Much has been made of the downward spiral of JR Smith in these playoffs. Fortunately for the Knicks, there has been a corresponding upward trend by Iman Shumpert. As the saying goes, “When one door closes, another door gets dunked on by Iman Shumpert.”
Let’s start with Smith. Much like the Knicks themselves, JR started the playoffs pretty strong. In the first three games against the Celtics, he was 7-19, 7-15 and 6-12 from the field. While 43% isn’t amazing, it’s actually better than the 42% JR shot during the regular season. Then came the elbow, the ejection, the suspension, the trash talk and finally, the slide. Since his suspension Smith has shot 3-14, 5-13, 4-15 and 3-15 for an abysmal 26%. Not surprisingly, New York went 3-0 with the hotter JR and has gone 2-3 since (including the suspension game).
Yet, there is cause for hope even if Smith can’t pull out of his funk immediately. That hope is the rising play of Iman Shumpert. In the first three games when the Knicks were bulldozing Boston, their top three scorers in each game were Smith, Raymond Felton and Carmelo Anthony and they took and made the bulk of the shots for New York. Shumpert’s role was as a defensive stopper who occasionally spotted up for a three. In those three games he went 1-2, 2-6 and 1-5 from the field. He also never played more than 22 minutes in any of those three games.
The thing that Felton, Smith and Anthony have in common is that they can create their own shot either from the perimeter or by attacking the basket off the dribble. Most of the rest of New York’s scoring comes from spot up shooting off the catch or the occasional alley-oop dunk by a big man. When Smith was suspended, New York found itself without a key component of their offense. Among other things, Coach Mike Woodson likes to keep three guards on the floor at all times and Smith had been giving him 30 minutes a game that now needed to be funneled elsewhere.
Since Shumpert’s offensive skillset most closely resembles Smith’s (of Woodson’s options), and he had been playing so few minutes, I suggested to Posting and Toasting’s Seth Rosenthal that Shumpert would see a major spike in playing time. Sure enough, Shumpert’s minutes doubled, as he went 44 minutes in game four against the Celtics. As required, he was much more aggressive on the offensive end, taking 13 shots instead of his usual four or five. Though he only made five of them and the Knicks lost, Woodson’s show of faith in Shumpert has reaped rewards as the playoffs have progressed. Even with the return of Smith, Shumpert has continued to see increased minutes: 29, 38, 33 and 29. This has been accompanied by greater aggression and greater success on the offensive end. Iman has shot 4-7, 6-9, 4-11 and 7-11 in those games. After taking just four shots a game in the first three clashes with Boston, Shumpert has averaged 10 shots a game since, while hitting on 51% of those shots.
Shumpert’s most recent effort would seem the most promising and will be one the Pacers need to account for as the series continues. In that game, Shumpert went 6-8 from two-point range. This was the first playoff game which Iman made more than three shots from inside the arc and hopefully this is a sign that Shumpert is finally becoming confident attacking the basket again after a very slow and gradual return from his ACL surgery. Though at least he was finding ways to help his team on the court during the time he was rebuilding his confidence after the doctors cleared him (mandatory jab at Derrick Rose of the hated/feared Bulls).
Given that it has taken Shumpert over 50 games to perform at this level after coming back from his injury, I hope New York fans have very low expectations should Amare Stoudemire return to the court this Saturday. As we saw from STAT earlier this season, even he doesn’t play like an all-star for the first several games after a long absence due to injury. Given the size of Indiana’s frontline and the Knicks inability to find a big man that can score when Melo is on the bench, even a 60% STAT might be pretty helpful at this point though.
Since New York just beat the Pacers by 26, while Smith was shooting 3-15 and STAT was in street clothes, I really like New York’s chances in this series. Charles Barkley and his predictions otherwise and statement that Indiana is just a better team be darned. We’ll see Chuck, we’ll see… If Shumpert stays aggressive and keeps giving the Knicks another solid option on the offensive side of the floor (to go with his incredible efforts on the defensive end), then I think Indiana is in quite a bit of trouble.
