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The New York Knicks and a partisan divide

Mar 11, 2012, 5:03 PM EDT

New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin and Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony looks on against the Atlanta Hawks in the second quarter of their NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden in New York Reuters

The New York Knicks lost their fifth straight Sunday, falling 106-94 to the Philadelphia Sixers in a game where the Sixers largely toyed with the Knicks for the fourth quarter. It’s not a surprise, downing sub-.500 teams by double-digits is kind of what Philly does this season. That’s their bread and butter.

But of course, the big question surrounds the star-laden, always controversial Knicks. And there are a million questions about them right now. From Jeremy Lin to Carmelo Anthony to Mike D’Antoni and back again, the furor surrounding why this isn’t an elite team in the league has once again reached a fever pitch. And the answers from Knicks fans (and Knicks, shall we say, opponents) is so contentious it rivals that of the politics of our time. It’s not enough to have one view of what’s wrong with the Knicks. It must be the only view.  Nuance is largely lost in a sea void of context, filled only with noise and anger over simplistic facts.

The Knicks have a large payroll.

The Knicks are not winning.

The Knicks have stars.

The Knicks are not playing well.

From there, the debate becomes fascinatingly narrow in the scope of discussion. What follows is an attempt to dispel some myths and explore some realities of what is wrong with the New York Knickerbockers. Consider that the questions involved are hyper-cartoonish exaggerations of attitudes and that most fans have more common sense. Not all. But some. So forgive the straw-man action in the name of entertainment.

The Knicks can’t win with Mike D’Antoni, because he just doesn’t care about defense.

So, I can understand how there are some things which are interpretative. Numbers don’t say everything. You have to put things in context. However, let’s at least try these two numbers.

New York Knicks defensive efficiency: 8th in the NBA overall.

New York Knicks offensive efficiency: 22nd in the NBA overall.

Efficiency is basically how many points you score vs. an estimated number of possessions. If you want the flat numbers, via Synergy Sports, they’re 21st in offense and 12th in defense. The myth that the Knicks are bad is based not on what is happening, but what has happened before. Mike D’Antoni’s past teams were bad at defense, so they are bad at defense now. That becomes “Mike D’Antoni teams are all bad at defense.” But the reality is that whether it is the effect of defensive assistant Mike Woodson, D’Antoni, Tyson Chandler, or just the players playing better, this team has been fine on defense. Have their been issues during the losing streak? Absolutely, otherwise they wouldn’t be losing so consistently. They surrendered 110 plus-efficiencies to San Antonio and Milwaukee.  But the defense itself isn’t what needs work.  The problem is the offense.

Linsanity is over.

Was Jeremy Lin going to keep up the super-effective pace he had to start his emergence? No, I don’t think anyone expected that. Teams get scouting reports, and usually they’re pretty effective if you keep to the same strategies that have worked for thirty years against certain player tendencies. Throw in fatigue, tougher competition, the target on the back, and standard probability, and you have what we’ve seen. Against Philadelphia, Lin scored 14 points on 18 shots, had seven assists and six turnovers. And yet, he had 20 and 13 against Milwaukee and 20 and 4 against the Spurs. He’s going to have turnovers. That’s a product of D’Antoni’s style and his inexperience. But there’s nothing that we’ve seen to illustrate that Lin is what the problem is, or that him starting is what needs to be changed.

It’s hard to believe also that there’s something limiting his ability to function with Carmelo Anthony or Amar’e Stoudemire. Lin uses a world of pick and rolls on every possession. There’s no reason to think that if there’s a problem with the offense, it’s on Lin. There are adjustments that need to be made but you can’t identify Lin refusing to provide passes to either superstar, especially given his comfort with Tyson Chandler.

Carmelo Anthony is a selfish cancer who doesn’t fit and makes the Knicks worse.

Or,

Carmelo Anthony simply doesn’t fit in this system and so the system needs to change.

People will sometimes say “No NBA player is selfish. They all want to win.” That’s not true. At all. On any given night in the NBA I can give you some pretty compelling information and evidence regarding why a player is specifically angling towards a box score boost. But Carmelo Anthony isn’t that guy. He plays at too high a function, has had too much mentorship throughout his career from greats in the game, and has succeeded at too high a level to take that kind of attitude. Go watch the Wizards sometime and get back to me (apologies to John Wall, Trevor Booker, and Chris Singleton). Anthony isn’t “selfish.” He just has tendencies. The trick is to get him out of those tendencies and into ones that fit with this team.

