After the Knicks were eliminated by the Pacers in the second round of the playoffs, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth about the bleak future faced by this team. To be fair, there are plenty of reasons for concern.
- The team is old, the oldest in the league. The team was beset by injuries this season and most of the injury issues should get worse, not better, due to the team’s advanced age. Most of the team’s players are on the downside of their careers, we shouldn’t expect better results from players past their prime.
- The team is facing major salary cap restraints. Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amare Stoudemire have massive contracts and they aren’t going anywhere. The Knicks’ ability to improve through free agency or sign and trades is almost zero.
- Not only are the Knicks stuck with a hard to improve roster, but there are younger, better, still improving teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference pecking order. Based on this season, there is every reason to believe the Heat, the Pacers and probably the Bulls (especially with Derrick Rose) are better than the Knicks. In addition, all three teams are younger than the Knicks and can expect more of an upward trajectory. To make matters worse, the Knicks have to be looking over their shoulders at the Nets and the Hawks, who could easily be tougher opponents next season.
Yet, it’s too soon to pack it in and write off the Knicks for next season. For one thing, the Knicks will return the same coach and the same core of players that just won the Atlantic Division for the first time in almost 20 years and advanced past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. These are not small accomplishments for a franchise that has spent so many years mired in losing and horrible decisions.
This was Mike Woodson’s first full season at head coach and the first year in his rotation for many members of the team. Another full training camp could be a huge boost for smoothing out the wrinkles in his system and further acclimating the players to it. Let’s take a look at what we can expect from the roster:
The Core Four
Carmelo Anthony- Almost every team that makes it to the NBA Finals has a superstar and Melo is ours. He will only be 29 next season and he’s coming of a scoring title and the best season of his career. His stats appear to be trending upward: his scoring improved by six points a game this season, his rebounding increased, his foul shooting improved and his three point shooting accuracy was a career high 38%, despite attempting 414 threes, almost twice his previous career high. If Melo learns how to work his scoring into the framework of the team’s offensive flow better and ups his intensity on the defensive end a bit, he might help the Knicks even more next season.
Tyson Chandler- Unlike Melo, Chandler may be starting the downside of his career. He’ll be 31 next season and he spent much of this season battling back issues. He certainly won’t be washed up though. He made his first all-star team this year and he won’t be playing in the Olympics this off season, so hopefully he’ll enter next season in top health. A fourth straight season of double digit scoring, double digit rebounding and a field goal percentage well over 60% should be quite reasonable. Add to that his first team all NBA defensive skills and the Knicks have something few teams have: a top tier center.
Raymond Felton- Another player entering the prime age of 29, Felton is coming off a season which saw dramatic improvements over his previous one. Higher scoring, higher FG% and better three point shooting were all a part of his return to the Big Apple. His importance to the team was never clearer than in the playoffs, where his scoring and FG% were even higher than the regular season. Unfortunately, none of the other point guards on the roster this season were able to duplicate Raymond’s ability to run the pick and roll, drive and dish, plus drive and score. Finding a young backup point guard will be one of many priorities for NY in the off season.
Iman Shumpert- The youngest member of the core four, Shump also has the biggest upside. Next season he will only be 23 and he’s already shown flashes of greatness. Being able to start the season healthy may give him the chance to realize the potential he’s shown to be an all-defensive team member. If he can combine his 40% shooting from behind the arc with an ability to attack the basket from off the dribble, he should develop into a major force on the offensive end as well. If JR Smith walks, the pressure will be on Shumpert to be the Knicks main scoring option besides Melo, STAT and Felton.
Also under contract and not going anywhere
Amare Stoudemire- He may have less impact on the court than the core four, but he’s the biggest anchor on the team’s finances. Even in the case of this soon to be 31 year-old with a history of major injuries there is an upside though. While never much of a contributor on the defensive end, he seems to be getting even better at the thing he does do well: score in the paint. This season he averaged 14 points a game in only 23 minutes a game while shooting the second best percentage of his career: 58%. Working with Hakeem Olajuwon seems to be helping his low post game and another off season working with the Dream can only help. In addition, STAT enters the off season healthy. If he can make it through an entire training camp and preseason healthy we may finally get to see what it’s like when Woody has had a chance to fully integrate STAT into his system.
Steve Novak- The New York offense is predicated on shooting threes, lots of them, which makes someone that shoots over 42% from deep have value. Unfortunately though, that’s pretty much all he does well and by the end of the season he had been almost completely dropped from Coach Woodson’s rotation.
