J.R. Smith won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award. No, I’m not kidding, even though he did have an absolutely horrendous playoff run.
At one point in the season, it appeared that there was almost no chance that J.R. Smith would be back next season, as he was playing himself into a lucrative contract — one that the Knicks couldn’t offer. However, after a playoff run that he’d like to forget, J.R. Smith very well might have played himself back into the Knicks’ price range. There are two ways J.R. Smith comes back: 1. Player option. 2. Early bird rights. I’ll explain.
Last off-season, J.R. Smith signed a one-year $2.8 million deal with the Knicks, but in the contract, included a player option for a second year where he would earn about $2.9 million. Of course, J.R. Smith could pick this option up, and I’d welcome him back in a second, because, no matter how erratic he can be, there’s no denying that his talent is a steal for under $3 million a year.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that J.R. Smith will pick up that player option, because he will likely fetch much more lucrative offers on the open market, and even from the Knicks.
After playing two seasons with the Knicks, New York holds J.R. Smith’s early bird-rights. This means that the Knicks could offer J.R. Smith a contract starting at 175% of his previous salary ($2.8 million) or 104.5% of the previous season’s average salary, whichever is greater. In this case, since last year’s salary was about ~$5 million, Smith’s first year salary would be about $5.25 million, with 7.5% increases year-over-year.
Using Larry Coon’s estimated average salary of $5.276 million for this past year, the Knicks could offer J.R. Smith a four year deal worth ~$22,571,736. Of course, this is likely more appealing to J.R. Smith, and Berman of the NY Post reported this morning that this is the direction the team is headed.
Those are the two methods of the Knicks re-signing J.R. Smith, but it’s worth noting that if J.R. Smith picks up his player option, the Knicks will not be able to orchestrate any sign-and-trades this year.
Well, the New York Knicks are out of the playoffs. As much as that sucks, it’s time to focus on the upcoming season… already.
As you know, the Knicks have several high-salary players and adding to this roster during the off-season is often a daunting task. With that said, Mr. Grunwald has done a fantastic job adding minimum salary players the last two years, so there’s no reason he cannot do it again. Additionally, the Knicks will have a few other vehicles to add players.
Before we can look at the types of moves the Knicks can do, let’s look at their financial position heading into the off-season.
- Amare Stoudemire: $21,679893
- Carmelo Anthony: $21,486,177
- Tyson Chandler: $14,100,538
- Marcus Camby: $4,383,773
- Steve Novak: $3,750,001
- Raymond Felton: $3,637,073
- Jason Kidd: $3,090,000
- Iman Shumpert: $1,703,760
So, heading into the 2013/2014 season, the Knicks will have a total of $73,831,215 committed to eight players. Just a reminder, but the salary cap will be about $58 million for the upcoming season, and the luxury tax line will be around $70 million – give or take a few million.With that said, the Knicks are over both the salary cap line and luxury tax line, with just eight players under contract. Because of that, they will be limited in the types of contracts and moves they can make.
First off, whether the Knicks can pull off a sign-and-trade will be completely dependent on whether or not J.R. Smith picks up his ~$2.9 million player option. In the new CBA, teams above the $74 million tax apron line are not allowed to complete sign-and-trades. As I outlined earlier, the Knicks’ salary commitments currently totals $73,831,215, which is just below the $74 million line that would forbid them to complete a sign-and-trade. Should J.R. Smith pick up his player option, though, the Knicks will be over the tax apron and be unable to complete a sign-and-trade.
Should the Knicks not complete a sign-and-trade, which looks like will be the case, they will have the tax-payer’s mid-level exception to sign a player this offseason. For the 2013-2014 season, the “Mini MLE” will be about $3.18 million.
Quickly, let’s look at why the Knicks will have the Mini MLE and not the full MLE: A team has to be under the $74 million tax apron if they wish to use the full MLE. So, in order for the Knicks to do so, they’d need to shed some salary. At this point, the only realistic way for the Knicks to shed the necessary salary would be for Marcus Camby and Jason Kidd to retire. Now, a team is allowed to use the Mini MLE if they wind up over the $74 million apron after the signing. However, teams cannot use the Mini MLE if they also complete a sign-and-trade that same offseason.
The Mini MLE can be used for up to three years and teams can offer 4.5% raises year-over-year, meaning the Knicks could offer a free-agent a three year, $9,985,150 contract.
As mentioned throughout this post, J.R. Smith has a player option of about $2.9 million that he could pick up, should he wish to return to the team. There are some alternative contract options for J.R. Smith, but I will cover those in their own post.
For the most part, that’s the Knicks’ financial outlook for the upcoming off-season. They’ll likely have the Mini MLE and veteran minimum contracts to offer. Over the next couple days, I’ll crank out a few more “off-season primers,” but this is a pretty solid overview. If you have any specific question, leave a comment and I’ll answer.