After Wednesday night, it’s easy to view this series as the basketball incarnation of the Red Sox/Yankees playoff series in 2004, where Boston famously overcame New York’s 3-0 lead to win 4-3 on their way to the World Series. Yet, it’s really quite different, in spite of the teams being from the same cities. The differences come from the core differences in the two games. In the series in 2004, winning game five was a crucial turning point for the Sox, because they had Pedro Martinez waiting to pitch game six and Curt Schilling ready to take the mound in game seven. As a result, the Yankees were going to be facing an even better team in games six and seven than they did in game five. The other big difference is that regular season results are much more meaningful in the NBA than they are in baseball.
In game six, the Knicks will be facing the exact same team they faced in the first five games, the Celtics talent isn’t going to be getting any better. In the first four games of this series, and most of the regular season, we had every reason to believe the Knicks were the far superior team. After taking game one by seven and game two by 16, we waited breathlessly to see if things would change in Boston. Yet, New York dominated game three even more thoroughly, though “just” winning by 14.
The momentum changer has been the ejection and subsequent suspension of JR Smith. Things were rolling for New York in game three when he was ejected and they might have won by more than 14 had he stayed in the game. Game four was a golden opportunity for Boston to finally win a game: Smith was out with a suspension, the Celtics were in “win or go home” mode, the Knicks were in “we’re up 3-0 and we’ve got this” mode, plus the game was in Boston. Despite these things and an epically bad 10-35 shooting night from Carmelo Anthony (it’s not merely that he shot 29%, it’s that he took 35 shots on a night that he was shooting 29%!), the Celtics still needed overtime to pull out their first win.
So, after four games, there still seemed little doubt about the outcome. The Knicks had won three games convincingly and the Celtics had managed to steal one game where the sun, the moon and the stars had aligned just right. So how did game five suddenly introduce us to the coming of the Apocalypse?
Unlike game four, this was a game the Knicks were supposed to win: the Knicks would learn from their mistakes in game four, Smith was back in the fold and they were back in the beloved basketball bastion of Madison Square Garden where the Knicks had seemed invincible all season.
The problem was the Knicks knew they were supposed to win. One only needs to look at their pregame trash talk and sartorial antics to see how clear it was to them that this game was theirs for the taking. The Knicks’ incredible hubris was rewarded with a 92-86 loss that wasn’t as close as the score might suggest.
Yet, to suggest that the cost of the Knicks’ hubris will extend to game six and possibly even a game seven is absurd. The reasons that the Knicks won the first three games so convincingly haven’t changed. There were psychological and strategic reasons why New York lost games four and five that just no longer apply. There is no Pedro or Schilling waiting in the wings to bail out the Celtics’ anemic offense. There is a reason why the teams that dominate the NBA regular season typically dominate the playoffs and it applies here. Baseball is all about streaks. If your bats are hot or your pitching is in a funk come October, you can throw out the regular season results in baseball. In the NBA, the coaching, talent and schemes that determined your success in the regular season typically are what will determine the outcome in the postseason.
I cannot imagine that this Knicks team is approaching game six with anywhere near the measure of the overconfidence that they were clearly suffering from in game five. I also can’t imagine we’ll see another game where both teams take 22 three-pointers, yet Boston makes an incredible 11 of them and New York make a mere five of them. The key to games one and two of the series were the defensive adjustments made by Coach Woodson at halftime of those games. After two straight games of miserable offense from one of the NBA’s elite offensive teams, I expect to see Woodson make meaningful adjustments to the New York offense which will be enough to end this series in game six.