I’ve outlined a lot of this work here.  Most of it involves getting Anthony in a position to score without the ball. When he’s moving through the flow of the offense, he’s finding high-percentage opportunities and converting. When he’s running in isolation the defense is triangulating to stop him with multiple defenders. When he’s floating off-ball he’s essentially hanging out on the perimeter waiting for passes that never come. There has to be ways to clear the defense off of him with the attention driven to Lin and Stoudemire/Chandler.

Saying the system should change? Well the reality is it probably will. The Knicks are 120 percent more dedicated to Carmelo Anthony than they are to Mike D’Antoni. Despite all the good work D’Antoni has done when given a roster that in any way resembles the kind of team he’d build, he’s going to be scapegoated. Phil Jackson looms in the distance and honestly? The Triangle, as many problems as I have with it, is perfect for this roster, at least its stars. Tyson down low, Amar’e at the elbow, Melo on the perimeter. What happens to Jeremy Lin? Exactly. But the point remains that will make Melo happier. But as far as whether D’Antoni should adjust to Melo or if Melo should adjust, were the Knicks successful early on trying to run the ball through Melo, and were they successful when Melo was out and their offense became more about ball movement with Lin as primary creator?

Amar’e Stoudemire is done

This one is tricky. There are so many complicating factors here.

1. Everyone gets to have a slump year. It just happens, and to overreact to it is not smart, long-term.

2. Conditioning is a huge part of this game and Amar’e clearly wasn’t prepared for the end of the lockout like a lot of stars who are struggling this season weren’t.

3. There’s nothing to suggest that Amar’e’s issues are related to his knees, the big injury question mark that has followed with him since microfracture surgery years ago. The lack of explosiveness is cited as related, but there are any host of reasons, specifically the above-mentioned conditioning that would suggest there are other reasons for the struggle.

But there’s also nothing to make you 100 percent confident he’ll get back to MVP-candidate Stoudemire. He played a lot of minutes last season and has taken a lot of wear and tear over the past few seasons. The concern has to be that eventually he won’t recover. Stoudemire’s game needs his explosion to the rim, and without it, he doesn’t have enough versatility to be efficient enough to sustain that kind of a role in the offense. With so many years left on his contract and with how much the Knicks have invested in him towards their future, this is one fear that’s legitimate, but not at all a certainty.

He just doesn’t look like the same player.

It’s the schedule, stupid

Since the All-Star Break, Cleveland, Boston, Dallas, San Antonio, Milwaukee, Philadelphia. Those are not pushover. Those are not the Nets (who New York is 1-1 against in the Lin era anyway). You want to try and break in a bunch of new pieces? That’s not the run to do it against. After a murderous game Monday against the Bulls, on the road on a back-to-back, things get a little easier. There are still tough games like a back-to-back set against Indiana and another Sixers contest, but there are some lower teams. There will be better chances to adjust, if they can.

——————————————————–

There will continue to be partisan talks about what is wrong with the Knicks as if it is one thing. It isn’t. They were good without Melo and have not been good with, but that doesn’t mean the two are necessarily related. Lin has been good but not amazing but that doesn’t mean he’s back to a fringe player. And Amar’e has struggled but that doesn’t mean he’s done. What is clear, though, is that this performance won’t stand, and there will be repercussions if they can’t work through their problems, together. That’s the big component. It’s the world’s biggest stage and filled with a lot of egos. But there will have to be sacrifice from everyone from ownership to coaching on down to Steve Novak to make this thing work.

They’re not dead yet, but the blood loss is a problem that seems to get worse.

 

  1. ksallis - Mar 11, 2012 at 5:14 PM

    I am gonna start watching the Rangers, KNICKS ARE NAUSEATING!

  2. losangelasbasketball - Mar 11, 2012 at 6:02 PM

    don’t see dantoni with a job in new york next year… Fans pay to watch players.. not coaches..

  3. md23rewlz - Mar 11, 2012 at 6:23 PM

    The obvious (cop-out) answer is that it’s a combination of all of the above. Lin’s propensity to turn the ball over was somewhat negated by the fact that he was routinely scoring 25+ during that winning streak. When he’s scoring 20 or fewer a game, those turnovers are magnified. Stoudamire isn’t the player he was before. Anthony isn’t quite as integrated into the offense as he should be. J.R. Smith is still J.R. Smith. Even during their winning streak, I never really bought the Knicks as a legitimate contender to go deep into the playoffs. They have a weird combination of pieces and actual cohesive teams (Miami, Chicago, Boston, Philly) will pick them apart.

  4. KIR - Mar 11, 2012 at 6:29 PM

    Lin is not a star and he can not guard the best guards in the league. To me he seems like someone who can come off the bench and help a good team.