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.
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.
J.R. Smith has just been announced as the 2013 Sixth Man of the Year. Congratulations to J.R. on his accomplishment. Now, let’s honor him… in GIF form.
Saturday afternoon was one of, hopefully, many joyous occasions at Madison Square Garden in the coming weeks.
The Knicks began their playoff run with a solid 85-78 win over the Celtics to take a 1-0 lead in the first round, best of seven series.
New York was able to pull out the win, despite allowing Boston to shoot .415 from the field, compared to their own .405. The Celtics were also a +7 from the free throw line.
How do you go about making up that difference?
You create more possessions and hit three pointers. The Knicks were a +12 from behind the arc and put up 14 more shots than Boston. According to NBA.com, New York rebounded 88.2% of the available defensive boards, 21.7% of the offensive boards and turned the ball over on 14.7% of their possessions. The Celtics turned the ball over on 23.2% of their possessions. The Knicks cleaned up the boards and turned the ball over less, precisely what was expected going into the series.
The Knicks’ defensive improvement in the second half was also a huge part of the victory. The Celtics ORtg in the first half was 108.3, compared to a ORtg of 60.4 in the second.
New York’s offense suffered a similar fate. The first half ORtg was 105.3 and the second was 85.6.
The numbers across the board make it look like New York played better offensively the first half than the second half. In the first and second quarters, the Knicks shot 46.2% overall and 60% from three. In the third and fourth quarters, they shot 35% from two and 20% from three.
That shooting percentages, plus difference in ORtg, paints a picture that New York’s offense was better in first half than it was in second half. Despite what the numbers say, I believe it was the opposite.
The Knicks adjusted in the locker room and got back to what made them one of the best offensive teams in the league after 24 minutes, featuring a stagnant offense with no ball movement.
Before halftime, the Knicks averaged 1.67 passes per possession in half court sets. That number looks better than it actually was because of a stretch with Felton, Shumpert, Novak, Cope and Martin when they totaled 3.6 passes per possession. In the time Melo was on the court, New York tallied 1.35 passes per possession. Melo’s usage % in the first half according to NBA.com was an unseemly 48.4%, up 13% from his regular season number of 35.3%. The numbers from Synergy Sports show Anthony isolated on 15 possessions.
As a team, the Knicks assisted on 8.3% of their two point makes and all five of their three point makes.
In the second half, despite the numbers taking a drop, New York got back to moving the ball side to side and relied less on isolations, or more importantly isolations that killed ball movement.
In half court sets after halftime New York averaged 2.47 passes per possession.
Melo’s usage dropped from 48.4% to 29.1%, he took three of his four spot up shots in the second half and he only isolated five times.
If J.R. Smith hit catch and shoot jumpers at comparable rate to his regular season percentage instead of going 0-5, New York would have won by double digits.
The Knicks assisted on 36.4% of their made twos in the second half and 66.7% of threes. The monster jump on the twos is what jumps out the most.
For New York to sustain offensive success against the Celtics building on the formula they used in the second half will be imperative.
There is no doubt the Knicks need to rely on Melo and Smith in isolation situations at times — they can be effective plays, but there use needs to be associated with shot clock and specific match up advantages. It is much easier to attack a defensive player when he is on the move instead of squared up and balanced – this is what ball movement creates. The majority of the iso shots the Knicks were taking in the first half, specifically Melo, can be had at almost any time in the shot clock. He can wait until the first and second options of the set are run before the offense digresses into a one on one situation. This is exactly what happened in the second half for the majority of the sequences. If New York builds on what they showed offensively after the break, it will show up better in the numbers than it did in Game One going forward.
Ah, the memories. Any you think should be added?
Big thanks to @RubenSBorges for helping me track all these down.
Yeahhhh I’m talking Melo. Yeahhhh I’m talking Tyson/
And that’s a gold medal. Amar’e, he known to spike it/
And we got Thomas. Went back and copped Felton/
Mixed Prigioni with Jason and ohhhhh Lord help ‘em/
If you told me Iman Shumpert was a member of the throwback ’90s Knicks, and was re-joining his former locker room pals Camby and Kurt, I would be inclined to forget he was drafted in 2011 and believe you.
There’s no denying Shump has an unmistakable love for that #post90s attitude. He’s arrogant; He’s cocky; He talks trash; He steps to guys’ faces; He gets technical fouls for staring down opponents after yam’ing home a vicious poster dunk. Simply, he’s awesome.
But, our tower-haired guard has notedly regressed from the promise and potential he dazzled us with since the unofficial Lockout Summer League in Las Vegas two summers ago. A wonky, roller-coaster season culminated in a somber and inglorious first-round-Game-1 exit via ACL tear for Shump. His rookie campaign was over, and questions loomed about his future. Having already sustained a knee injury in his 22nd minute of official NBA action, Shump now needed surgery to repair damaged ligaments.
