As soon as I begin to converse with you, the fans of New York, news comes across that the Knicks’ orthopedist is flying in from New York City to examine the swelling on Iman Shumpert’s surgically-repaired left knee that flared up three days ago. I really do not know what to assume of this. My optimism tells me that it is a deep contusion, or a minor sprain, but I really am not counting on any shumping tonight, and I say that with a deep sadness.
The Knicks are in a pickle up front. With Shump most likely a no go (my gut feeling), and JR Smith ailing from a flu, a stomach virus, and Rihanna, the one advantage in this series for the Knicks has essentially flipped over to Indiana. There’s no telling what Mike Woodson will resort to tonight, he may just have to suit up Dave Hopla to run off screens and hit some three pointers. Seriously, though, these holes need to be mended for at least one game before the series heads back to New York, hopefully knotted up at two games apiece. Tonight will be a true “gut check,” as Carmelo Anthony called it, and the Knicks can either fight, or retreat with their tails between their legs and begin to find open slots for tee-time.
Woah, wait, let’s take a step back, and breathe.
Usually, I’m not one to view the glass half empty. I will never throw in the towel; and that’s just my tough-gritted New York attitude I was raised with. The Knicks do have a legitimate chance of winning this game tonight, crippled roster or not. It can, should, and ultimately must be done.
Carmelo Anthony was really criticized for not taking enough shots in game three, only 16. I know, the microscope of New Yorker’s is as brutal as a mean little boy pointing a magnifying glass at tiny little ants and watching the shrivel. Anthony knows what it’s going to take tonight, and rightfully so, he’s responded with telling us he will be more aggressive and look for his shot. Soon after, Tyson Chandler was very critical, and said the Knicks need to move the ball more and worry less about one man (Carmelo Anthony cough cough). I am just curious to where Tyson thinks the offense is going to come from. Unless he knows something about his former champion teammate Jason Kidd putting in extra hours behind the three-point line, please, inform us.
That being said, Woodson agreeably said he would cut Kidd’s minutes if his offense continues to diminish. As Woody twiddles his thumbs and ponders where he can find some sort of inside-out threat who can hit an open three pointer and take some pressure off Carmelo, I’ll let everyone know Chris Copeland is still sitting on the bench, waiting… Yearning.
Copeland is only a piece of this puzzle that is game four. If he does not get a chance tonight to implement some offense, I don’t think he’s getting out of the doghouse the rest of the season. His defense can’t really be that horrid, that his sweet stroke has to ride the pine every night, even with the situation we are in tonight, bodies down everywhere.
So, let’s see where we are, rotation wise. Shump most likely (once again, my gut) sitting this one out, I don’t even think JR knows what to expect from JR, and Kidd could see less minutes if he doesn’t produce early. That opens up three rotation slots, maybe about 50 minutes total. Out of that 50, Carmelo will most likely see a raise in a few minutes, and so will Felton, regardless of his play, the back line is just shortened. Then we look down the bench and see Novak, Copeland, and yes, Quentin Richardson. Out of these three, figure Copeland and Novak will see the court tonight, just hopefully not at the same time (defensive suicide). But If Woody really wants to continue his small ball, Copeland will help to spread the floor and pull whoever is guarding him out of the paint, and the same goes for Novak. The Pacer’s front line tonight will need to be adjusted to, heedlessly of who it is, because they have dominated two out of three games this series.
Lets hope there can be some generation of offense from those guys, and Amar’e Stoudemire, who can give the Knicks’ 15 hard minutes. Even if it is without scoring, help grab some rebounds, give us some second chance opportunities. Knicks’ fans appreciate the little things.
If Mike Woodson decides to rock the boat a little tonight, I hope he shuffles the starting lineup. Go Big, or go home. How figurative and literal is that for you? I would go with Prigioni, Felton, Anthony, Martin, and Chandler. Bolster your front line, prevent Anthony from being beat up, and grab some rebounds, please. Also, it would be great to see Pablo be the soul orchestrator while Felton can run off some baseline screens for open shots on the baseline. He’s been very effective at this throughout the season, and for sure it would open up his entire game from the get go, making the defense honor his jump shot and giving him the ability to take it to the hole and create. And that’s really how the Knicks win tonight, rebounding, grit, and scoring. The blueprint seems simple, but it’s going to take a team effort on the offensive end to win, and guys must hit shots. We’ll see where we are in 24 hours.