    • LPad - Mar 11, 2012 at 9:46 PM

      best guards, did you see the Dallas game he couldn’t even check the Boureqois (sp) kid, lol. I think Shumpert summed it up best after the Philly game. When asked what’s wrong with their D, he said we have to help too much.

  5. pxeeks - Mar 11, 2012 at 6:33 PM

    ‘…what Philly does this season. That’s their bread and butter.’ The 76ers are a much better team than beating sub .500 teams. There is no need for the jab. The Sixers have unity. Team. One of few ‘team’ teams in the NBA. Oh and they r in 1st in Atlantic!!

  6. bknowledge - Mar 11, 2012 at 6:37 PM

    Here are 2 facts that explain why it is difficult to put together a good basketball team.

    1) To be a good offensive team, you have to have 3 guys on the floor that shoot 40% from 20 feet and out.

    2) To be a good rebounding team, your top 3 rebounders on the floor need to be as good as the other teams top 3 rebounders.

    Those 2 facts are hard to reconcile. Because, its really hard to find players that can shoot 40% from 20 feet and out and are also good rebounders; even harder to find guys with those two skills that aren’t strongly deficient in some other areas of their game.

    Knicks have bad geometry on offense. Tyson, Amare, and Carmelo don’t shoot 40% from 20 feet and out. When a team starts 3 guys that can’t shoot 40% from 20 feet and out, the defense has an easy job. The defense can and will clog the paint. When the paint is clogged, you can’t run the high pick and roll. You can’t get in the lane for a lay-up. You can’t dribble penetrate and kick out for the open 3.
    Those 3 guys have a lot of talent, but they have bad offensive geometry.
    And, Carmelo and Amare are not accustomed to getting back on defense. They are accustomed to following their shots. Too often, they both do that, and they don’t get back on defense. To balance the floor defensively, and stop the other team from getting early offense or setting up match-up problems, teams need to get 3 guys back early on defense. The Knicks could get better on defense if they did this consistently- like they did during the Linsanity wins when the stars were on the bench. The Knicks also could use a better back-up center. Tyson is awesome.

    Carmelo is not selfish. But, the best isolation scorers in basketball don’t play with a pg; they play with a sg who plays good D and looks for the open spot and hits the shot when the ball finds him.
    Examples- Jordan and (Kerr, Paxson, Harper, Hodges). Kobe and Fisher. Bird and DJ (DJ was the starting shooting guard for the Sonics when they won the title). Durant and Westbrook. Last years champion is even a pretty good example- Nowitzki and Kidd (Kidd is one of the best pg all time, but now, he is a great spot up shooter that plays great defense and not a lot more).

    Amare is not done. Amare is 29 years old. His offense is based on the pick/roll and pick/pop. His offensive game can’t succeed without good spacing/geometry. His offensive failings are a result of Knicks poor geometry.

    I hope Carmelo finds his sg/pg (Steph Curry is the best pg in the league for Carmelo).

    A lot of people are going to say let this group of Knicks work this out. I say they can’t. No amount of effort is going to overcome bad geometry (not in the long run).

    • LPad - Mar 11, 2012 at 9:44 PM

      I don’t agree with your two points, but you do hit on the main problem. The Knicks are a talented team that would win more if they stopped running D’Antoni’s system. Having Melo, Amare, and Fields stand at the three point line as Lin and Chandler run the pick and roll is dumb. Lin is very turnover prone at this point in his career (understandably) so they need to stop having him create 90 percent of the offense.

    • khandor - Mar 12, 2012 at 2:12 AM

      “2) To be a good rebounding team, your top 3 rebounders on the floor need to be as good as the other teams top 3 rebounders.”

      Solid point.

      “1) To be a good offensive team, you have to have 3 guys on the floor that shoot 40% from 20 feet and out.”

      Hmmm …

      When the “Ubuntu Celtics” won the NBA Title … Who were their 3 starting players that shot 40% from 20 feet and out?

      It’s a nice theory, but … unfortunately, it does not stand up to thorough scrutiny.

      • limonadamas - Mar 12, 2012 at 10:56 AM

        umm… Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and KG all have good perimeter games. So did Cassell, Posey, Eddie House, and PJ Brown.

        I’d say the Ubuntu Celtics were a soild prototype in how to build a team with good spacing and great team defense.

      • bknowledge - Mar 12, 2012 at 2:38 PM

        I over-exaggerated.

        I think the two rules I stated are a good starting point, but there will be exceptions.
        If a team has 2 great rebounders, their third rebounder could be a little weaker, or they could rebound as a team (tho that would reduce their ability to fast break).
        If a team has 2 shooters that shoot 40% from 24 feet, they can probably get by if their 3rd shooter only has range from about 17 feet.
        Its probably more accurate to say that great teams make 40% of their shots from 20 feet and out.