And it sucked.
New York Knicks fans have an undying fetish for “homegrown” talent. It’s why we fell in love with Wilson Chandler. It’s why we fell in love with Danilo Gallinari. Shit, we even gloated over Timofey effin’ Mozgov enough to propel him as the “make or break” asset in a trade deal to net the eventual 2013 scoring champ. So, when the Knicks drafted Iman Shumpert, while later jettisoning Landry Fields and Jeremy Lin, it became clear: THIS is our future.
Much to our pleasure, however, Shump has gradually rounded back to form during a sophomore season in which his head coach still refers to him as “rook” (he’s the youngest member of the Knicks by a 5-year margin and 9 years younger than the average team age of 31). Shump is back to doing general Shumpy things. He’s peppered flashes of his otherworldly athleticism with beguiling slashes along the baseline and nifty finishes at the rim. He’s honed a questionable jumper with fluid form mechanics and has become somewhat of a corner three specialist. He’s back to playing that stingy on-ball perimeter defense that enamored us to him in the first place. Simply, he’s awesome again.
Leg cramp in game 82 of the regular season aside, Shump will look to be a key component for the Knicks in the Playoffs. His corner three will probably be more valuable to a trigger-happy squad than his defense at this point, and realistically, he’s not shutting down Dwayne Wade, should New York meet Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Still, Shump is Shumpin’ again. Is anyone messing with his Knicks? We will find out shortly.
In the meantime, quit hating on the hair, haters.
After the Knicks got off to a hot start at the beginning of the season, it was popular to discuss what a great candidate for Coach of the Year Mike Woodson would make. When the Knicks cooled off over the course of a mediocre midseason, so did the COY talk. Now New York has ended the season even hotter than it began and won its first Atlantic Division title in 19 years, yet Woodson remains out of the COY conversation in many experts‘ circles. I decided to take a close look at his candidacy.
There is a strong COY narrative for almost every team in the playoffs this season. The two biggest exceptions to this are the Lakers and the Bucks. After acquiring all-stars at two key positions, the Lakers were expected to challenge for the best record in the NBA. Finishing as the 7th seed in the West is too big of a disappointment to foster any serious COY talk for Mike D’Antoni. Sure, the Bucks made the playoffs, but finishing with a losing record is too much to overcome for any serious COY talk. So, as we take a look at whether Woodson should be the COY, I’ll be comparing him to the other 13 playoff coaches.
There are five major criteria commonly used for evaluating if a coach would make a good COY candidate.
- Team performance compared to the previous season. If a team’s record has a big spike in wins from the previous year, this is a huge point in favor of their coach.
- Team performance compared to pre-season expectations. Various things happen during the offseason that clearly hurt a team or improve a team. Much like the Lakers, this creates an expectation for the team’s performance (for better or worse) that may have little to do with the previous year’s results.
- Overcoming adversity. Some teams face greater challenges to achieving success than others. This usually comes in the form of injuries to key players and major losses via free agency.
- Demonstrating high level coaching technique. One thing that sets the best coaches apart from their brethren is elite technique and innovation. This often takes the form of formulating offenses and defenses best suited to personnel and finding ways to take advantage of major NBA trends, as well as starting trends using innovative methodology.
- Player development. Some coaches are just better at getting the best performance from their players. When a veteran player suddenly has a career year or a younger player suddenly blossoms, often much of the credit is due to good coaching.
Let’s see how our candidates stack up using these criteria.
Team performance compared to the previous season. This is the easiest one to measure. Normally, you could just compare the number of wins, but not this time, since last season was strike shortened to 66 games, instead of the usual 82. This is solved by using winning percentage and then measuring the increase or decrease in percentage from last season to this one. Five of our candidates actually led their teams to a worse performance this season than last season:
- Pacers -4%
- Spurs -6%
- Hawks -6%
- Celtics -8%
- Bulls -20%
This should be a serious obstacle to the COY prospects of these coaches, especially Tom Thibodeau. On the opposite end, there were five coaches that led their teams to a double digit improvement in winning percentage:
- Heat +10%
- Knicks +11%
- Nuggets +12%
- Warriors +22%
- Nets +27%
Based on our first criteria, this makes Erik Spoelstra, Mike Woodson, George Karl, Mark Jackson and PJ Carlesimo our COY frontrunners. Probably the two biggest surprises to me here are the Heat and the Nets. After winning it all last season, who knew there was room for the Heat to improve their record by 10%? This season they won an astonishing 80% of their games. The Nets are surprising because there is an absolute lack of COY buzz for Carlesimo, despite the astronomical 27% improvement. Avery Johnson actually led them to a mediocre 14-14 record at the beginning of the season, before Carlesimo replaced him and turned their season around. If you were to just consider the games coached by Carlesimo, the improvement from last season jumps to 32%. Shockingly, there is even talk about replacing Carlesimo this offseason.