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.
From Madison Square Garden, to TD Bank Garden, game three tonight is not going to be any stroll in the park, or should we say garden. Carmelo Anthony and company are prepared for a hostile environment and rejuvenated Boston squad playing at home for the first time since the Boston marathon bombings a little less than two weeks ago. The Celtics should have their work cut out for them again, especially on the offensive end, where they have produced a total of only 48 points in two-second halves against New York. Through the first two games for the Knicks, the level of intensity on defense is reminiscent of November when it was difficult for teams to put up 90 points. And this was without Kenyon Martin. So, there is a great deal to look forward to tonight as we get ready for an 8:00pm est. tipoff, lets give some of the essential factors in tonight’s matchup a rundown.
Keep an eye on Tyson Chandler who is working towards getting his legs back underneath himself. Chandler was beginning to look back in form down the stretch of game two with a big block on Avery Bradley, but still looks a little out of place on offense. I’m looking for Tyson to make himself more of a factor tonight in the pick & roll to help free up the perimeter if the defense decides to collapse on a rolling Chandler.
Doc Rivers is sick of the officiating so far, especially with Kevin Garnett. The NBA recently hit Doc with a $25,000 fine after game two for criticizing the referees. Rivers is a coaching wizard and the Knicks are probably just as aware of that. Expect adjustments from the Celtics to try and get Garnett going in this series. Although, there is speculation Garnett is playing through some pain, so could we see fewer minutes tonight for KG?
Paul Pierce is a different animal at home, and will carry the entire workload if Garnett gets caught in foul trouble once again. Pierce has presented an interesting mismatch for New York, who is being guarded by a smaller Raymond Felton. However, Felton does a great job of fighting over screens to harass Pierce and at most, slows down an extremely efficient scorer. The Celtics’ success tonight will be measured by how well their bench can play. Bench players are found to be more comfortable at home, so the Knicks should be prepared to keep scoring droughts and fast breaks to a minimum.
A little more scoring wouldn’t hurt. Steve Novak and Chris Copeland have each played about six to eight meaningful minutes in games one and two, but have essentially been non factors. A positive five minutes from each resulting in a few three pointers could be the difference in a close game on the road. Boston will try to keep the tempo exactly where it’s been, and the crowd will get into it early. Stealing tonight’s game from under the Celtics would presumably end the series going up three games to nothing, a deficit yet to be overcome by any NBA team. It would also make the burden of taking one game on the road less heavy, still being able to come back home and win the series in New York, if the series gets that far.
The last playoff game played against Boston, in Boston, Carmelo Anthony scored 42 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in a loss for the Knicks. Hopefully the output remains the same, but we can reverse the outcome. At least this year there’s no Jared Jefferies to attempt a game wining layup for us.
“They may reach the promise land, but, for now, as the Knicks slump towards Portland, it seems they have lost their way and the wheels have fallen off the wagon.”
I wrote my last post huddled by the limited candlelight that barely illuminates “Knicks Fan Hell”. You know, that place you crawl into when the Knicks (and their limbs) are free falling, settling right into their usual bottom seeded position. While I wasted away with the season in Knicks Fan Hell, I wrote an entire column likening the Knicks’ season-ending west coast trip to a cholera-filled trek on the Oregon Trail.
The wheels, I concluded, had fallen off the bandwagon (along with many fair weather fans whose stomachs had endured one too many punches over the past ten years).
Cue Montage With Newspaper Clippings, Highlights, J.R. Smith giving Steve Novak bunny ears on the team bus, Mike Woodson laughing in the mirror as Shumpert, holding a camera, catches Coach shaping his goatee, all as The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Do You Believe In Magic” blares…
12 games, 12 wins and 8,043 Carmelo Points later, the Knicks are on the verge of winning the Atlantic Division Title for the first time since 1994.