  7. goforthanddie - Mar 11, 2012 at 6:59 PM

    “why this isn’t an elite team ”

    Simple. Lin’s a rookie, Mr. Vasquez is extremely over-rated, Amare is underperforming, and that’s pretty much all they have.

  8. isujames - Mar 11, 2012 at 7:07 PM

    ^ Who’s this guy, James Naismith?

  9. rotaylla - Mar 11, 2012 at 7:48 PM

    The blame is on James Dolan hd was the that okays the Carmelo deal, D,Antoni was against the deal back then even Walsh was reluctant if anybody remembers..but because Dolan was desperate he wants multiple stars on the team at all cost no matter what, without consideration for the cohesion, now the unfortunate coach will be the scapegoat . It’s just sad that anytime a team performs baldy it’s always tge coaches fault….guess that’s how it goes, but y,all should remember that coaches draws out a plays for the players to implement on the floor. Many times melo & Co will say the aforementioned and that it’s left to them as players to carry out the plays..A word is enough for the wise…All these blames should be on the owber James Dolan he caused all these problems the team is going through now he should find the solutions to it. FIRING the coach or coaches won’t solve the problem ….

  10. pqrk - Mar 11, 2012 at 8:19 PM

    oh hey cool, another post about the knicks. yeah matt, let’s not talk at all about evan turner, who just dropped 24-15 on new york after getting his 4th start of the season.

  11. modellforprez - Mar 11, 2012 at 8:48 PM

    real men is black not soy sauce. nymsayin. and I hurt crackers glory holes and pink poopers ya dig

  12. 00maltliquor - Mar 11, 2012 at 9:26 PM

    I say bench Carmelo for 5 games just to see one more time if it’s really him. Really, I think it is, they are even losing to the “easy” teams that Lin was beating by himself before the return of Melo and Amare.

    • losangelasbasketball - Mar 12, 2012 at 1:35 AM

      dantoni would get fired in a new york minute if he kept mello out for 5 games…

  13. ihatecomingupwiththesenames - Mar 11, 2012 at 9:38 PM

    Melo for D-Will.

    Simple.

    We get the elite point we need to make it work and play some D. They get top tier talent (locked in) for their move to BK. Besides, I have heard a number of people say that a Melo/Dwight combo could really work.

    Melo is not the right fit for the Knicks. Never was.

    Melo for D-Will.

    Let’s get some momentum on this. Tell all your friends.

  14. chilomane - Mar 11, 2012 at 11:21 PM

    Melo is running out of excuses,he’s just not the player we all thought him to be

  15. jayzus - Mar 12, 2012 at 1:20 AM

    LINSANITY!!!!!!!!!

    Oh… thats over?

  16. premiumpit - Mar 12, 2012 at 2:07 AM

    Its sad to say cause i love the Knicks…But they suck right now…No defense…Stars cant make shots…And coach is an idiot

    • md23rewlz - Mar 12, 2012 at 2:31 AM

      The coach isn’t the one turning the ball over eight times a game, and he’s not the one with the balky knees, and he’s not the superstar who can’t figure out his place. I know it’s natural to blame the coach whenever a team does poorly (I’m a Dallas fan and right now as we go through this slide Dallas fans are pissed at Carlisle for some reason), but there’s really nothing he can do with those pieces. I don’t think it’s a system problem. I think it’s a pieces problem. If he gets fired or doesn’t come back or whatever, so be it, but he’s not an idiot.

  17. prettyboyv4 - Mar 12, 2012 at 11:41 AM

    D’Antoni has to go. There is no way around it. People will make the claim that he has reformed his image of playing defense based on the stats, and though his team defense is playing at a much higher rate, it is for one simple reason….this is not a D’Antoni style team. The “Linsanity” era was a success not because the stars were out, but because of who was in. With Melo and Amare both sitting out New York had to go to their bench which happens to consist of many outside shooters. This opened up the lane for the pick and roll with allowing shooters open looks from 3. Melo and Amare are both great talents, but they do not fit into (well mostly Melo) the type of offense that D’Antoni wants to run. The Knicks have all the right pieces to be a contending team, but they need to learn how to use the proper roations with the players they have. Maybe see more of Baron Davis in at point while Melo and Amare are in, and let Lin run the show with the likes of Novak, Fields and JR Smith who can all knock down good looks from deep. If D’Antoni cannot adjust to the talent he has on this roster then it has to be him to go. The Knicks do look to be in trouble, but it is an easily correctable problem that they will hopefully have worked out by the time the playoffs start.

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