stars, Woodson had been mixing and matching various starting lineups, frantically trying to find a winning combination. This night he unveiled his third different lineup in as many games: Prigioni, Shumpert, Raymond Felton, Chris Copeland and Kenyon Martin. Despite playing on the road, the second night of a back-to-back against a Jazz team fighting for its playoff life, the Knicks broke their losing streak with a 90-83 victory. News of the victory was tempered by the news that Kurt Thomas had joined the bevy of injured Knicks and would be out indefinitely.
Fortunately, the Knicks were able to trade up by getting Melo back in the lineup for their next game. With a small starting lineup of Melo, Shumpert, Prigioni, Martin and Felton, the Knicks have put together their longest winning streak of the season, currently at seven and counting.
While Jeremy Lin’s emergence was clearly the biggest impetus to last season’s seven game win streak, it certainly wasn’t the only reason for it. There were other big stories as well: the emergence of Steve Novak and terrific defensive efforts from Chandler, Shumpert, Landry Fields and Jared Jefferies.
There are several major reasons for this win streak as well. Returning home to Madison Square Garden, getting Melo back in the lineup and playing some relatively weak teams certainly have helped, but that only begins to tell the story. While Melo has made a strong contribution, these games haven’t been up to the standard of excellence that he’s set earlier this season. Instead, much of the credit for the Knicks’ surprising turnaround have to go to new starters Martin and Prigioni, along with elevated play from Shumpert and perhaps most of all: JR Smith.
In some ways Kenyon Martin and Pablo Prigioni are this season’s much older version of Lin and Novak. Martin has spent most of the season unsuccessfully trying to get a team to take a flyer on him and Prigioni has spent most of the season buried on the Knicks’ bench. Martin has averaged 11 points and six rebounds a game during the streak, after basically being a garbage heap pickup for a Knicks’ team with every post player on their roster out with injuries. Those stats only tell part of the story. The 6’9” Martin has been playing out of position at center, bringing rugged hard-nosed defense every night while shooting 62% from the field.
Prigioni has also come out of obscurity to be a steadying presence in the starting lineup. It’s not a coincidence that these seven wins have also been his first seven starts of the season. Having a second point guard on the floor with Felton has increased New York’s ball movement and security. During the streak he has an impressive assist/turnover ratio of 25 to 3. Prigioni’s pesky defensive presence has also added to the improved defense that has been a key part of this streak.
Iman Shumpert has started to look more like his old self during the streak. After taking what seemed like an eternity to regain his form after returning to the lineup from last season’s injury, he’s starting to be more aggressive and more effective on both ends of the court. His biggest impact on the offensive end has been the development of a deadly long range game. During the streak, he has gone 12 of 22 from three-point range.
The biggest key to the streak though, has been Smithsanity. Most of the season the talented but mercurial Smith has been just as likely to throw away games with his poor shot selection as he has been to win them with his clutch late game shot making and game changing dunks.
Over the streak however, Smith has transformed into an overnight superstar. Despite coming off the bench, he’s averaged over 26 points a game while shooting a remarkable 54% from the field after being a career 42% shooter that’s only shooting 41% this season. He’s also attempted 60 free throws over the streak. This is an average of 8.5 attempts a game, yet for his career Smith only averages 2.6 attempts a game. This vastly increased number of times he’s getting to the line reveals the biggest reason for his remarkable transformation. Instead of constantly settling for extremely high level of difficulty jumpers when he’s handling the ball, he’s attacking the rim instead.
Smith shows no signs of slowing down, if anything, he’s heating up. In his last three games he’s scored 32, 35 and 37 points. He’s also averaging close to five and half rebounds a game over the streak, despite averaging 2.6 a game for his career. Does this mean that Woodson has finally become the one coach to fully tap into Smith’s talent after nine seasons in the league? Knicks’ fans can only hope. If JR can even come close to keeping this up, the sky’s the limit to what New York can accomplish once its big men start to get healthy.
