When you look at the Knicks’ stats as a team compared to the rest of the NBA, something stands out like a sore thumb: assists, or more accurately, lack of them. Of the 30 teams in the NBA, the Knicks are 29th, with 19.4 assists per game. Only the pathetic Bobcats make fewer assists per game than our beloved ‘Bockers. Since New York scores the tenth most points in the league and is sixth in offensive rating, this is pretty shocking.
When you consider the Knicks roster and their style of play, it starts to make a little more sense. The Knicks have a roster filled with good offensive players; the team is well stocked with scorers, shooters and ball handlers, just not playmakers. They have some players that are skilled at creating their own shots, but few that are displaying much skill in creating shots for others.
Despite the presence of future first ballot hall of fame point guard Jason Kidd on their roster, the closest they come to a true playmaker on the team currently is Raymond Felton. Felton is averaging 5.8 assists per game, down from his career average of 6.6 a game and only good for a four way tie for 25th best in the league. Of course Felton’s stats may be hurt by the slow pace the Knicks play at (25th in the NBA), but Greivis Vasquez and Deron Williams are both in the top five in the league in assists and they play for teams with an even more glacial pace than the Knicks (29th and 30th!) Rajon Rondo leads the league in assists with 11.1 per game and the Celtics have the 20th slowest pace. Not only is there little evidence to suggest that a slow pace prevents a playmaker from racking up big assist numbers, but the opposite almost seems true. Obviously some teams rely heavily on their playmaker to create shots out of half court sets.
In theory the Knicks would like to be one of them. Much of their offense is intended to revolve around pick and rolls orchestrated by Felton; giving him the opportunity to get assists by setting up the roll man or feeding an open shooter. Despite this plan, entirely too many of the Knicks’ offensive possessions boil down to Carmelo Anthony or JR Smith trying to create their own shots in isolation.
While it may seem obvious that the more assists the better, this specific stat seems to be particularly revealing in the case of the Knicks. In games where the Knicks have made fewer than 17 assists this season, they are 2-11. In games were they’ve made 23 or more assists, they’ve gone 14-2. For a team that’s one of the two worst assist producing teams in the NBA, this correlation is quite troubling.
This has been especially glaring over New York’s last 17 games. Over that span they’ve averaged a meager 17.3 assists, Raymond Felton has had more than 5 assists in a game only once and the Knicks have gone 7-10.
Obviously there are lots of reasons the Knicks have been struggling recently. The past week and a half have been particularly rough with the knees of all three of the Knicks’ frontcourt superstars breaking down at the same time. Despite this kneepocalypse or perhaps because of it, it’s no time to panic. Unfortunately, the Knicks are not acting like the team that started the season 8-1 without having Amare Stoudemire available to play. Instead of sharing the ball, finding open shooters and trying to create the most efficient offense possible, the Knicks seem to be relying on individuals like Melo and JR to create their own offense more than ever.
If New York is going to overcome the loss of so much star power to this kneegeddon and pull themselves out of their awful tailspin, they’re going to have to work as team, now more than ever. They can start by sharing the rock and finding some good shots. Failing that that could always try playing some great defense, but I don’t want to get too crazy.
Given the size of NBA rosters, it’s not that uncommon for a team to have a player languishing at the end of the bench, basically playing the part of a human victory cigar. For the 2004 Champion Detroit Pistons, it was Darko Milicic, who averaged less than five minutes a game, while only getting into 34 of them. For the 2008 champion Boston Celtics, it was Brian Scalabrine, who averaged ten minutes a game and only appeared in 48. These bench anchors generally only got into games that were clearly decided, with their team on one side or the other of a total blowout. For this year’s Knicks it’s suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly starting to look like that role is being filled by rookie forward Chris Copeland.
This was never more obvious than this week, with the Knicks playing in back to back games without injured star Carmelo Anthony. Over the course of the two nights, every healthy Knick got to play at least six minutes, except for Copeland, who remained glued to the end of the bench for the entire 96 minutes. Cope has only made one appearance in the Knicks’ last ten games, but the injury to Melo seemed like just the sort of the thing that would lead to him getting some minutes, especially with NY playing four games in five nights. Adding insult to injury for Chris was getting to see the two players normally sitting beside him at the end of the bench, James White and Kurt Thomas, suddenly inserted into the starting lineup, where they’ve both been less than impressive.