Under contract, but really old
Jason Kidd- There can be no doubt that Jason Kidd brought lots to the table this season, but there has to be some question about how much he can bring to the table next season at the age of 40, if decides to return. Not surprisingly this season he posted the lowest scoring and assist numbers of his career, while demonstrating an almost complete inability to score at the rim. Despite averaging a career low in minutes per game, many place blame for his catastrophic showing in the playoffs on overuse on his aging and aching body during the regular season. At this point New York might be better off using Kidd as an assistant coach that they return to the court as a player only about a month before the playoffs.
Marcus Camby- Boy did this acquisition look bad this season. The 39 year old center only appeared in 24 games, he only averaged 10 minutes a game and he had almost no impact statistically in those games, though there were a few flashes of good interior defense. The combination of age and injury makes the idea of him trying to play out his contract almost unpalatable.
It would be really nice if we could find a way to retain them
Chris Copeland- While it’s clear that another year of NBA seasoning should do wonders for Cope, he showed signs of being a major offensive contributor as a 28 year old rookie. Not only did he shoot 42% from three during the regular season, he shot 48% from behind the arc during the playoffs, while most of his teammates seemed completely unable to hit from deep. Unfortunately for the cap restricted Knicks, he may have priced himself off the team with his play, though Glen Grunwald has been quoted as saying that New York may use the mini mid-level exception to keep him on board.
JR Smith- The sixth man of the year is a big reason for the Knicks improvement this season and it would be a major blow to lose him. New York has the early Bird rights to him and he has claimed that he wants to stay, so let’s hope Grunwald can find a way to get a deal done. Like Anthony, Smith had the best season of his career and there is reason to believe that we still haven’t seen the best yet.
Melo, STAT, Smith, Copeland, Felton, Novak, Chandler and Shumpert are all 31 or younger, so if New York can start the season with all eight of them under contract and healthy, they not only will have a great core to build around, they will have the same core of players as the previous season, giving them some consistency. Not only should we not start giving away our Atlantic Division title, but it might be reasonable to hope we can win even more games next season. The two biggest holes that will need to be addressed if we can retain Copeland and Smith (a big and important if) would seem to be at point guard and center. We will need someone to fill Kenyon Martin’s shoes as a backup center and not only will we need a second point guard for the starting lineup ala Jason Kidd or Pablo Prigioni, but we’ll need someone coming off the bench that can somewhat duplicate Raymond Felton’s role in the offense.
So, sure, it was disappointing watching the team implode against the Pacers, but that certainly doesn’t invalidate a terrific season. The team may be old and financially limited, but that’s what they said this season and look what happened. Let’s wait and see what Grunwald can pull off this offseason before we start to panic too much.
The New York Knicks’ second half explosion in Game 2 this past Tuesday – a massive 30-2 run that lasted from the end of the third quarter through the majority of the fourth quarter – will be credited and mostly remembered by Carmelo Anthony’s transformation into a scintillating fireball. Anthony, who’d been struggling shooting, suddenly came alive, knocking down 6-8 shots from all distances on the court for 16 points. Anthony was marvelous, as was the team’s overall defense, another factor that will be credited.
What went somewhat overlooked, however, was the brilliance of Pablo Prigioni during the run. From the last 30 seconds of the third quarter to the 1:24 mark of the fourth quarter, a span of over 11 minutes, Prigioni racked up 8 points on 3-3 shooting, grabbed 4 rebounds, dished 3 assists, and collected 1 blocked shot. It was this 11 minute stretch that made up for the majority of his totals of 21 minutes, 10 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists. And no turnovers, either.
Furthermore, it all happened when Prigioni helmed the offense by himself, with Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd on the bench. A few months ago during the grind of the regular season, it would’ve been unfathomable to imagine Woodson giving Prigioni minutes as the only point guard on the floor in anything less than a 20-point game. No one could’ve foreseen such a scenario happening in the playoffs.
But Tuesday’s game is just a primary example of what’s become a trend in this postseason: the Knicks are better with Prigioni on the floor.