Another thing to consider along these lines is the improvement shown by New York last season when Woodson replaced D’Antoni midseason. The Knicks were actually 18-24 under D-Antoni, but finished an impressive 18-6 under Woodson. If you to compare this season’s winning percentage to just last season’s record under D’Antoni, the improvement dramatically increases to 23%. Clearly New York responds much better to Woodson’s guidance than they have done to any of their other recent coaches. The Knicks won 66% of their games this season. The last time they did as well was 16 years ago, when they won 70% of their games with the guidance of Jeff Van Gundy and featured the talents of Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson, Allan Houston, Charles Oakley and John Starks.
Team performance compared to preseason expectations. For this criterion I scoured the internet for preseason NBA ranking and in incredibly scientific fashion, I chose the first three that I could find to work with: ESPN, Fox Sports and Hoopsworld. I averaged the preseason rankings of the 14 teams in question and compared them to their actual order of finish based on record. Two of the teams actually did worse than predicted. The Pacers finished eighth, after being ranked seventh in the preseason rankings and the Celtics finished 16th, after being ranked fourth. This is probably explains the lack of COY buzz for Doc Rivers and is a definite strike against Frank Vogel’s candidacy. The Heat showed zero improvement to their preseason ranking of first, but it’s pretty impressive that they lived up to that ranking.
Four teams showed an improvement of five spots or more from their preseason ranking.
- Knicks +5 (12th to 7th)
- Nuggets +5 (10th to 5th)
- Warriors +8 (17th to 9th)
- Rockets +14 (24th to 10th)
Given how dramatically the Rockets have exceeded expectations, it’s a pretty big surprise that Kevin McHale isn’t getting any COY buzz. The James Harden trade isn’t an excuse either, since the preseason rankings were posted after he was acquired. To be fair, it’s not that the Rocket’s made a big improvement to last year’s winning percentage (just +3%); it’s more that they avoided the collapse that many “experts” expected from them this year. The other surprise is just how high the expectations were for the Nets, considering their 33% winning percentage last year. They finished with the NBA’s ninth best record, but they were predicted to finish 10th.
After two criteria, four pretty clear leaders are starting to emerge: Spoelstra, Woodson, Karl and Jackson.
Overcoming adversity. Injuries to major stars were a pretty common occurrence throughout the NBA this season. The exception seemed to be the teams that experienced better health than most. This criterion is probably one of the things hurting Jackson’s COY credentials. His only major rotation player to miss more than four games was Andrew Bogut, and not only was he not on the team last season, they knew he would miss the beginning of this season when they traded for him. Last season their best player, Stephen Curry missed half the season, David Lee missed nine games (out of just 66) and Monta Ellis only played 37 games before being traded for Bogut, who played zero games. Thus it’s easy to attribute much of Golden State’s improvement to just having healthy star players in their lineup this season, rather than to elite coaching.
This is a point that also fails to work in Spoelstra’s favor. Not only did the Big Three only miss an average of eight games apiece (out of 82), but they also added more weapons this season, in the form of Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and Chris Anderson. So it’s pretty hard to argue that the Heat had to overcome any major obstacles this season, other than the pressure of high expectations.
Denver has faced slightly more adversity, with Ty Lawson missing nine games, Danilo Gallinari missing 11 games and Wilson Chandler missing almost half the season. Though one could make the case missing a player to injury is less of a big deal for the Nuggets, since their rotation featured nine players that averaged 18 minutes or more and zero all stars.
New York on the other hand, has had to face a constantly changing roster of available personnel, with frequent injuries to key players. Their best player, Carmelo Anthony, missed 15 games, their starting point guard Raymond Felton 14, their starting center Tyson Chandler 16 and starting wing Iman Shumpert missed almost half the season. This is in addition to all-star big man Amare Stoudemire starting and ending the season with major injuries and only playing 29 games. Yet somehow Woodson not only kept things together, he led New York to their best season in 16 years.
Demonstrating high level coaching technique. This criterion is obviously more subjective than the previous three. One could argue that any coach that has a team do well is meeting this criterion. While I’m not going to try to argue against other coaches’ ability in this category, I will make the case in favor of Woodson. Two of the biggest ways to show a high level of coaching mastery are to adapt your offense and defense to your personnel and to be a successful innovator. Woodson shines in both of these ways. After developing a reputation in Atlanta as a defensive guru with a relatively simple isolation heavy offense that somewhat eschewed three-pointers, Woodson has completely reinvented himself and in the process, the Knicks, this season.