I’m not hear to tell you how it happened-Someone else can offer a much deeper analysis complete with numbers and highlights with arrows and circles and all that crap. Because honestly, I have no idea how it happened. I’m just here to react to the seemingly unbelievable fact that after 19 years, the Celtics, Nets, Sixers, (and whoever else is in our division-no but seriously-who?) will once again be looking up at our shiny behinds when it’s all said and 82 done.
It’s great, glorious, and WILDLY CONFUSING.
You see, Knicks fans use one particular classic sports cliché like they invented it: Nothing matters until the playoffs.
Every season, it’s Championship or Bust. This is Madison Square Garden we’re talking about. New York, the Mecca of basketball. Basketball is in our DNA. We are a great franchise with a history of success. These are things we tell ourselves. A division title, is “not why they play game”, as we say.
But last Friday Night’s Ceremony honoring the 1973 squad was a backhanded reminder at a very sad reality. In the scheme of “Championship or Bust”, The New York Knickerbockers have busted for 40 years in a row.
Knicks fans know this. They know its been forty years since a 7 footer went down The Canyon of Hero’s . They know the most recent basketball-related banner hanging in the rafters belongs to the New York Liberty (yep, right in the groin). They know that everyone is nostalgic for ONE season, a season MSG Network has dedicated hours of programming to, A SEASON THEY DIDN’T EVEN WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP.
So, I’m going to use this platform to tell all my fellow Knicks fans something they need to hear:
A division title is not a championship. Not even close. No one really remembers them unless, like in the Knicks case, it’s been nearly 20 years since you won one. You dont even get a trophy. But at the very least, a division title is tangible validation for Knicks fans who have been looking for a glimmer of hope to rise from a darkness rivaled only by that of Woody’s Goatee. An Atlantic Division title is shaky proof, that no, the Knicks don’t suck. In fact they’re pretty good. Objectively-better -than-8-teams-in-the-league, good. And maybe. JUUUUUST maybe, when push comes to shove…they’ll make it out of the first round.
So, you can puff up your chest and get all Stephen A. “Ill wait to the playoffs” on me… but for the Knicks fans just looking for permission to enjoy this relatively non-noteworthy feat, consider it granted.
 Having said that, I would like to add that Pablo Pirgioni is just NOT getting enough credit here. I don’t know what it is about the former Gaucho (not confirmed, but highly suggested), but holy hell has he made a difference. The streak has everything to do with Melo, JR and of course the addition of Kmart, but lets take a second and applaud the little ball thief. 12-0 as a starter. He doesn’t speak much English, but that record speaks for itself.
- A morale destroying losing streak.
- Major injuries to multiple key stars.
- A reserve guard suddenly putting up MVP type numbers.
- A surprising seven game winning streak led by some unexpected heroes.
The Knicks’ current winning streak isn’t their only impressive win streak this season, but it’s the one that most reminds me of the history making seven game win streak they went on last season, now better known as “Linsanity”. Let’s start with a look back.
February 4, 2012. Coach Mike D’Antoni and his Knicks were desperate. After starting off the strike shortened season an encouraging 6-4, the wheels had seemingly come off the Knicks’ season. New York had just lost to the Boston Celtics, their eleventh loss in 13 games. Now, the Knickerbockers’ record stood at 8-15, with thoughts of making the playoffs rapidly seeming like a pipe dream. After missing the playoffs for six straight years, the Knicks had made it back in 2011. Now it looked like they would be going back to their losing ways in 2012.
Yet, February 4 was the day things changed. With point guard Baron Davis unavailable due to injury, D’Antoni had been trying to get by using Iman Shumpert and Toney Douglas to run the show without success. Douglas had lost D’Antoni’s confidence and Shumpert was both playing out of position and playing too many minutes. Out of other options, D’Antoni had given six minutes of playing time to journeyman point guard Jeremy Lin against the Celts. Lin was solid but unspectacular, yet D’Antoni was happy enough with solid to get Lin into the game sooner the next night against the New Jersey Nets. Lin was ready. As Lin started piling up points and assists, D’Antoni took notice and left him out there for almost 36 minutes as Jeremy put up 25 points and seven assists. That night, the Knicks beat the Nets 99-92 and everything changed.