While I don’t expect Smith to average over 30 points a game for the rest of the season, he’s not necessarily as sure to cool way off as much as the hot three-point shooting that keyed the Knicks’ six game win streak earlier this season. He’s not scoring more simply because he’s got a hot hand, he appears to have fundamentally changed the way he approaches the game offensively. He not just choosing better shots either, he’s creating better shots. If this new JR sticks around, his contract is going to look like the biggest bargain in the NBA. More importantly, the Eastern Conference playoff picture may have just gotten a lot more interesting.
Well, they’ve done it. The Knicks have clinched a playoff spot. Now I can finally stop holding my breath, I can shave my “they’re-not-in-the-playoffs-yet” beard and I can dump my girlfriend. That last one might not have much to do with the Knicks, but I like to share. Speaking of sharing, now that the boys are officially in the playoffs, I’ve decided to get some other things off my chest, too. I’m sure the Knicks know and care that I think they’re all heroes for getting us to the promised land, but there is still lots of work to do. While each of the Knicks seems to have found a way to contribute something positive this season, each of them also seems to have a fatal flaw which has hurt the team on occasion. So, I’ve decided to make a Knicks wish list, wherein I list the one thing I would wish for/from each member of the team to give us the best chance of success in the postseason.
Carmelo Anthony - Don’t be a hero. Melo has become a surprisingly complete player this season, but even he has a fatal flaw. He wants to win so badly and he wants to be the hero so badly that he will sometimes make bad choices that end up hurting the Knicks. So no more playing hurt when he should be resting up and no more forcing tough contested shots when things aren’t clicking for the team on offense. We need a healthy Melo that trusts his teammates and sticks to the plan on offense even when things aren’t going great.
Tyson Chandler - Stay on the court. By which I mean get/stay healthy and stay out of fights and foul trouble. I love that you’re such a rambunctious tough guy Tyson, but we really need you to keep out of trouble.
Raymond Felton - Pass first, attack the rim second and shoot jumpers last. This may seem like pretty obvious stuff for a point guard, but Ray’s shooting under 42% from the field and it’s due largely to him taking difficult two point shots when he should be finding a way to dish or get to the rack.
Iman Shumpert - Be aggressive. Alright Shump, you seem to have fixed your three point shot as you’re now hitting on close to 40% of them after only hitting around 30% last year, nice work. So why is your overall field goal percentage down to just 36%? It seems like you need to attack the rim more, like you did last year. While you’re at it, let’s see more attack mode on D as well. Last season you were someone we counted on to shut down the opposing team’s best perimeter player and we need to see more of that kind of defense this season.
Jason Kidd - Find your shot again. Look Jason, we all lose things, so let’s think about this: where were you standing the last time you remember having your shot? The good news here is that after an epic slump from three-point land, Jason has recently been showing signs that he’s over it. At this point in his career, Kidd’s game actually has quite a few flaws, but he finds lots of ways to compensate and cover for most of them. Being able to reliably nail open threes is a crucial part of old man Kidd’s game now though and if the Knicks are going to make noise in the playoffs, he needs to keep working with shooting guru Dave Hopla and making sure he doesn’t misplace his three point shot again.
Amare Stoudemire - Get back in shape in time. STAT is the Knicks’ X-factor for the playoffs. If he’s healthy and in playing shape like he was right before he got injured, then suddenly anything’s possible come playoff time. Remember the way he dominated the beginning of the fourth quarter against the Heat before Woody inexplicably benched him? Yeah, we need that.
JR Smith - Play intelligent, fully engaged basketball. At this point, nobody can really question Smith’s talent. The question is his focus and judgment. When JR is focused on the defensive end, he can give the Knicks a real perimeter stopper. On the offensive end, he needs to stop forsaking team offense so frequently in favor of crazy, low percentage, step back, two-point jumpers. When Smith is taking open jumpers off the catch or attacking the rim, he’s an incredible weapon, but when he’s constantly freelancing, he frequently digs big holes for the Knicks.
Steve Novak -Find a second skill set. Not only is Novak the Knicks’ best three-point shooter, but he’s one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA. That’s why he has a job in the NBA and he averages 20 minutes a game. He may be one the ten best shooters in the entire galaxy, but he really needs to find a second skill set. I realize it might be asking too much for Steve to become an elite or even solid defender, but what about developing a two-point game to compliment his three-point game? Like Shump, Steve actually has a higher percentage from three than he does overall. This means that teams only need to guard him at the arc and can and often do otherwise ignore him. Get on that Steve!