New York has become a team built around a complex, innovative and highly efficient offense. One of the more revealing stats relating to this is New York’s three-pointer to turnover differential of -97. This may not seem that impressive until you realize to what a degree this number led the league. In the case of the 2nd best team in this regard, the Miami Heat, they had a differential of -426! The best previous differential in NBA history was the 2005-06 Suns, who were -251. So New York’s -97 shatters the previous understanding of how much teams turn the ball over in relation to making three-pointers. This is in part due to personnel changes and in significant part to how Woodson has shaped the offense.
Woodson leaned heavily on small lineups, often with as many as three excellent ball-handlers and typically with at least two point guards on the floor at all times. This resulted in New York leading the NBA in fewest turnovers per game. In addition, Woodson has suddenly completely embraced the three point shot as a weapon, usually having four high percentage perimeter shooters on the floor at all times spacing the floor, rotating the ball and using a series of screens to set up a barrage of open three-pointers. This has led to the Knicks not only leading the league in made three-pointers, but setting an NBA record for made threes in a season. Woodson developed an offense and a defense tailored to his personnel and to the changing face of the NBA. While his innovative, constantly rotating and switching defense hasn’t always been effective, when it clicks it’s very effective, and it may well be ahead of its time.
Player development. This is another area where Woodson shines. With the oldest roster in the NBA, you wouldn’t expect too many pleasant surprises from the roster. Best case scenario, you would think players would perform to their best previous levels of performance. Yet after nine years in the league Anthony suddenly had the best season of his already impressive career. After eight seasons, JR Smith is suddenly playing like the superstar that many had finally given up in him ever becoming. Raymond Felton’s scoring and FG% are much improved from last season. Chris Copeland has gone from playing in Belgium last season to averaging nine points a game and shooting 48%. These are stats that aren’t inflated by a Mike D’Antoni style pace either. These Knicks play at the 26th slowest pace in the NBA, yet Melo still led the league in scoring.
So, while it wouldn’t be a travesty if someone like Erik Spoelstra or George Karl won the Coach of the Year, I submit that the correct choice for the honor is Mike Woodson, as he shines in every major criterion for selecting a COY. Now let’s hope the actual voters agree.
Just as it seemed the Knicks had settled into a successful rotation, the team was hit with the injury bug, as the season wound down. Rasheed Wallace, surprisingly, returned and then retired in literally less than 5 minutes. Pablo Prigioni, unfortunately, suffered an ankle injury in the last game of the season, a meaningless game that Prigioni only had to play in, due to a lack of healthy bodies. The signings of Quentin Richardson and Earl Barron were seemingly just for the last game of the season, but you never know with the Knicks. After all, Woodson started James White for a few weeks and is now considering starting him again while Prigioni is out. Add in the uncertainty surrounding Chris Copeland and the mystery that is the health of Marcus Camby and Amar’e Stoudemire and Mike Woodson has an interesting dilemma. With that said,The Knicks Wall will attempt to map out Mike Woodson’s playoff rotation and how these decisions may impact New York’s success in the playoffs.
Let’s start out with what we do know: Carmelo Anthony will get the overwhelming majority of the minutes at power forward. Anthony played significant minutes the entire season, averaging 37.0 MPG, the second most in his career. It is likely that Anthony will see even more minutes come playoff time. For his career, Anthony averages 38.9 MPG in the playoffs, as opposed to 36.3 MPG in the regular season. This represents a 7.1% increase in minutes in the playoffs. Applying such an increase to Anthony’s minutes this year will yield 39.6 MPG. For the purposes of this estimate, Melo will be penciled in for 40 minutes, all at the power forward position.
Tyson Chandler will likely be forced to log heavy minutes in the playoffs, coming off a bulging disk in his neck that forced him to missed 16 of the last 20 games. This injury will make it more difficult to project Chandler’s minutes, as we don’t know how limited Chandler will be. For the Knicks to advance, Chandler must be healthy, and we should take him at his word (as hard as that can be with the Knicks and injuries) that he is healthy. Chandler played 32.8 minutes per game, slightly higher than his career average and slightly less than last season. Chandler’s playoff minutes have been roughly consistent with his regular season minutes (29.1 to 28.5), so considering this and the presence of Kenyon Martin as a legitimate backup, Knicks fans shouldn’t expect Chandler to play more that 32 minutes per game.
Other than Anthony and Chandler, the Knicks’ starter with the most consistent role for the entire season has been Raymond Felton. There is no reason to expect that Felton will see any decline in playing time in the playoffs. In fact, Felton likely will play more with the loss of Pablo Prigioni. Felton has only played 9 playoff games in his career and, because of this, his sample is ultimately too small to take anything from. Felton will likely play a similar number of minutes as he did in the regular season (34.o), with a slight increase while Prigioni is nursing his injury, to about 36 MPG, all at point guard.