His overall stats are up across the board:
- Regular season: 16.2 mpg, 3.5 ppg, 45.5% FG, 39.6% 3FG, 1.8 rpg, 3.0 apg, 0.9 spg, 1.1 TO
- Playoffs: 22.1 mpg, 5.7 ppg, 43.8% FG, 47.6% 3FG, 2.3 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.7 spg, 0.7 TO
Even with those increased numbers (besides for overall FG%), his stats may not blow most people away. However, his advanced stats tell the tale of his on-court worth for the Knicks this postseason.
According to NBA.com/Stats, with Prigioni on the floor, the Knicks have their highest Offensive Rating (points per 100 possessions) and their best Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions). When the point guard is on the floor, the Knicks’ Offensive Rating (OffRtg) is 109.4, while their Defensive Rating (DefRtg) is 85.4 This makes Prigioni’s Net Rating (NetRtg) on the floor 24.0, the highest of any Knick receiving regular minutes. (Only James White has a higher NetRtg, and he’s played just nine minutes all playoffs, thus making his stats easily inflatable). With Prigioni off the floor, the Knicks’ OffRtg and DefRtg fall to 94.2 and 98.2, respectively, meaning, basically, the Knicks are losing when Pablo isn’t playing.
The numbers are impressive in other areas as well. According to NBA.com/Stats, the Knicks’ Rebound % (available rebounds collected when a player is on the floor) is at its highest when Prigioni is playing. It’s tough to pinpoint why this is, but it could possibly be from Prigioni’s aggressiveness in going after boards, or perhaps sound box-outs on fellow guards. It could also be that each of the five Knicks’ starters have the five highest Reb% of any regular rotation players, meaning those five as a group rebound the best.
When Prigioni is on the floor, the Knicks have an assist-turnover ratio of 1.77, best on the team. The Knicks’ better ball movement and decision-making may also lead to a higher True Shooting % (shooting percentage adjusted for the value of free throws and 3-point field goals). When Pablo is playing, the Knicks’ TS% is 55.5% – once again, the best on the team.
It’s impressive for a rookie to come to the NBA and adjust so well to a time when so many young, inexperienced players crumble under the pressure of the playoffs. However, given Prigioni’s experience playing in Europe and Argentina on major stages (Euroleague championships, Olympics, and World Championships), it’s not too surprising that Pablo is excelling at a time when many of the Knicks’ top guns are playing below their usual level.
The combination of Prigioni’s heady passing, careful ball-handling, efficienct shooting, and sound defense and rebounding have made him an indispensable part of the Knicks’ rotation. Mike Woodson would be smart to look at Pablo’s team-leading stats and give him some of the minutes going to less effective players.
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…
As the Knicks roll into a big time match-up with the Oklahoma City Thunder on an 11 game winning streak, there are lots of things going right for New York. Carmelo Anthony is red hot, scoring 40+ points in three consecutive games, making New York fans hoarse from cheering at their TVs as he’s embarrassed opposing defenses; JR Smith has scored 30+ points coming off the bench four times during the streak; Iman Shumpert hit 17 three-pointers in the first nine games of the streak; Kenyon Martin has resurrected his career in glorious fashion and Raymond Felton is playing some of his best basketball of the season; Even Pablo Prigioni has gotten in on the action, breaking into the starting lineup and helping stabilize the back court with his solid play.
Yet, the Knicks have been a solid offensive team all season, averaging over 99 points a game, making over 800 threes and having the third highest offensive rating in the league. The problem the Knicks have experienced during various points in the season where they have struggled is with their defense or the lack of it. The Knicks’ defensive rating ranks 16th in the NBA.
The biggest key to the streak has been a re-invigorated defense. Over the 11 game span, the Knicks have given up 89.7 points a game. To put that into perspective, the Memphis Grizzlies, which lead the league in fewest points allowed this season, give up 89.8 points per game. No team has hit more than 50% from the field against New York during the streak and twice they’ve held opponents to 38% shooting. Five times, New York has held their opponent to 85 points or less and the most they’ve given up is 102 (ironically to the basketball challenged Bobcats).
This defensive renaissance has been somewhat surprising, given that, for most of the streak, the Knicks have been without their defensive backbone, current Defensive Player of the Year, Tyson Chandler, who’s been nursing a sore neck. Not only did the Knicks’ defense not collapse in his absence, it prospered.
Perhaps the biggest reason has been the play of Kenyon Martin. A few weeks ago this would have been like saying the biggest reason Star Wars is a good series of movies is the character of Jar Jar Binks. Martin was a man without a team, seemingly too old and too diminished for a team to take a chance on him. Then with Chandler going and joining New York’s long list of injured big men, Martin was asked to be their starting center. Well undersized in the middle at 6’9”, Martin was expected to shake off the rust and hold his own against centers that were younger and bigger.