Pablo Prigioni - Just shoot already! At close to 39%, Pablo is one the Knicks’ best three-point shooters. Someone needs to inform Pablo of this though. No more looking left, right, up and down before deciding it’s safe to shoot. You’re not crossing the street Pablo and you don’t need to check with anyone when you’re wide open, just shoot like you’re confident that it will go in and things will be great.
Kenyon Martin - Keep up the good work. Kenyon is playing so far beyond reasonable expectations, that I feel that it would be absurd to ask for anything else but more of the same at this point.
Chris Copeland - Work on your defense. Cope is a special talent on offense, able to score and score efficiently in a variety of ways. Yet he doesn’t get much playing time, because coach Woody considers him a liability on defense. Cope realized that being a great offensive player will get you a job in the NBA, now he needs to realize that being at least a decent defender is what’s required to get him more playing time.
Rasheed Wallace - More healthiness, less three-point shooting. Given how long Sheed has been out of the lineup, getting healthy is a given, so I’m adding a second wish: stop shooting so many threes. Sheed is a stopper on defense and he has the skills to be a post threat, but he wastes too many offensive possessions with his love of the three ball, which wouldn’t be quite so bad if his shot wasn’t so bad (32%).
Marcus Camby - Find your game. So far this has been a lost season for the former defensive player of the year. When he’s gotten onto the court his offense has been completely missing: 31% FG%, down from 48% last season and he hasn’t established enough dominance on defense or on the boards to maintain a spot in the rotation, even with the Knicks seriously hurting for bigs.
James White - Recover your swagger. While White is far from an accomplished NBA player, we could always depend on him for self-confidence and swagger. Who can forget his epic trash talk leading up to the Slam Dunk contest? Unfortunately, the dunk contest seems to have been overly humbling for White. Ever since his ignominious performance (or lack of performance) at the dunk competition, Flight White has been grounded. In the starting lineup against Miami to help defend against the Heat’s elite wings, he looked lost and desperate, seemingly always a step behind the game. It didn’t take long after that for him to fade from the starting lineup all the way to very end of the bench where Sheed leaves his used chewing gum. He’s recently shown a little bit of life in garbage time and if he can learn to shine during meaningful minutes, he may yet have a shot to stay in the NBA after this season.
Kurt Thomas - Rehab, rehab, rehab. While Kurt hasn’t seen many minutes this season, he’s delivered when called upon. The defense is still there and though his offensive is somewhat one dimensional, at least it’s consistent. Thus I can only ask/hope/wish that he gets better soon.
Mike Woodson - Manage those minutes. Based on his short tenure in NY, Woody is a sensational coach who deserves to be part of the coach of the year conversation. I just ask that he find more rest for his older players and his overworked stars. JR, Tyson and Carmelo have all played over 2000 minutes this season, despite the fact that JR is a reserve, Chandler has missed five games and Melo 13. You’ve clinched the playoffs coach, as much as playoff seeding matters, it won’t matter at all if the Knicks’ key players have all broken down.
The Knicks returned home and got themselves a much-needed blowout victory over a badly struggling team. After a brutal 1-4 Western Conference road trip, in which a number of key players went down with injuries, the Knicks have a small window of easy games to try and regain some ground, and they kicked off the stretch with a double-digit victory over the Orlando Magic. While it wasn’t a completely reassuring outing, given that the Magic are the second worst team in the league and were missing their starting center, Nikola Vucevic, the Knicks should welcome all wins with open arms as they try to get their feet back underneath them in the home stretch of the NBA season.
The Knicks began the game with the same uber-small lineup that they utilized Monday against the Utah Jazz. Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni split backcourt duties while Iman Shumpert, Carmelo Anthony, and Kenyon Martin manned the frontcourt. Initially, given the relative inexperience of the lineup, the Knicks looked a little hesitant on offense, but that was quickly shattered by Anthony hitting his first three-pointer of the game, followed by a jumper from Felton, and a fastbreak layup from Shumpert. On defense, Orlando struggled to scrape up points as the Knicks actively trapped ball-handlers on the perimeter and attacked anyone that entered the paint. The five Magic turnovers in the quarter simply gave the Knicks more opportunities to score the ball.