It hasn’t always been this way for Chris this season. There have been eleven games this season where he’s played 15 minutes or more and even six where he was in the starting lineup. He seems to respond well to big minutes too. In the four games where he’s played 28 or more minutes, he’s gone 11-19, 6-12, 8-16 and 9-15 from the field. That kind of offensive production can make up for lots of lapses on the defensive end, the type of trade off the Knicks make on a regular basis with Steve Novak, Amare Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, etc. Cope’s 48% from the field is surpassed only by Tyson Chandler, Stoudemire and Kurt Thomas, all of whom do their work closer to the basket than Cope. Those three players have attempted exactly one three pointer on the season (who can forget Kurt’s amazing bomb?), while Copeland has launched 64, connecting a respectable 36% of the time, also among the team leaders. Only Melo and STAT produce more points per 36 minutes than Copeland’s 20 per.
Obviously if offensive production was the only thing that mattered, one assumes Copeland would be getting big minutes every night. The biggest problem comes on the defensive end, where Cope joins Novak on the bottom of the NY heap with a 110 defensive rating. This also leads to the other problem with finding minutes for Cope: Steve Novak. Mike Woodson feels that Novak and Copeland fill the same role and he’s committed to giving those minutes to Novak. Joe Flynn had a great discussion comparing these two back in January. I agree with Flynn that it’s not clear that Novak is more worthy of minutes than Copeland.
Yet the Knicks shouldn’t have to choose between these two. If the Knicks can find minutes for five guards: Pablo Prigioni, Jason Kidd, Iman Shumpert, JR Smith and Felton, why is it so hard to find minutes for at least that many frontcourt players? Could playing Cope really be as bad as starting White and Thomas? Mike Woodson has bought himself a ton of slack from Knicks’ fans like me with the results he’s gotten from the Knickerbockers during his tenure, but it would be nice to see Cope getting some spin while Melo takes all the time he needs to recover from his injury.
I wouldn’t be the first person to observe that the Knicks’ remaining schedule is brutal. Most people point to the two obvious metrics: opponent’s records and road games. Of the Knicks’ remaining 24 games, only nine are against teams that currently have a losing record. In addition, the Knicks only have nine home games left on the schedule. The full extent of how bad the road ahead is for the Knicks goes beyond records and road games though.
Anytime a team exceeds expectations, it’s natural to point to two things: a great coaching effort and good personnel changes. While the Knicks are in a bit of a tailspin at the moment, one of the things that make it such a big deal is that up to this point the Knicks have greatly exceeded expectations. As of this writing, the Knicks are 32-20, 12 games over .500, despite their current four-game losing streak. Last year, after 52 games, they were 26-26 and they finished the season just six games over .500, barely making it into the Eastern Conference playoff field. The Knicks entered this season with a roster built around the same three core stars, having lost Jeremy Lin and Amar’e Stoudemire starting the season on the sideline. There were hopes that the Knicks would respond well to a full season under Mike Woodson, but few prognosticators had the Knicks in line to win the Atlantic Division. While the Knicks have benefited from both excellent coaching and some good moves by management, perhaps the most significant change has been to the offensive game of their returning star, Carmelo Anthony.
Last season, the Knicks had a Defensive Rating of 101.0 or 101 points per 100 possessions, good for fifth in the league. This was despite having notorious pace addict Mike D’Antoni as their head coach for most of the season. This season, the Knicks, now coached by reputed defensive guru Mike Woodson, have a Defensive Rating of 106.1, good for 15th in the league. So how did our beloved Knickerbockers go from one of the league’s elite defensive teams to right smack in the middle?
As training camp begins and the season is right around the corner, many of the weathered Knicks fans have begun to come out of the woodwork. As a fan myself, I have no doubt let my feelings show to the world (or for all my Facebook friends), in order to keep my sanity during the dark ages of this organization’s fandom.
Well, it wasn’t quite a “nuclear winter”, but we got pretty close. To be fair, the CBA has not officially been signed, but we currently have a tentative agreement between both parties that is expected to be passed.
With the lockout finally on the heels of being lifted, Knick fans can finally look forward to the trades and signings that are part of a typical NBA offseason. Fans are already targeting certain guys and are going to work on ESPN’s trade machine in hopes of upgrading the roster.
It’s been a while since we’ve had some basketball, let alone some positive news. So, without further adieu, here is a little image I made for you Knicks fans!
After 149 depressing, painful, NBA-less days, the NBA has reached a tentative agreement with the players to end the lockout.
The “Where Nothing Happens” image has received an incredible response, so I thought I would print some shirts up! I kept it simple by placing the image on a high-quality, ash-grey t-shirt.
A little play on the NBA’s ad campaign “Where Amazing Happens”. Be sure to follow me on twitter @TheKnicksWall