The discovery of a good point guard buried at the end of the bench was somewhat muted by the loss of Amare Stoudemire, hurt in the New Jersey game. If this wasn’t bad enough, the Knicks lost another key star, Carmelo Anthony, the very next night against Utah. At this point, D’Antoni was willing to try almost anything and he’d shoved Lin into the starting lineup and reached down to the end of the bench for another journeyman, forward Steve Novak. Novak had struggled so far that season and only played a total of four seconds in the two previous games. Yet this night he played over 17 minutes and as the Jazz defense collapsed to try and deal with the penetration of Lin, he found himself getting open and thanks in part to Lin, getting the ball. Novak made the most of this opportunity and went five of eight from deep.
With that, Linsanity was on. Lin and Tyson Chandler led a cast of second and third tier players to seven straight victories, with Novak coming off the bench and blazing away from almost as deep as he had been buried on the bench.
No one expected anything similar to happen this season. The main reason was because this time the Knicks had loaded up pretty much their entire roster full of aging veterans, with the plus and minus of them being known quantities, so the Knicks’ at least knew the ceiling of what they could likely expect from each of them. Last season’s roster featured nine players with five years or less of NBA experience. This year, the Knicks’ have only four, and two of those players, Pablo Prigioni and James White, are in their thirties. Last season, the Knicks included seven players 27 or younger, this season they only have one, the 22 year-old Shumpert.
While this may give New York a better shot at winning big this season, it does limit the number of pleasant surprises possible from their roster. There is less discovering new young talent like Lin, and more discovering nagging injuries and players losing a step from advanced age.
March 18, 2013. Coach Mike Woodson and the Knicks were desperate. They were reeling from a crushing four game losing streak where New York lost by an average of 20 points a game. Added to this were injuries to all three of New York’s front court superstars: Chandler, Anthony and Stoudemire. Suddenly, hosting a first round playoff series wasn’t looking like such a lock, never mind winning the Atlantic Division title.
March 18 was the day things changed. With the injuries to his stars, Woodson had been mixing and matching various starting lineups, frantically trying to find a winning combination. This night he unveiled his third different lineup in as many games: Prigioni, Shumpert, Raymond Felton, Chris Copeland and Kenyon Martin. Despite playing on the road, the second night of a back-to-back against a Jazz team fighting for its playoff life, the Knicks broke their losing streak with a 90-83 victory. News of the victory was tempered by the news that Kurt Thomas had joined the bevy of injured Knicks and would be out indefinitely.
Fortunately, the Knicks were able to trade up by getting Melo back in the lineup for their next game. With a small starting lineup of Melo, Shumpert, Prigioni, Martin and Felton, the Knicks have put together their longest winning streak of the season, currently at seven and counting.
While Jeremy Lin’s emergence was clearly the biggest impetus to last season’s seven game win streak, it certainly wasn’t the only reason for it. There were other big stories as well: the emergence of Steve Novak and terrific defensive efforts from Chandler, Shumpert, Landry Fields and Jared Jefferies.
There are several major reasons for this win streak as well. Returning home to Madison Square Garden, getting Melo back in the lineup and playing some relatively weak teams certainly have helped, but that only begins to tell the story. While Melo has made a strong contribution, these games haven’t been up to the standard of excellence that he’s set earlier this season. Instead, much of the credit for the Knicks’ surprising turnaround have to go to new starters Martin and Prigioni, along with elevated play from Shumpert and perhaps most of all: JR Smith.