Of course, if I’m wrong, this is going to be a long offseason…
According to Kenyon Martin, the Knicks were attending a funeral for the Celtics, which explained why he and his teammates, including J.R. Smith wore black to Game 5. Their plan to bury the Celtics back fired, resulting a 92-86 loss. While the Knicks’ choice of attire will be scrutinized until Friday’s Game 6, go ahead and shift your attention to J.R. Smith wearing the throwback Bo Jackson Nike Air Trainer SC “Auburn” edition during warm-ups. The sneakers were released to commemorate Jackson’s historic career at his alma mater, Auburn University. There might not be any deep significance beyond J.R. lacing up the Trainer SC besides the fact that 1) Bo is one of the greatest athletes of all time, and 2) the White/Total Orange/Purple/Stealth are a superb match with the New York Knicks home uniform.
Allow us to speculate. This was Smith’s return from a one game suspension after Jason Terry’s collision with J.R.’s elbow resulted in an ejection from Game 3. The hope last night was that J.R. Smith would return to form as the soaring-and-scoring, posting-and-toasting player with buzzer beaters, and a streak of 30+ point games under his belt. Like Bo Jackson’s solo achievement of the 1985 Heisman Trophy, J.R. Smith also recently took home the honor of the Sixth Man of the Year award. Granted, it’s no Most Valuable Player title, but to be singled out for outstanding play deserves equal acknowledgement. Will we see the offensive threat of J.R. Smith in Game 6 this week?
Bo Earl knows.
Fears of a seemingly inevitable implosion are fair at this point. Losing one game, on the road, to a veteran team facing elimination – well, that’s OK. Losing a second game in a row, on your homecourt – scary. Doing so after self-imposed blustering of what-if sweeps and opponent funerals. Unbearable.
Yes, despite the Knicks’ brazen boasts that tonight would be the end of Celtics’ series, it was quite the opposite. The Knicks are heading into the hostile home of an opponent they’ve let back into a seemingly done-and-dead series. A poor, stagnant offensive performance and too-little-too-late defensive boost put the Knicks in a hole too deep. There were several ill-fated attempts to come back – a few stops, followed by quick free throws or made baskets – but the Celtics had the assassin-like answer for each and everyone of these attempts. Now the Knicks must head up to Boston for Game 6 this Friday and try to steal one or else come back to New York facing the frightening prospects of becoming the first team to lose after leading a series 3-0.
The shocking part of this loss is the way the Knicks cooked their way to an early 11-0 lead. They came out with the clamps on a jumper-happy Boston offense and took advantage of the initial penetration opened up by Raymond Felton-Tyson Chandler pick-and-rolls. A Pablo Prigioni three-pointer, Felton curl and elbow jumper, Iman Shumpert driving layup, Carmelo Anthony blow-by for a dunk – the Knicks’ offense was diverse and seemingly well-oiled. An early regrouping from Boston changed all of that, though.
It began with Brandon Bass leaking out in transition and making smart cuts to the basket off the double-team attention given to Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Bass scored nine of the Celtics’ first 11 points and seemed to open the whole thing up. Boston began exploiting mismatches with Garnett and Pierce, they quickened the tempo, moved the ball, and began to get the shots they wanted. Meanwhile, after ‘Melo briefly cooked the Celtics on jumpers and dribble drives, the Knicks got stagnant, plagued especially by a wildly inaccurate J.R. Smith forcing shot attempts.
After beginning 11-0, Boston out-scored the Knicks, 20-11 the rest of the quarter. New York led 22-20 after the first.
The Knicks’ opening quarter lineup (part of a long line of questionable calls from Mike Woodson) hurt them. Kenyon Martin more or less got abused by Garnett, while on offense, the trio of Jason Kidd, Prigioni, and Smith failed to create any flow or momentum. Chandler and Anthony were quickly brought into the game, but the Celtics had already figured out their own attack: a quicker pace, more rapid ball movement, and continually taking advantage of the Knicks’ slow double-teams and poor rotations thereafter.
The Knicks fought for awhile, though. While Anthony and Smith remained ineffective, Felton’s basket-bound barrels were successful, and Chandler fought admirably on the boards to keep possessions alive. However, a late surge by the Celtics, and a collective fart by the Knicks, turned a back-and-forth, one- or two-point game into a sizable lead for Boston.
