Desperation in the Big Apple
An in-depth look at the New York Knicks’ inconsistencies
Seniors goalie Ryan Lichtman and short-stick defensive midfielder Nate Oberhaus (above) will spearhead the Bulls' defense in 2013. Courtesy of Paul Gebler
The New York Knicks have been in a free fall over the last 10 weeks. Though they once held the reins as the top team in the Eastern Conference, they have now become a seemingly mediocre team.
They started the season 18-5, hitting over 12 threes per game. They were outscoring their opponents by 7.13 points per game (PPG). Since then, they are 16-15, hitting just over nine threes per game and outscoring opponents by a mere 1.32 PPG.
Was it plausible to expect the Knicks to continue their overzealous reliance on the three-ball and become a consistent two-way team every night? Most would say no. But should they have descended so far, becoming another middling team in the East? Again, most would say no.
Mike Woodson brought a new defensive culture to a team with history and a roster full of players who are far from priding themselves as "defensive specialists," and it worked for a while. In fact, it was the main reason the Knicks once held the best record in the NBA.
Through their first 23 games, their offensive rating was a blistering 111.1 and their defensive rating came in at 102.3 (ratings are based on a team's points per 100 possessions). Since then, the splits are much slimmer: 106.4 to 104.3.
So why the drop off? Is it Jason Kidd getting some much-needed rest to save his legs for the playoffs, the addition of Amar'e Stoudemire (a poor defensive player, to say the least) to the rotation or the team's overall inability to commit to the defensive end of the floor night in and night out - namely J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony?
All these reasons are conceivable, but the final one seems to be the most convincing to me. If that's the reason, Knicks fan should have hope. The Miami Heat have become a team absent from mid-season criticism because we all know come playoff time, they will emerge as a new beast.
Obviously, the Knicks have proven far less, but isn't this same notion feasible for them? This is the first time in Anthony's nine-year career when we have seen flashes of defensive ability, so it may be asking a bit much for him to provide that intensity for an 82-game season - which further proves the argument that 'Melo is not in LeBron James' category.
Defensive flaws are not the only reason the Knicks have dropped - as we saw through their offensive ratings and three-point shooting over the last 10 weeks. Is this due to Raymond Felton's 12-game absence from the starting lineup, when he suffered a broken pinky? Possibly. It occurred very shortly after they began to decline, and in that four-week time span when he didn't play, they went 6-6.
But I'm going beyond that to depict their offensive struggles, and there is nowhere else to go but to their franchise player who is widely considered to have the best offensive game in the NBA - Carmelo Anthony.
In New York's 18-5 start, analysts measured 'Melo side by side as an MVP candidate with James and Kevin Durant, and justifiably so. 'Melo was playing team ball for the first time in his career and it was paying off. But let's compare his splits in between the two time periods:
Anthony from Nov. 1 through Dec. 15: 27.85 PPG, 20.1 field goal attempts, 47.3 from the field and 45.5 percent from three.
Anthony from Dec. 17 through Feb. 27: 29.03 PPG, 23.6 field goal attempts, 42.3 from the field and 35 percent from three.
Since the Knicks' hot start, his shooting has significantly subsided - so has the team. He's been playing more selfishly, chucking up more shots and hitting even fewer of them.
If they don't turn this around, what are their prospects come playoff time? They can make it past the first round if they get lucky and are paired with Atlanta or Milwaukee. Other than that, a series against the defensive teams in Chicago or Brooklyn could easily result in an early exit. And god forbid they play Boston - the Knicks' kryptonite.
Note: All stats per NBA.com
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