In some ways Kenyon Martin and Pablo Prigioni are this season’s much older version of Lin and Novak. Martin has spent most of the season unsuccessfully trying to get a team to take a flyer on him and Prigioni has spent most of the season buried on the Knicks’ bench. Martin has averaged 11 points and six rebounds a game during the streak, after basically being a garbage heap pickup for a Knicks’ team with every post player on their roster out with injuries. Those stats only tell part of the story. The 6’9” Martin has been playing out of position at center, bringing rugged hard-nosed defense every night while shooting 62% from the field.
Prigioni has also come out of obscurity to be a steadying presence in the starting lineup. It’s not a coincidence that these seven wins have also been his first seven starts of the season. Having a second point guard on the floor with Felton has increased New York’s ball movement and security. During the streak he has an impressive assist/turnover ratio of 25 to 3. Prigioni’s pesky defensive presence has also added to the improved defense that has been a key part of this streak.
Iman Shumpert has started to look more like his old self during the streak. After taking what seemed like an eternity to regain his form after returning to the lineup from last season’s injury, he’s starting to be more aggressive and more effective on both ends of the court. His biggest impact on the offensive end has been the development of a deadly long range game. During the streak, he has gone 12 of 22 from three-point range.
The biggest key to the streak though, has been Smithsanity. Most of the season the talented but mercurial Smith has been just as likely to throw away games with his poor shot selection as he has been to win them with his clutch late game shot making and game changing dunks.
Over the streak however, Smith has transformed into an overnight superstar. Despite coming off the bench, he’s averaged over 26 points a game while shooting a remarkable 54% from the field after being a career 42% shooter that’s only shooting 41% this season. He’s also attempted 60 free throws over the streak. This is an average of 8.5 attempts a game, yet for his career Smith only averages 2.6 attempts a game. This vastly increased number of times he’s getting to the line reveals the biggest reason for his remarkable transformation. Instead of constantly settling for extremely high level of difficulty jumpers when he’s handling the ball, he’s attacking the rim instead.
Smith shows no signs of slowing down, if anything, he’s heating up. In his last three games he’s scored 32, 35 and 37 points. He’s also averaging close to five and half rebounds a game over the streak, despite averaging 2.6 a game for his career. Does this mean that Woodson has finally become the one coach to fully tap into Smith’s talent after nine seasons in the league? Knicks’ fans can only hope. If JR can even come close to keeping this up, the sky’s the limit to what New York can accomplish once its big men start to get healthy.
While I don’t expect Smith to average over 30 points a game for the rest of the season, he’s not necessarily as sure to cool way off as much as the hot three-point shooting that keyed the Knicks’ six game win streak earlier this season. He’s not scoring more simply because he’s got a hot hand, he appears to have fundamentally changed the way he approaches the game offensively. He not just choosing better shots either, he’s creating better shots. If this new JR sticks around, his contract is going to look like the biggest bargain in the NBA. More importantly, the Eastern Conference playoff picture may have just gotten a lot more interesting.
Well, they’ve done it. The Knicks have clinched a playoff spot. Now I can finally stop holding my breath, I can shave my “they’re-not-in-the-playoffs-yet” beard and I can dump my girlfriend. That last one might not have much to do with the Knicks, but I like to share. Speaking of sharing, now that the boys are officially in the playoffs, I’ve decided to get some other things off my chest, too. I’m sure the Knicks know and care that I think they’re all heroes for getting us to the promised land, but there is still lots of work to do. While each of the Knicks seems to have found a way to contribute something positive this season, each of them also seems to have a fatal flaw which has hurt the team on occasion. So, I’ve decided to make a Knicks wish list, wherein I list the one thing I would wish for/from each member of the team to give us the best chance of success in the postseason.
Carmelo Anthony - Don’t be a hero. Melo has become a surprisingly complete player this season, but even he has a fatal flaw. He wants to win so badly and he wants to be the hero so badly that he will sometimes make bad choices that end up hurting the Knicks. So no more playing hurt when he should be resting up and no more forcing tough contested shots when things aren’t clicking for the team on offense. We need a healthy Melo that trusts his teammates and sticks to the plan on offense even when things aren’t going great.