Since he has returned from ACL surgery, Iman Shumpert has started every game for the Knicks. Shump will start in the playoffs, but how much he plays is not so easy to predict. Shumpert has seen his minutes relatively increase since coming back (20.2, 18.6, 22.4, and 26.7 minutes per game in the months January – April, respectively). However, it is highly possible that Mike Woodson will choose to play veterans like JR Smith and Jason Kidd over Shumpert, who has only played in one postseason game. Shump’s minutes will probably be more consistent with those when he came back from injury, about 25 MPG between the shooting guard and small forward positions.
The last Knicks starter remains somewhat of a mystery with the injury to Pablo Prigioni. Mike Woodson said it will likely be Chris Copeland or James White (Please No!) because he wants to keep Jason Kidd, JR Smith, and Kenyon Martin on the bench. Let’s hope that Woodson uses common sense and starts Chris Copeland because, honestly, I trust Quentin Richardson (not kidding) and Earl Barron (only kind of kidding) more than James White. Copeland has earned playoff minutes with his play in the past month, but the question remains how much due to his inconsistent defense (a generous assessment: subpar to bad would be more appropriate). Nonetheless, Cope’s ability to spread the floor and play a really poor man’s Carmelo Anthony in Melo-less lineups is something that should be valued. If (when) Copeland starts, he will likely play the first 3-5 minutes of each half before making way to JR Smith or Jason Kidd and come back in to play the power forward while Anthony is on the bench. Copeland averaged 15.4 minutes per game in the regular season and 15 will likely be an appropriate number of minutes for Copeland in the playoffs, split between the two forward positions.
The sixth man for the Knicks (and likely the NBA’s sixth man of the year) is JR Smith, the enigmatic shooting guard. JR will get his minutes in the playoffs; Mike Woodson has shown an unbelievable amount of confidence in Smith that has seemed to pay off in JR’s second season with the Knicks. JR may end up being the difference between an ECF run and a first round exit. Many say the Knicks live and die by the three, but they maybe even more dependent on JR (boy, is that scary to say). JR averaged a career high 33.6 minutes per game, despite not starting a single game. Looking at JR’s career numbers are pretty much useless at this point, because Mike Woodson trusts Smith much more than George Karl ever did. Last season, JR played 27.6 MPG in the regular season and 35.0 MPG in the playoffs. Expect Smith to play even more in the playoffs, let’s say 38 MPG at the shooting guard and small forward positions.
Jason Kidd was brought to the Knicks for one reason:
to mentor Jeremy Lin to provide veteran experience in the playoffs. Considering Mike Woodson’s favoring of veterans and the injury to Pablo Prigioni, Kidd will likely have to initially play more minutes than he has during the regular season. This is especially the case if the Knicks want to continue to run the two point guard lineup that has been so successful in the regular season. Kidd averaged about 26.9 MPG in the regular season, a career low, but will likely see his minutes go to 30 MPG as long as Prigioni is out, playing all the backup point guard minutes and the rest of his minutes at shooting guard.
Few expected Kenyon Martin to be such an influential player when the Knicks signed him at the trade deadline, but here he is. Sheed and Kurt Thomas are gone, and Amar’e and Camby are always hurt, so K-Mart remains the only reliable big man off the bench. Martin’s presence on the teams has done wonders and he will likely receive significant bench minutes, especially in more physical matchups. Kenyon Martin and Tyson Chandler have not really been healthy at the same time, so Martin’s 23.9 MPG is likely more than what he will play in the playoffs. Martin will take all of the minutes Chandler doesn’t play at center and maybe even a few minutes at power forward where the Knicks want to play big for 18 MPG.
Someone’s minutes have to get cut, and that person will likely be Steve Novak. Had it not been for the plethora of front court injuries, it was possible that Novak would lose his playoff rotation spot entirely. Novak has been inconsistent this year, after leading the league in 3 point % last year, but his floor spacing ultimately makes the Knicks a better team. With Anthony taking up so many of the forward minutes and the emergence of Chris Copeland, Novak’s role will ultimately be minimized to 11 MPG. This number, however, could be even less if he is shut down the way he was vs. Miami last year.
This ten man rotation is clearly a tentative one, as the Knicks could see a plethora of players return in the coming games. The question remains whether the returns of these injured players will impact the Knicks rotation. While they may not have a set rotation that they have used the entire year, the Knicks have settled into a basic formula: Anthony at the power forward, spread the floor with shooters, and two point guards. Furthermore, the Knicks have one of the most successful crunch time lineups in the NBA of Felton-Kidd-Smith-Anthony-Chandler, a lineup that has a 124 OER and a 96 DER, according to 82games.com. Mike Woodson must keep to this for the Knicks to be successful, no matter who has to be squeezed out of the rotation.
“Ah, the Knicks, Boston’s little brother in basketball. Keep your chin up guys, you’ll get us next time.
The smug cockiness jumps right off the page.