He’s done more than hold his own. It’s not a coincidence that this winning streak and in particular this streak of good defense has coincided with Martin getting big minutes for New York. In the 14 games where Martin has played 20 minutes or more the Knicks are 11-3. New York has given up more than 105 points in those games only once. His Defensive Rating is 104, the same as Chandler, and Jason Kidd is the only rotation player on the team with a better one: 103. His defensive numbers per 36 minutes are solid: 7.9 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks, but this hardly tells the full story. His physical style of play seems to inspire the whole team to greater effort while at the same time making the other team think twice about coming into the paint. His 5.2 fouls per 36 minutes lead the team and he somehow makes it seem like a virtue. His fouls, though plentiful, are usually well timed and seem to have a positive effect on the team’s defensive intensity.
This streak is very reminiscent defensively of the beginning of the season. New York started the season 8-1, allowing more than 100 points only once. At that point, many were hailing the Knicks as an elite defensive team. Yet after starting the season strong, New York’s defense slid into mediocrity and so did their results, as they followed their 8-1 start with a 30-25 record. The entire season the one constant has been offence. Both of their streaks of sustained excellence have been highlighted by superior defense. Hopefully having both a healthy Chandler and Martin available at the same time will only help and New York will be able to carry their new found defensive vigor and excellence into the postseason. Of course when we’re talking about the Knicks, sometimes having players stay healthy seems like a lot to ask.
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.
Welcome, all, to The Knicks Wall’s 2013 NBA Trade Deadline Live Blog. We’re just hours away from the trade deadline, so I’ll keep this post updated with any and all rumors transpiring in the final hours. If you have any questions you’d like answered, post them in the comments and I’ll get back to you!
12:15 AM – According to Wojnarowski, the Orlando Magic are not set on dealing J.J. Redick by today’s 3PM trade deadline. They’re fine holding onto him for remainder of year.
Latest news after the jump!
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?
Through the use of a weighted statistical projection, the Knicks Wall will attempt to project the rotation of the Knicks, as well as the production of players, based on per minute production. Before explaining how these per game numbers were projected, it is essential to take note of a few things. First, it will be very noticeable that Iman Shumpert, Rasheed Wallace, Marcus Camby, Chris Copeland and James White will not be in the projected rotation. For Shumpert, Wallace, and Camby, their injury situations are too fluid to make a reasonable estimate on how many minutes they will be able to play. For the purposes of this projection, the minutes are based on what the rotation may look like while those players are injured. James White and Chris Copeland are not included because there is no evidence to suggest that they will get any consistent minutes, even with said injuries. In terms of injuries, Amar’e Stoudemire is projected on the assumption that he returns on Christmas (while this is not necessarily true, the formula needs an estimate of games missed to be accurate as possible). Lastly, all stats are as of December 18, 2012.
Regarded as one of the NBA’s most prolific offensive talents, Carmelo Anthony has had no problems scoring in his career. After spending just one season at the University of Syracuse (in which he led the school to its only NCAA Tournament championship), Anthony was selected third in the 2003 NBA Draft by the Denver Nuggets. A five time NBA All-Star, Anthony has never averaged less than 20.8 points in any of his nine seasons. In his seven full seasons as a Denver Nugget, he led the team to the playoffs each year, including a run to the Western Conference Finals in 2009. In that 2009 season, he set an NBA record for points scored in a single quarter when he went off for 33 points in the third quarter in a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Traded to New York midway thru the 2010-11 season, he has been a part of the first two Knicks playoff teams since the 2004 season. Anthony is also a three-time Olympian, winning a bronze medal in 2004 and gold in both 2008 and 2012.
The New York Knicks will enter the season as a 35-1 (40-1 just a few days ago) underdog to win the NBA Championship.
By using vegas’ odds, let’s take a look at the expected Eastern Conference breakdown:
Well, the New York Knicks have finally, officially, unveiled their new uniforms. In preparation for the showcase, the Knicks released “Jersey Vault”, a neat little application that gives us a look back at all of their previous jerseys. I’ve brought Robert Silverman of KnickerBlogger, jersey aficionado, to help me break down all of the Knicks’ game-day attire since their inception. Well, not every jersey, but a lot of them…