The defensive intensity was nice, and the offensive cohesion was unlike anything the Knicks had demonstrated in the past few weeks. The ball swung with ease around the perimeter, setting up three-pointers for Anthony, Chris Copeland, and J.R. Smith. Inside of the arc, Felton and Martin worked the pick-and-roll successfully, connecting on one pretty alley-oop. Anthony and Camby got in the act, too. Early in the clock, ‘Melo posted up on the right block, kicked the ball out to Camby on the perimeter, and then spun around and caught a beautiful pass in the air from Camby, and threw it down.
At the end of the quarter, the Knicks were en route to a blowout, up 26-15.
However, the Knicks being the Knicks, some kinks reappeared, despite the promising first quarter. The Magic used a 7-0 run to start the quarter, and cut a double-digit lead to four points. Initially, the bench lineup of Jason Kidd, Smith, Steve Novak, Copeland, and Camby struggled to defend against a semi-reckless Orlando bench squad. The Knicks took arrhythmic contested jumpers on offense, and were unable to stop penetration or inside baskets by the Magic.
While said defensive issues plagued the Knicks all quarter, the offense eventually came back around. For the second straight game, J.R. Smith made a point to work off the dribble and get to the basket where he finished a few nice drives and set up teammates with some good, open looks. Later on in the quarter, the game still only within two baskets, the Knicks and Magic shared baskets back and forth. Anthony and Shumpert connected on back-to-back threes, all the while Orlando’s indomitable Beno Udrih carved up the Knicks’ pick-and-roll defense for some floaters in the lane and some set-ups for teammates.
Despite a nice offensive showing, the Knicks only led 51-46 at the half after surrendering 31 second quarter points to Orlando.
Whatever was said to the Knicks at halftime seemed to light the fire back underneath them. Kenyon Martin opened the quarter with a nice post-up move for an and-one layup. Although he missed the free throw, Felton scurried in to collect the offensive rebound, pulled the ball back out and nailed a three-pointer. Prigioni, who actually seemed to spend more time on the ball than Felton, also made his presence felt with a three-pointer, and then ensuing assists in a pick-and-roll with Martin and a cross-court pass to Smith for a three-pointer.
Much of the Knicks’ offense thereafter came from Anthony, Smith, and Copeland, all of whom mixed up their looks on offense going inside and out, and benefiting from the generally good ball movement. Orlando, on the other hand, just didn’t have the talent to keep up. Part of that was the Knicks’ collective defensive efforts. The guards pestered Orlando’s backcourt, and even Anthony and Smith got caught in the energy, each displaying a willingness to play solid, man-to-man defense.
The Knicks outscored the Magic 32-19 in the period and led 83-65 going into the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter followed the Knicks’ usual blowout script. Woodson rested guys like Anthony, Felton, and eventually Martin, and ran out a wily group featuring Kidd, Smith, James White, Copeland, and Novak, along with Martin to begin the quarter. Kidd and Smith whiffed on an alley-oop attempt. And as expected, the Knicks let up on the gas a little bit and played slightly nonchalantly, allowing the Magic to actually get within striking distance. At one point, with the Knicks’ lead down to 11, it looked as though Woodson would have to reinsert starters to take control of the game.
He didn’t, though, as the bench responded. Steve Novak hit a three-pointer to push the Knicks’ lead back to 13, then James White came up with a steal and went coast-to-coast for a dunk much better than anything he gave us in the dunk contest. Even with the game’s fate all but sealed, the Knicks didn’t let up. J.R. Smith chased Andrew Nicholson down in the final 50 seconds and pinned his layup attempt on the glass to protect the score.
When the buzzer rang, the Garden stood to its feet and applauded the Knicks for possibly the best overall effort and confident game they’d seen in recent weeks.