A turnover by Smith and missed layup, missed layups from Felton and Anthony, a shot-clock violation, in addition to free throws, layup, and a Jason Terry three blew the lead up to seven at the end of the first half. Boston led 46-39.
Despite a far better offensive performance in the third quarter (or at least a better offensive game plan), the Celtics’ offense was just better. Some of it was the Knicks’ fault, as they sent more shaky double-teams and consequently missed rotations, leaving shooters open. Other times, however, no matter, the coverage, the Celtics found a way to beat it. This was especially the case in a few laughable, bang-your-head-against-wall, turn-around, fade-away jumpers from Paul Pierce along the baseline and beyond the arc. Even when the Knicks closed out hard on Jason Terry, the Celtics’ shots were falling. Terry and Pierce combined for 18 of Boston’s 24 third-quarter points.
For the Knicks, the combined ineptitude of Anthony and Smith (who was oddly checked in less than four minutes into the quarter) was unlike anything they’ve demonstrated during the season. No matter the shot, range, or coverage, neither player could find nylon. Instead, the Knicks’ offense came almost solely from the unstoppable dribble penetration of Raymond Felton. Felton, whose been arguably the Knicks’ best player in the series, continued his stellar play by repeatedly torching any Celtic covering him. Off Chandler picks or his own handles, Felton dashed his way to the basket for layups on all angles, earning himself eight points and a lob assist in the quarter.
However, the Knicks closed the quarter poorly again, having not gained any ground on the Celtics, and by leaving Jason Terry open for another three-pointer, which he sank. Boston led 69-60 going into the fourth quarter.
Things got worse before they even got marginally better. From the end of the third quarter to the first three minutes of the fourth quarter, the Knicks didn’t score a point. On field goal attempts alone, the Knicks’ play-by-play at the start of the quarter goes as follows:
Smith 3pt shot: missed, Kidd driving jump shot: missed, Anthony driving layup shot: missed, Smith step back jump shot: missed.
Meanwhile, six quick points for the Celtics, punctuated by a slam by Jeff Green put the Knicks’ in a 15-point hole. The Knicks’ comeback attempts in response were highlighted by suddenly staunch defense led by Shumpert. Though the Celtics’ own suddenly lackluster offense helped the Knicks’ cause, Shumpert played
aggressive nay, ferocious, tight defense on Pierce, prompting other Knicks to increase ball pressure and attack the glass hard. Though New York’s offense never untangled itself, they drew fouls, stopped the clock, and tried to trickle away the lead with free throws.
However, the attempts were for naught. Several times the Knicks chipped away at the lead, but the Celtics had answers. First, after cutting it to eight points, a Brandon Bass spinning layup and Terry three pushed it back to 13. Later, back-to-back Jeff Green three-pointers kept the Celtics lead at 12. Then, when the Knicks made it a five-point game from quick baskets by ‘Melo and Smith, Garnett answered with a mid-range jumper with less than a minute to go.
- There’s a lot of debate as to whether the Knicks’ funeral talk and wearing black to a game really affected anything. To me, it had a psychological effect on the Celtics and it relaxed New York too much. Trash-talking with such bravado doesn’t have a place in a 3-1 series, especially for a team that hasn’t gotten out of the first round in over a decade.
- Carmelo Anthony’s shot was astray after the first quarter, but his aggressiveness waned, too. At times, he forced, and other times, he was too reluctant to attack. Over the last two games, he’s a combined 18-59 from the field – 30.5%.
- Let’s quickly acknowledge Felton. 21 points, 10-19 FG, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 TOs. He’s been the best Knick in this series, but that’s not the formula for winning. He needs to be the second or third best player, and Anthony and Smith haven’t stepped up.
- And yeah, hey, maybe a little less J.R. Smith? Perhaps he was rusty, just out-of-rhythm, or really, plain sucky – either way, Smith just brutalized the Knicks during his time on the floor. His shots almost never came in any kind of flow, and his 0-11 start was bringing up sour memories of a John Starks performance I don’t need to go to any length to explain. His third basket – one of three – came in the final seconds with the game’s fat already sealed.