It isn’t just the Celtics fans that are disrespectful, though. Heading into a regular season meeting in 2010-2011, while both teams were playing at a high level, Paul Pierce had some honest, true, and disrespectful words for the Knicks:
New York wasn’t even on Boston’s radar…
When the two teams met in the first round later that year, a series that featured injuries to two of New York’s top three players in Amar’e Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups, Melo’s supporting cast included the likes of Toney Douglas, Landry Fields, Billy Walker, Shawne Williams, Sheldon Williams, Roger Mason, Anthony Carter and Jared Jeffries.
This was New York’s first playoff appearance since 2003-2004 and despite getting swept, two moments of the meeting will always stick out to me.
1. Game One will go down as the last time we saw Amar’e Stoudemire play at his peak.
Simply put, Stoudemire was incredible. Heading into Game Two, he screwed up his back doing some sort of pre-game dunk. It took months for him to recover and he has yet to regain the form he was in prior to the injury. In a perfect world, this is how we should all try to remember Amar’e.
2. With these extreme circumstances facing the Knicks in the next game, the performance that Carmelo Anthony put together in a loss lives on as one of his best games in a Knicks uniform. With no Chauncey Billups and a useless Amare Stoudemire, Melo almost single-handily carried New York to a win and a 1-1 series.
Everything fell apart after the two tight loses in Boston and the Celtics completed the sweep.
However, times have changed since the two teams met in 2010-2011. At that time, Boston was the three seed with 56 wins, while the Knicks were 42-40 and a team in transition.
Now, though, the Knicks are the favorites and the Celtics are the underdogs. New York comes in as the two-seed with 50+ wins, while the Green & White struggled to finish above .500. The Knicks have constructed a different looking roster in the two offseasons since their playoff defeat at the hands of Boston. Instead of a poorly assembled, group of misfit place holders, Melo is expected to take the court with Ray Felton, Jason Kidd, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Tyson Chandler, Pablo Prigioni, Kenyon Martin, Chris Copeland and Steve Novak — a group of players that know and understand their roles.
For the first time since 2003-2004, the Knicks won the season series with the Celtics, taking three out of the four games. To put it simply, you might as well forget those four games even happened.
The Celtics took the first meeting, but Ronnie Brewer, Marcus Camby and Amar’e Stoudemire all played legitimate minutes. The second meeting featured Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger, Stoudemire and James White. Tyson Chandler and Kevin Garnett did not participate in the final two matchups. Given all that information, there is nothing to be taken from these games.
Since Garnett has joined the Celtics, the team has not lost in the first round of the playoffs. Garnett has obviously always played a big role (outside of the one year he missed the playoffs with an injury) in this and that role will be expanded now that the post-season is here. During his six seasons with Boston, in the regular season, the man they used to call “The Big Ticket” has averaged 30.98 minutes. Come playoff time, Doc Rivers has boosted that number, on average, to 36.15.
This is significant because of the individual impact Garnett has on the entire Celtics team. This season, Boston has been a net +5.4 better when Garnett is playing, compared to when he isn’t. That number is on the low-end of his impact. His average net impact over the previous five seasons was +11.44. The extra five to seven minutes a night Garnett is on the court immediately makes his team better.
New York also has to deal with a nemesis that will go down in my generation Knicks fans’ brains with Reggie Miller and Michael Jordan. It’s an exclusive club that Paul Pierce is in. In 54 career games against the Knicks, Pierce has averaged 23.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 4 assists on 45.7% shooting, 38.6% from behind the arc and 82.2% at the line. All of those numbers are slightly higher than his career averages.
Here are some unfortunate memories:
That was a big game, too — New York was in the midst of an eight game winning streak and the Celtics had won 10 straight (the Pierce comments mentioned in the beginning of this piece, came from before this particular game).
I remember this one being extremely obnoxious. I truly thought the Knicks had it.
This season… I wish someone in the front row picked up his chair and chucked it at Pierce as he was showing his appreciation to the MSG fans.
The two players discussed above, along with Doc Rivers, are why I am worried about the Celtics, even though they don’t look as formidable as they have in the past.
When examining this version of the Celtics, though, you can’t look at the season as a whole (even though I will at certain points in the story…it’s impossible not too). There are 38 games featuring Rajon Rondo, and a section without Kevin Garnett towards the end of the year, which are useless.
The time frame I looked at was from January 27 to March 13. It isn’t perfect, but it is the closest you can get to the team the Knicks will see in the playoffs. The two major differences being the fifth most used line up featured Jared Sullinger and there is a limited amount of Jordan Crawford (I think this could be the case with Crawford in the playoffs also). When going into this, I honestly had no idea whether the numbers would be good or bad. I didn’t have a clue what their record was.
In this 21 game stretch, the Celtics were 15-6. They were a below average offense, but their defensive efficiency was at what would have been the league’s best average, if it were to be extrapolated over the entire season.