- Iman Shumpert didn’t play the second half after he appeared to tweak his knee at the end of the first half. He was available to play, but Woodson chose not to. Tina Cervasio grossly explained the situation that appears to not be too serious.
- The Knicks actually shot less free throws than the Magic (who are one of the worst in the league at getting to the line) and grabbed fewer boards. However, they made up for it with four less turnovers than Orlando, and by shooting a blistering 44% from beyond the arc, connecting on 15 of 34 attempts.
- Two very efficient nights for Anthony and Smith. Anthony finished with 21 points on 7-14 shooting, with 8 rebounds, 1 steal and a block. Smith finished with 22 points on 8-16 FG, grabbed 7 rebounds, and dished 2 assists.
- I don’t get MSG at my current residence, so while I watched League Pass Broadband’s coverage of the game, I missed the postgame which included Patrick Ewing(!). He and John Starks sat courtside together and received a standing ovation.
- Also, Patrick Ewing said the Knicks can’t beat the Heat.
- I’m pretty much flat-out amazed every time Kenyon Martin jumps in the air to dunk a ball or block a shot. Considering the guy is 35-years old, has undergone microfracture surgery, and been in and out of the league for the last two seasons, he’s probably still one of the Knicks’ best leapers. Thus far, I’ve greatly enjoyed Kenyon’s presence.
- The Knicks’ starting five was a combined +77 for the game. The bench was a combined -17, with Smith being the only player with a positive +/-
- A fun exchange between Clyde and Mike Breen about Kurt Thomas’s long journey through the NBA and the number of people he’s played with. Clyde: “Did he play with George Mikan?!” Breen: “Yes, he remembers playing with Dr. James Naismith!”
The Knicks still sit in third place in the East and didn’t put any distance between themselves and the Nets for the Atlantic Division lead. The Knicks play a home-and-home with the Toronto Raptors Friday and Saturday, in what could be two crucial games before another tough stretch.
When you look at the Knicks’ stats as a team compared to the rest of the NBA, something stands out like a sore thumb: assists, or more accurately, lack of them. Of the 30 teams in the NBA, the Knicks are 29th, with 19.4 assists per game. Only the pathetic Bobcats make fewer assists per game than our beloved ‘Bockers. Since New York scores the tenth most points in the league and is sixth in offensive rating, this is pretty shocking.
When you consider the Knicks roster and their style of play, it starts to make a little more sense. The Knicks have a roster filled with good offensive players; the team is well stocked with scorers, shooters and ball handlers, just not playmakers. They have some players that are skilled at creating their own shots, but few that are displaying much skill in creating shots for others.
Despite the presence of future first ballot hall of fame point guard Jason Kidd on their roster, the closest they come to a true playmaker on the team currently is Raymond Felton. Felton is averaging 5.8 assists per game, down from his career average of 6.6 a game and only good for a four way tie for 25th best in the league. Of course Felton’s stats may be hurt by the slow pace the Knicks play at (25th in the NBA), but Greivis Vasquez and Deron Williams are both in the top five in the league in assists and they play for teams with an even more glacial pace than the Knicks (29th and 30th!) Rajon Rondo leads the league in assists with 11.1 per game and the Celtics have the 20th slowest pace. Not only is there little evidence to suggest that a slow pace prevents a playmaker from racking up big assist numbers, but the opposite almost seems true. Obviously some teams rely heavily on their playmaker to create shots out of half court sets.
In theory the Knicks would like to be one of them. Much of their offense is intended to revolve around pick and rolls orchestrated by Felton; giving him the opportunity to get assists by setting up the roll man or feeding an open shooter. Despite this plan, entirely too many of the Knicks’ offensive possessions boil down to Carmelo Anthony or JR Smith trying to create their own shots in isolation.
While it may seem obvious that the more assists the better, this specific stat seems to be particularly revealing in the case of the Knicks. In games where the Knicks have made fewer than 17 assists this season, they are 2-11. In games were they’ve made 23 or more assists, they’ve gone 14-2. For a team that’s one of the two worst assist producing teams in the NBA, this correlation is quite troubling.