- There was a post-game near-scuffle. Jordan Crawford – he of the DNP-CD tonight – can go back to the hole he crawled from. Luckily, the incident didn’t amount to anything.
- Hey, the Knicks’ bench was a combined -38 tonight!
- Marcus Camby played 58 seconds and he tipped a shot in. #SilverLinings
- Shumpert, in my opinion, played his best defense of his season tonight. He looked quick on his feet, hands-y, strong getting over screens, bumping players on dribble drives, and while he finished with 3 steals, he nearly came up with about three or four others on 50-50 balls. #ShumpertLinings
That’s it for now. Game 6 in Boston on Friday will not be a sane time or place for me and many other Knicks fans, I imagine.
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.
The New York Knicks will head up to Boston with a 2-0 lead over the Celtics. For the second straight game, the Knicks used a big second half, highlighted by stingy defense and efficient offense, to put the Celtics away, and seal the victory. After withstanding a strong second quarter from the Celtics, New York came out with a palpable, contagious energy to propel themselves to a double-digit lead. Led by Raymond Felton’s dribble penetration and Carmelo Anthony’s sudden precision from the field, the Knicks offense launched them back into the lead. Their stern defense, however, all but shut the Celtics down as Boston’s one-and-done arrhythmic jumpers continually clanged off the rim to the sound of their own flat-lining.
The series is far from over, especially as Boston returns to a vigorous home crowd, but for now, the Knicks are sitting pretty having dutifully protected their home-court advantage.
Both teams sputtered out of the gate, afflicted by their own general incompetence on both ends of the floor and some quick, continuous whistles from the referees. Noticeable immediately for the Knicks, however, was a seemingly more mobile Tyson Chandler and the return of Pablo Prigioni. In the early going, Chandler and the Knicks controlled the boards and Prigioni’s presence seemed to ease the Knicks stagnation on offense.
Said stagnation had a lot to do with the Celtics’ ability to blow up pick-and-rolls and Carmelo Anthony’s insistence on posting/facing up on defenders and settling for mid-range jumpers. When he attacked the basket – which he did at a decent rate – he was able to get to the free throw line, collecting critical fouls on the Celtic starters in the process. Raymond Felton got off to a good start, however, knocking down his first three-pointers of the game and turning the corner on screens to get to the paint for his own hoops or on kick-outs to teammates.his
J.R. Smith stole the show, though. Fresh off winning Sixth Man of the Year, Smith checked in, promptly dribbled the ball for ten seconds, passed up on passing, and opted for a double-pump, step-back jumper that hardly hit nylon. Smith continued his antics throughout the quarter, nailing more of his favorite fade-away jumpers, and spinning to the rack, and dumping off a beautiful pass for Kenyon Martin for the open slam. He punctuated it all by hitting one more deep jumper with six seconds to go, then forcing Paul Pierce into a turnover, and nailing a 30-foot three-pointer as time expired.
New York led 26-20 after the first quarter.
Through two games, so far, the Knicks have had one let-down quarter. In Game 1, it was the third quarter; in Game 2, it was the second. With most of the starters resting, the Knicks’ bench failed to generate momentum on offense while letting the Celtics get on a roll of their own. Smith’s magic seemed to run out, and Boston’s fortress-like defense forced the Knicks into a series of bad looks. On the other end, Boston pushed the pace, spread the floor, and punished the Knicks’ porous defense.
The turning point came early in the quarter with New York up five. A shot clock violation on the Knicks led to a basket by Jordan Crawford, followed up by a bad pass from Jason Kidd, and a jumper from Avery Bradley. Kenyon Martin turned the ball over on the ensuing possession which led to another layup from Bradley. Two missed jumpers in a row from Smith sandwiched a turn-around jumper from Kevin Garnett. To cap it all off, after yet another turnover, Jason Terry sank a pull-up three. Just like that, New York’s lead had been squandered into a four-point Boston lead.