Tyson Chandler - Stay on the court. By which I mean get/stay healthy and stay out of fights and foul trouble. I love that you’re such a rambunctious tough guy Tyson, but we really need you to keep out of trouble.
Raymond Felton - Pass first, attack the rim second and shoot jumpers last. This may seem like pretty obvious stuff for a point guard, but Ray’s shooting under 42% from the field and it’s due largely to him taking difficult two point shots when he should be finding a way to dish or get to the rack.
Iman Shumpert - Be aggressive. Alright Shump, you seem to have fixed your three point shot as you’re now hitting on close to 40% of them after only hitting around 30% last year, nice work. So why is your overall field goal percentage down to just 36%? It seems like you need to attack the rim more, like you did last year. While you’re at it, let’s see more attack mode on D as well. Last season you were someone we counted on to shut down the opposing team’s best perimeter player and we need to see more of that kind of defense this season.
Jason Kidd - Find your shot again. Look Jason, we all lose things, so let’s think about this: where were you standing the last time you remember having your shot? The good news here is that after an epic slump from three-point land, Jason has recently been showing signs that he’s over it. At this point in his career, Kidd’s game actually has quite a few flaws, but he finds lots of ways to compensate and cover for most of them. Being able to reliably nail open threes is a crucial part of old man Kidd’s game now though and if the Knicks are going to make noise in the playoffs, he needs to keep working with shooting guru Dave Hopla and making sure he doesn’t misplace his three point shot again.
Amare Stoudemire - Get back in shape in time. STAT is the Knicks’ X-factor for the playoffs. If he’s healthy and in playing shape like he was right before he got injured, then suddenly anything’s possible come playoff time. Remember the way he dominated the beginning of the fourth quarter against the Heat before Woody inexplicably benched him? Yeah, we need that.
JR Smith - Play intelligent, fully engaged basketball. At this point, nobody can really question Smith’s talent. The question is his focus and judgment. When JR is focused on the defensive end, he can give the Knicks a real perimeter stopper. On the offensive end, he needs to stop forsaking team offense so frequently in favor of crazy, low percentage, step back, two-point jumpers. When Smith is taking open jumpers off the catch or attacking the rim, he’s an incredible weapon, but when he’s constantly freelancing, he frequently digs big holes for the Knicks.
Steve Novak -Find a second skill set. Not only is Novak the Knicks’ best three-point shooter, but he’s one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA. That’s why he has a job in the NBA and he averages 20 minutes a game. He may be one the ten best shooters in the entire galaxy, but he really needs to find a second skill set. I realize it might be asking too much for Steve to become an elite or even solid defender, but what about developing a two-point game to compliment his three-point game? Like Shump, Steve actually has a higher percentage from three than he does overall. This means that teams only need to guard him at the arc and can and often do otherwise ignore him. Get on that Steve!
Pablo Prigioni - Just shoot already! At close to 39%, Pablo is one the Knicks’ best three-point shooters. Someone needs to inform Pablo of this though. No more looking left, right, up and down before deciding it’s safe to shoot. You’re not crossing the street Pablo and you don’t need to check with anyone when you’re wide open, just shoot like you’re confident that it will go in and things will be great.
Kenyon Martin - Keep up the good work. Kenyon is playing so far beyond reasonable expectations, that I feel that it would be absurd to ask for anything else but more of the same at this point.
Chris Copeland - Work on your defense. Cope is a special talent on offense, able to score and score efficiently in a variety of ways. Yet he doesn’t get much playing time, because coach Woody considers him a liability on defense. Cope realized that being a great offensive player will get you a job in the NBA, now he needs to realize that being at least a decent defender is what’s required to get him more playing time.
Rasheed Wallace - More healthiness, less three-point shooting. Given how long Sheed has been out of the lineup, getting healthy is a given, so I’m adding a second wish: stop shooting so many threes. Sheed is a stopper on defense and he has the skills to be a post threat, but he wastes too many offensive possessions with his love of the three ball, which wouldn’t be quite so bad if his shot wasn’t so bad (32%).