This has been especially glaring over New York’s last 17 games. Over that span they’ve averaged a meager 17.3 assists, Raymond Felton has had more than 5 assists in a game only once and the Knicks have gone 7-10.
Obviously there are lots of reasons the Knicks have been struggling recently. The past week and a half have been particularly rough with the knees of all three of the Knicks’ frontcourt superstars breaking down at the same time. Despite this kneepocalypse or perhaps because of it, it’s no time to panic. Unfortunately, the Knicks are not acting like the team that started the season 8-1 without having Amare Stoudemire available to play. Instead of sharing the ball, finding open shooters and trying to create the most efficient offense possible, the Knicks seem to be relying on individuals like Melo and JR to create their own offense more than ever.
If New York is going to overcome the loss of so much star power to this kneegeddon and pull themselves out of their awful tailspin, they’re going to have to work as team, now more than ever. They can start by sharing the rock and finding some good shots. Failing that that could always try playing some great defense, but I don’t want to get too crazy.
A few months ago I finished reading Jon Krakauer’s Into thin Air. For those unfamiliar, Krakauer, a former Outside magazine journalist, was paid to cover an excursion up Mount Everest. The story – an entirely true one – covers the details of the ascent up the mountain, and the disastrous descent, which, plagued by a combination of human error and an unearthly blizzard, resulted in the deaths and severe injuries of several of the climbers. At the time, I thought, Wow, that is the story of hell 30,000 feet in the air.
Now, take those events, and more-or-less place them some 20,000 feet lower in the atmosphere, in the United States, and on a basketball court. This is sort of what tonight’s Knicks-Nuggets game felt like.
The game didn’t even scratch the hype surrounding it. The Knicks came in a broken and battered squad, facing a Nuggets team flying at a mile-high level, riding a nine-game win streak. Carmelo Anthony, Denver’s former beloved son turned Knick by demand, was making his first return to Denver sine being traded in 2011, despite carrying a balky knee that he seemingly refuses to give serious medical attention.
From the get-go, things tumbled out of control. Though the Knicks did their best to keep up with the Nuggets, it was clear that New York was going to be run off the court. Even with the Knicks’ offense functioning fairly well in the opening quarter, the Nuggets simply sprinted through, around, and past the Knicks off makes, misses, and turnovers alike. A heavy portion of these baskets came in demoralizing fashion – a made three-pointer by the Knicks turned into an Andre Iguodala-Kenneth Faried alley-oop five seconds later; swift passing and uncontested layups; offensive rebounds; putback dunks. And when the threes started raining, it spelled doom for New York. However, despite how easily the blood seemed to be flowing out of the wounds, the Knicks still only trailed 31-26 at the end of the first quarter.
That was when the tourniquet was yanked. Similar to the Golden State blowout just two days ago, the second quarter was the “avada kedavra” spell (*adjusts Harry Potter-framed glasses*) for the Knicks. Mike Woodson, still unlearned from blowouts past, inserted a totally incapable lineup of Jason Kidd, Steve Novak, J.R. Smith, Chris Copeland, and Kenyon Martin, and the flood gates opened (though in Woodson’s defense: who else was he going to play?). While the Knicks’ offense consisted of few passes and a bevy of hoisted, contested jumpers, the Nuggets continued to sprint out after every Knicks possession, running them ragged, feasting on the open opportunities awaiting them at the basket. As the Nuggets’ lead ballooned from six to 20, things managed to get worse.
On offense, while rolling to the basket, Tyson Chandler seemed to collide knees with Corey Brewer, crumpled to the ground, and remained on the floor, clearly in pain. The Knicks attended to him, and minutes later, he hobbled off the floor, requiring assistance from teammates to walk back to the locker room. The Knicks later diagnosed it as a “contused knee” – AKA a bruise – but this is both vague and uncomfortable as just a few days ago, Amar’e Stoudemire’s “sore knee” turned out to be an injury requiring surgery.
Without Chandler, you can guess where this went: even further down the drain. With the Knicks already trailing by 20-plus points in the second half, Carmelo Anthony, too, decided to leave the game, unannounced, and head back to the locker room with a sore knee. He also would not return.