Things didn’t get much better. Anthony checked back in and isolated and jab-stepped himself into a bevy of contested, missed jumpers. The Celtics kept coming on offense, ballooning their lead to nine twice as Paul Pierce took advantage of his sizable matchups with New York’s guards. The Knicks did a solid job closing the quarter, however, by rallying off five quick points so that they only trailed 48-42 at halftime.
Game 1 third quarter :: Game 2 second quarter as Game 1 fourth quarter :: _______ . You guessed it! The Knicks used a pivotal third quarter, just as they used a pivotal fourth quarter in Game 1 to recapture the game.
It began with Iman Shumpert knocking down two consecutive three-pointers to tie the game up. Later, after some free throws by ‘Melo, bedeviling the Celtics into foul trouble, a Felton drive put the Knicks up two. And the train kept-a-rollin’ from there. Prigioni and Chandler ran a pick-and-roll to get Chandler a layup and a foul (his only basket of the game). Anthony joined in on the fun, canning a three-pointer and then a posting up Jeff Green and hitting a difficult turn-around jumper along the baseline. Felton capped things off with crossover to get in the lane, pull-up, and hit a little floater. Just like that, New York’s 23-4 run to kick things off put them up ten, deflated the Celtics, and set the Garden crowd ablaze.
The defense was the key, though. Part of it was the Celtics’ own lack of energy, but the Knicks’ rotations were crisp all night, and in the third, their individual defense was on point. Boston tried to run their offense through Kevin Garnett, and while Chandler was slightly immobile against smaller players driving to the hoop, on Garnett’s post-ups, face-ups, and jumpers, Chandler contested very well. Boston became careless with the ball, and soon the whole team was thrown into an inescapable funk as the Knicks constricted tighter and tighter.
Anthony capped the Knicks’ explosive quarter by blowing by Garnett on a switch, and taking it to the rim for a dunk. The Knicks led 74-59 at the end of the third quarter.
The Knicks’ third quarter diligence did them well as they were able to sort of cruise through the fourth. One frightful stretch began with Steve Novak’s inability to cover Jordan Crawford, who scored five quick points, along with a Pierce three to cut the lead to nine. The Knicks rebounded quickly, however.
‘Melo flipped the switch again and splashed the net on three straight jumpers, mostly off the catch. The quick flurry all but eliminated Boston’s chances of coming back. More turnovers led to exciting moments like a Felton-Smith alley-oop on the break to put the Knicks back up 13. Kenyon Martin provided his fair share of excitement and tenacity with crowd-pleasing swats into the stands and his ensuing war cries.
Mike Woodson replaced Kidd, Anthony, and Felton in the last three or four minutes of the quarter and sent out the bench squad to ride out the victory. The crowd gave a thankful ovation as the Knicks took a 2-0 series lead over their long-time tormentors.
- The Knicks have now allowed a total of 48 points in the second halves of these two playoff games. 48. As our friend Jared Dubin points out, the Knicks’ second half defensive efficiency is 55.6, which would be the best, like, ever.
- Though Carmelo Anthony (34 points, 11-24 FG) and J.R. Smith (19 points, 7-15 FG) had the two explosive nights, I thought Raymond Felton was the key factor. In the first half, Felton was tentative to drive the lane, and was overly passive trying to distribute the ball. In the second half, Felton attacked the paint with gusto, and didn’t make, seemingly, a single mistake with the ball. He finished with 16 points on 8-15 FG, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and zero turnovers.
- Despite getting dunked on in the final 30 seconds of the third quarter, Kevin Garnett finished his third quarter by setting a very illegal, rough screen on Shumpert (didn’t get called), and then blocked Shumpert at the rim at the buzzer, and continued his constant barking. This made the Knicks’ double-digit comeback, and the Garden crowd’s “KG sucks” chants all the more delightful.
- Though the defense suffers because a guard is forced to cover Paul Pierce, it appears the Knicks’ only shot at running semi-fluid offense over the Celtics’ stern defense is to play two point guards at a time. The only real exception to this was the Knicks’ giant run to start the third quarter, though.
