Not gonna lie, I had the Knicks as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference before the start of the season. Training camp at West Point, Phil Jackson’s new regime, a new coach not named Mike Woodson, and a committed Carmelo Anthony all gave me signs of hope that this team would find a way to reenter the playoffs after last season’s debacle. I knew the Knicks weren’t as talented as many of the other playoff teams in the East but I really felt the installation of Phil’s triangle offense would help build the team’s chemistry ala last year’s Dallas Mavericks. The Knicks defeat of the Cleveland Cavaliers in LeBron’s homecoming reinforced this notion that somehow someway the Knicks would sneak into the playoffs. With a bonafide superstar in Carmelo Anthony, an offense based on ball movement, and good team chemistry would definitely make this team exceed many pundits’ expectations, right?
Wrong. Friday’s heartbreaking buzzer-beater loss to the Utah Jazz, 102-100, has brought back the objective fan in me. This marked the first time the Utah Jazz have notched a victory at the Garden against the Knicks since 2009. In fact, the Knicks are more likely to enter the NBA Draft Lottery than this season’s playoffs (which may not be such a bad thing as we will later discuss). Simply put, no triangle, square, or even octagon offense will help save the Knicks with their inability to play good defense. The New York Knicks are allowing 109 points per 100 possessions so far this season which ranks only better than the Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers (what?), and Los Angeles LOLakers (yes I did do that on purpose). LeBron’s new super team in the Cavs can get away with not playing fierce defense because their big three of James, Love, and Irving have the potential to be one of the best offenses in NBA history but clearly the Knicks can’t. The 92.4 PPG New York averages ranks them 26th in the entire NBA and sadly they have scored 100+ points only once in this season in the loss to the Jazz even with Melo’s 46 points.
According to SportVU player-tracking technology, the closest Knicks defender has been, on average, more than six feet away from the opponent’s three point shooter. Six feet of free space is equivalent to an open shot by many basketball metrics. Even the Knicks best perimeter defender, Iman Shumpert who has been playing very well on offense, hasn’t been as effective on defense evidenced by his performance against Deron Williams in the Knicks 99-110 loss to the Brooklyn Nets last Friday. Trading their best post defender in Tyson Chandler certainly did not help the Knicks improve defensively with the team having to depend on the defensive prowess (or lack of) in Amar’e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Tim Hardaway Jr, etc. Losing Shumpert for a few games after his hip contusion in the early minutes of the Knicks-Jazz game puts the Knicks at an even bigger disadvantage against upcoming games against mediocre teams such as the Nuggets, Bucks, and Timberwolves.
Of course it is too late to write off the entire season of the 2-8 Knicks but I have a tough time envisioning Phil’s team leapfrogging the Cavaliers, Bulls, Wizards, Heat, Raptors, Hornets, and maybe even the Hawks. With the return of their lead guard in savvy veteran Jose Calderon, the Knicks might be able to improve on offense and better run Derek Fisher’s triangle but it is fair to say Jose will not cure New York’s defensive woes. I simply can’t see the Knicks winning many games giving up 100 points almost on a nightly basis. Phil Jackson knew turning the Knicks back into a championship contending franchise would be a process and this year’s purpose was getting Carmelo Anthony acclimated to the triangle offense just as Kobe and Jordan did. You can bet Phil is waiting for this summer when he sees the contracts of Stoudemire, Bargnani, and possibly J.R Smith come off the books. He will have room to give out a max contract and more to the free agency class of 2015 (paging Marc Gasol…) I might be in the minority of Knicks fans but I would much rather the Knicks have a top 5 pick this season rather than being the appetizer to LeBron’s Cavs in the first round of the playoffs or barely missing it like last year.
My philosophy to success in any sport is to build through the draft and it literally isn’t every year when Knicks fans can look forward to a first round pick. This year’s draft may include Duke freshman, Jahlil Okafor, who in my eyes shows some flashes of the great Tim Duncan. Point guard, Emmanuel Mudiay, is showcasing his athleticism with the Guangdong Southern Tigers and has drawn comparisons to Russell Westbrook. John Calipari’s Kentucky team has another exciting freshman in local New Jersey product, Karl Towns who is a skilled big man who has a good perimeter shot like Chris Bosh. Letting Derek Fisher grow as a coach, allowing the growing pains of integrating Carmelo into the triangle, and ultimately losing this season can turn out to be a win in the long term. Anthony needs a great running mate for the Knicks to have any future success and a young piece of the puzzle can bring a new face of the franchise to New York. There’s nothing wrong with that. Remember the last time that happened exactly 30 years ago? …