Boston’s turnover % was below average and its offensive rebound % was a league low. The Knicks should end up with extra possessions across the course of the game because of their league best turnover % and their steadily improving work on the offensive boards. New York’s defensive rebounding has also stayed at a top five level, despite being forced into playing ridiculous small line-ups for small chunks of the season, and being without Tyson Chandler for 14 games.
Because of the extra possessions the Knicks will get, and the poor offensive production (it will look better against New York’s slightly below average D), it takes Boston playing at an extremely high level, defensively, to defeat the Knicks.
The numbers below, which show Knicks shooting %’s and locations, are from NBA.com:
When you break it down, New York takes (excluding backcourt shots) 31.8% of its shots at the rim, 6% in the paint, 26.7% mid-range, 8% corner 3 and above the break three 26.5%.
According to Synergy Sports, the Knicks’ top three methods of offense are spot up jumpers, isolation and pick-and-roll. The ratings in all three of these areas were “excellent.”
Boston’s defense guarding mid-range, corner 3s and above the break 3s is at an elite level, going off of the numbers from NBA.com. Without a real rim protector in the frontcourt, though, they are vulnerable to teams attacking the hoop.
Against the Knicks’ top three methods of offense, Boston defends spot-ups “excellent,” pick-and-roll “excellent,” (the role man “average”) and isolation “excellent.”
It is a battle of strengths. Will the Knicks highly efficient offense win out or will Boston’s defense?
At the other end of the court, the Celtics are a team that relies heavily on mid-range jump shots, but are also towards the top third of the league in corner three pointers attempted.
This is the result of having an offense built around Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
Pierce’s shot chart:
Garnett’s shot chart:
According to Synergy, the top three means of offense for the Celtics are spot-up (“very good”), transition (“poor”) and pick-and-roll (“average”). New York does not rate well defending those situations.
One of the Knicks’ biggest weaknesses this year has been defending opposing team’s guards who have the ability to break down a defense off the dribble. This is not one of the Celtics strengths, fortunately. They play a methodical offense that lacks individual player creativity outside of Paul Pierce and at times (more frequently recently), Jeff Green.
On the other hand, Kevin Garnett’s ability to pull Tyson Chandler away from the basket will hurt New York’s at the rim defense if Green, Pierce and, to a certain degree, Avery Bradley, are able to break down their man in one-on-one situations.
It will be interesting to see how the two teams go about matching up defensively. In three of the last four games, Rivers has gone with a Garnett, Bass, Green, Pierce and Bradley starting line-up.
I didn’t see anywhere if this was something Doc was planning on rolling with in the playoffs or if it was just an experiment at the end of the season. However, If that’s the lineup, Woodson has an interesting decision to make: Does he continue to start Felton, Prigs, Shumpert, Melo and Tyson? With those groups, Woody might be forced to hide Ray or Prigs on Bass and the other on Bradley. Melo and Shump would have to defend Green/Pierce in some form. I’m not sure I like those matchups, defensively, but the balance of this team winning with offense and not worrying about who guards who is a delicate balance. In this situation, J.R. Smith will have to come off the bench extremely early (probably will anyway) or you could move Jason Kidd back into the starting line-up for Prigs. Putting Kidd on Pierce intrigues me in a weird way.
If Rivers goes back to a more traditional starting line-up, moving Green or Bass into a sixth man role and swapping one of them with Terry or Lee, the matchups get simplified. You would think Pierce and Melo don’t defend each other at the start of the game, so they can both save energy for offense. Shump takes on the Pierce challenge, Melo works on Bass or Green, Tyson stays with KG, Ray defends Terry/Lee and Prigs gets the Bradley assignment. That puts New York in a more comfortable situation.
Finally, we come to the question, “are the Celtics a team that gets in Melo’s head?”
Everyone remembers this:
This season against Boston, Anthony has averaged 25 points, on 35% shooting from the field and 30% from three in four games. Conversely, in the same amount of games last season, he averaged 30.8 points with a 49% FG and 41% 3P FG.
While with the Knicks, Melo has obtained both success and failure against a terrific defensive team in the Celtics. I don’t believe Boston is magically in his head. However, the Celtics happen to defend Anthony’s strengths well, which will lead to him having a more difficult time scoring against them than against most teams. It doesn’t mean Anthony isn’t capable of performing at a high level, but it’s not going to be easy.
I don’t expect anything in this series to be easy for the Knicks. Boston is a veteran savvy team that knows how to execute in playoff situations. They are well coached and have two players, in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, who understand what it takes to win playoff games.
Unlike the last time these two teams played, though, New York also has a squad equipped for a legitimate playoff battle.
New York proved more capable of dealing with the rigors of an 82 game season than the Celtics. It was the first time they were able to do that since 2006-2007. Now, we find out if it translates to playoff success.
Prediction: Knicks in 6