Th Knicks have two days off before playing the Celtics in Boston on Friday night. It’s somewhat expected that the Knicks will lose a game in Boston, but winning Game 3 would be very important to closing out the series. Historically, the team up 3-0 in the playoffs in the NBA, has won the series 100% of the time.
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.
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.
“They may reach the promise land, but, for now, as the Knicks slump towards Portland, it seems they have lost their way and the wheels have fallen off the wagon.”
I wrote my last post huddled by the limited candlelight that barely illuminates “Knicks Fan Hell”. You know, that place you crawl into when the Knicks (and their limbs) are free falling, settling right into their usual bottom seeded position. While I wasted away with the season in Knicks Fan Hell, I wrote an entire column likening the Knicks’ season-ending west coast trip to a cholera-filled trek on the Oregon Trail.
The wheels, I concluded, had fallen off the bandwagon (along with many fair weather fans whose stomachs had endured one too many punches over the past ten years).
Cue Montage With Newspaper Clippings, Highlights, J.R. Smith giving Steve Novak bunny ears on the team bus, Mike Woodson laughing in the mirror as Shumpert, holding a camera, catches Coach shaping his goatee, all as The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Do You Believe In Magic” blares…
12 games, 12 wins and 8,043 Carmelo Points later, the Knicks are on the verge of winning the Atlantic Division Title for the first time since 1994.
I’m not hear to tell you how it happened-Someone else can offer a much deeper analysis complete with numbers and highlights with arrows and circles and all that crap. Because honestly, I have no idea how it happened. I’m just here to react to the seemingly unbelievable fact that after 19 years, the Celtics, Nets, Sixers, (and whoever else is in our division-no but seriously-who?) will once again be looking up at our shiny behinds when it’s all said and 82 done.
It’s great, glorious, and WILDLY CONFUSING.
You see, Knicks fans use one particular classic sports cliché like they invented it: Nothing matters until the playoffs.
Every season, it’s Championship or Bust. This is Madison Square Garden we’re talking about. New York, the Mecca of basketball. Basketball is in our DNA. We are a great franchise with a history of success. These are things we tell ourselves. A division title, is “not why they play game”, as we say.
But last Friday Night’s Ceremony honoring the 1973 squad was a backhanded reminder at a very sad reality. In the scheme of “Championship or Bust”, The New York Knickerbockers have busted for 40 years in a row.
Knicks fans know this. They know its been forty years since a 7 footer went down The Canyon of Hero’s . They know the most recent basketball-related banner hanging in the rafters belongs to the New York Liberty (yep, right in the groin). They know that everyone is nostalgic for ONE season, a season MSG Network has dedicated hours of programming to, A SEASON THEY DIDN’T EVEN WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP.
So, I’m going to use this platform to tell all my fellow Knicks fans something they need to hear:
A division title is not a championship. Not even close. No one really remembers them unless, like in the Knicks case, it’s been nearly 20 years since you won one. You dont even get a trophy. But at the very least, a division title is tangible validation for Knicks fans who have been looking for a glimmer of hope to rise from a darkness rivaled only by that of Woody’s Goatee. An Atlantic Division title is shaky proof, that no, the Knicks don’t suck. In fact they’re pretty good. Objectively-better -than-8-teams-in-the-league, good. And maybe. JUUUUUST maybe, when push comes to shove…they’ll make it out of the first round.
So, you can puff up your chest and get all Stephen A. “Ill wait to the playoffs” on me… but for the Knicks fans just looking for permission to enjoy this relatively non-noteworthy feat, consider it granted.
 Having said that, I would like to add that Pablo Pirgioni is just NOT getting enough credit here. I don’t know what it is about the former Gaucho (not confirmed, but highly suggested), but holy hell has he made a difference. The streak has everything to do with Melo, JR and of course the addition of Kmart, but lets take a second and applaud the little ball thief. 12-0 as a starter. He doesn’t speak much English, but that record speaks for itself.
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.