Marcus Camby - Find your game. So far this has been a lost season for the former defensive player of the year. When he’s gotten onto the court his offense has been completely missing: 31% FG%, down from 48% last season and he hasn’t established enough dominance on defense or on the boards to maintain a spot in the rotation, even with the Knicks seriously hurting for bigs.
James White - Recover your swagger. While White is far from an accomplished NBA player, we could always depend on him for self-confidence and swagger. Who can forget his epic trash talk leading up to the Slam Dunk contest? Unfortunately, the dunk contest seems to have been overly humbling for White. Ever since his ignominious performance (or lack of performance) at the dunk competition, Flight White has been grounded. In the starting lineup against Miami to help defend against the Heat’s elite wings, he looked lost and desperate, seemingly always a step behind the game. It didn’t take long after that for him to fade from the starting lineup all the way to very end of the bench where Sheed leaves his used chewing gum. He’s recently shown a little bit of life in garbage time and if he can learn to shine during meaningful minutes, he may yet have a shot to stay in the NBA after this season.
Kurt Thomas - Rehab, rehab, rehab. While Kurt hasn’t seen many minutes this season, he’s delivered when called upon. The defense is still there and though his offensive is somewhat one dimensional, at least it’s consistent. Thus I can only ask/hope/wish that he gets better soon.
Mike Woodson - Manage those minutes. Based on his short tenure in NY, Woody is a sensational coach who deserves to be part of the coach of the year conversation. I just ask that he find more rest for his older players and his overworked stars. JR, Tyson and Carmelo have all played over 2000 minutes this season, despite the fact that JR is a reserve, Chandler has missed five games and Melo 13. You’ve clinched the playoffs coach, as much as playoff seeding matters, it won’t matter at all if the Knicks’ key players have all broken down.
The losing streak has reached four games. The Knicks dropped the fourth game of their West Coast trip to the Los Angeles Clippers by a score of 93-80. Chris Paul was the game’s leading scorer with 20 points while passing off for eight assists. Blake Griffin registered a double-double for the Clippers with 12 points and 12 rebounds while DeAndre Jordan just missed out on a double-double of his own with eight points and 10 rebounds. The Knicks, playing without both Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler, were led by J.R. Smith’s 17 points off the bench.
Just as they did this past Thursday night against the Portland TrailBlazers, the Knicks actually got off to a nice start this afternoon. The Knicks jumped out to an 8-1 lead thanks to an Iman Shumpert jumper to begin the game’s scoring and a couple of three-pointers from Chris Copeland and Raymond Felton. They would eventually stretch their lead to eight (13-5) as the combination of Copeland and Felton scored on two more baskets, looking as if each would have a big game to help the Knicks sneak out of Los Angeles with a win. Unfortunately, the good early vibes would disappear very quickly. An 11-2 Clippers run gave them their first lead of the game at 16-15. The Knicks would quickly grab the lead again on a Kenyon Martin layup but it would be their last lead of the game. A 5-1 spurt from the Clippers to end the first quarter gave L.A. back the lead and they wouldn’t relinquish it the rest of the way.
Even without their top three players and having already been blown-out in each of their first three games of the road trip, the Knicks fought hard in this game, at least in the first half. After Smith scored the first two points of the second quarter, the Clippers scored four straight on a Chauncey Billups jumper and Lamar Odom layup to extend their lead to five, 25-20. However, the Clippers had trouble extending that lead and the Knicks would eventually tie up the score at 31 on a Smith dunk attempt. Only problem was that was as close as the Knicks would get to the Clippers the rest of the game. A 13-6 Clippers run, powered by 11 combined points by Paul and former-Knicks Jamal Crawford helped L.A. take a 44-37 lead into halftime.
The Knicks opened the second half trying to fight their way back into the game, scoring the first four points on jumpers from Copeland and Shumpert to cut their seven-point deficit to three. Then the Clippers finally starting displaying the talent gap between them and the injury filled Knicks, going on an 11-1 run to push their lead to 13 highlighted by a textbook Paul to Griffin alley-oop. The Knicks quieted the storm a bit, even as the Clippers extended the lead to 16. With the score 60-47, Jason Kidd found his stroke, hitting on three straight from beyond the arc to help the Knicks get to within 12, 65-53. However, a 7-0 run from the Clippers pushed their lead to biggest Knicks deficit of the night at 19. The Knicks responded with a 7-0 run of their own, sparked by five Smith points, to end the third quarter down 72-60.