At this point, it seems silly to recap the game further. The Nuggets’ high octane attack slowed a bit to a less dramatic pace and elevation, but the scoreboard did not reflect it. For the remained of the game, their lead stayed put between 20-30 points, while the crowd delighted in “Where’s ‘Melo?” and “Who needs ‘Melo?” chants. For the Knicks, nothing was notable except a few rhythmic, canned jumpers from Iman Shumpert, some pleasant dishing from Pablo Prigioni, and a few well timed swats from Kenyon Martin.
At this point, the Knicks can just hope to salvage a game or two on this road trip and desperately avoid falling below the fourth seed (a very real possiblity). The hopes of the team, already largely dependent on Carmelo Anthony’s jumpshot and Tyson Chandler’s command of the defense, now seem excessively flimsy, and we can only wait in angst for further details of Chandler’s injury.
Four healthy knees between the Knicks’ Big Three, and a most unpleasant beginning to a very important road trip. As noted on Twitter tonight: We’ll Always Have November.
Given the size of NBA rosters, it’s not that uncommon for a team to have a player languishing at the end of the bench, basically playing the part of a human victory cigar. For the 2004 Champion Detroit Pistons, it was Darko Milicic, who averaged less than five minutes a game, while only getting into 34 of them. For the 2008 champion Boston Celtics, it was Brian Scalabrine, who averaged ten minutes a game and only appeared in 48. These bench anchors generally only got into games that were clearly decided, with their team on one side or the other of a total blowout. For this year’s Knicks it’s suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly starting to look like that role is being filled by rookie forward Chris Copeland.
This was never more obvious than this week, with the Knicks playing in back to back games without injured star Carmelo Anthony. Over the course of the two nights, every healthy Knick got to play at least six minutes, except for Copeland, who remained glued to the end of the bench for the entire 96 minutes. Cope has only made one appearance in the Knicks’ last ten games, but the injury to Melo seemed like just the sort of the thing that would lead to him getting some minutes, especially with NY playing four games in five nights. Adding insult to injury for Chris was getting to see the two players normally sitting beside him at the end of the bench, James White and Kurt Thomas, suddenly inserted into the starting lineup, where they’ve both been less than impressive.
It hasn’t always been this way for Chris this season. There have been eleven games this season where he’s played 15 minutes or more and even six where he was in the starting lineup. He seems to respond well to big minutes too. In the four games where he’s played 28 or more minutes, he’s gone 11-19, 6-12, 8-16 and 9-15 from the field. That kind of offensive production can make up for lots of lapses on the defensive end, the type of trade off the Knicks make on a regular basis with Steve Novak, Amare Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, etc. Cope’s 48% from the field is surpassed only by Tyson Chandler, Stoudemire and Kurt Thomas, all of whom do their work closer to the basket than Cope. Those three players have attempted exactly one three pointer on the season (who can forget Kurt’s amazing bomb?), while Copeland has launched 64, connecting a respectable 36% of the time, also among the team leaders. Only Melo and STAT produce more points per 36 minutes than Copeland’s 20 per.
Obviously if offensive production was the only thing that mattered, one assumes Copeland would be getting big minutes every night. The biggest problem comes on the defensive end, where Cope joins Novak on the bottom of the NY heap with a 110 defensive rating. This also leads to the other problem with finding minutes for Cope: Steve Novak. Mike Woodson feels that Novak and Copeland fill the same role and he’s committed to giving those minutes to Novak. Joe Flynn had a great discussion comparing these two back in January. I agree with Flynn that it’s not clear that Novak is more worthy of minutes than Copeland.
Yet the Knicks shouldn’t have to choose between these two. If the Knicks can find minutes for five guards: Pablo Prigioni, Jason Kidd, Iman Shumpert, JR Smith and Felton, why is it so hard to find minutes for at least that many frontcourt players? Could playing Cope really be as bad as starting White and Thomas? Mike Woodson has bought himself a ton of slack from Knicks’ fans like me with the results he’s gotten from the Knickerbockers during his tenure, but it would be nice to see Cope getting some spin while Melo takes all the time he needs to recover from his injury.