The Clippers tried ending the game early in the final period, opening the quarter with another 7-0 run to again push their lead to 19. The Knicks however did not go quietly, going on one last 14-5 run to cut their deficit to 10, 84-74. The run was just too late, even as they eventually cut it to single digits at 89-80 with 1:56 left in the game. The Knicks would not score again and the Clippers earned their second win against the Knicks this season, 93-80.
- Despite leading the Knicks with 17 points, Smith had a terrible shooting game, going 4-for-20 from the floor. Smith has shot 23-for-64 during the road trip (36%).
- Steve Novak finally broke out of his 0-for-12 slump, connecting on all three of his trey attempts.
- The starting PF/C combo of Kurt Thomas and Kenyon Martin couldn’t stay on the court consistently, as the two picked up nine fouls in their 45 combined minutes of play. Martin did manage to haul in nine rebounds in his 28 minutes.
- Felton had a nice box score line (16 points, nine assists) but the load of his scoring came early when the Knicks built their 13-5 lead and late when the game was already decided.
- The Knicks will try to salvage the final game of their road trip tomorrow night against the last team they earned a win against: the Utah Jazz. The Knicks could enter the game tied atop the Atlantic Division, if the Brooklyn Nets can earn a win against the Atlanta Hawks tonight.
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.
When NBA players are labeled “one-dimensional,” it usually means they are incompetent at either offense or defense, the two sides of the court. With Steve Novak, it’s a different case. Novak’s defense and rebounding are both non-existent, but he is of just one use on offense. Novak has been one of the best 3-point shooters in the entire league for the past couple of seasons. Last year, Novak led the NBA in 3-point percentage with a 47.2% clip as a New York Knick, efficient enough to land himself a 4-year, $16 million contract from GM Glen Grunwald. At the time I wasn’t very skeptical, but now 57 games into his new deal I wish he was never here.
The Knicks’ slow starts are no longer a trend, but a trait. Since beginning the season in near-dominant fashion, running out to an 18-5 record, the Knicks are just 14-14. Though many of their problems have stemmed from injuries and having to work new players in and out of the rotation, the Knicks have been pretty consistently out of rhythm since 2013 rang in, and Mike Woodson has found few answers to solve their arrhythmic play.
These problems could be traced back to Carmelo Anthony’s various absences, Jason Kidd’s gradual deterioration, Raymond Felton’s month-long absence, the continual injury bugs plaguing Rasheed Wallace and Marcus Camby, the rotational additions of Amar’e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert, and the up-and-down play of J.R. Smith, Steve Novak, and Ronnie Brewer. Piled on over the course of a month and a half, these problems add up, and it’s showed in the Knicks’ play.
For awhile, the team was executing nicely on offense, but struggled mightily to get stops on defense. In the last game before the All-Star break, the Knicks smothered the Toronto Raptors’ offense, but couldn’t figure out a way to score the ball, shooting just 35% from the field and 36% from three-point range. Last night against the Indiana Pacers, arguably the most embarrassing loss of the season, the Knicks took a collective dump on the floor, shooting 33% from the field, 17% from downtown, and giving up 125 points to the seventh least efficient offense in the NBA.
It’s safe to say the Knicks are in a state of total ineptitude.
While the body of the Knicks’ players were in Indiana, apparently their brains and souls were still vacationing. In a performance lacking of effort, the Knicks were destroyed by the Indiana Pacers 125-91 in both of the teams’ first game since returning from the All-Star break. First time All-Star Paul George led the Pacers with 27 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks. Tyson Chandler led the Knicks with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Carmelo Anthony, the NBA’s second leading scorer, had just 15 points on 7-for-21 shooting.