Saturday, December 8, 2012

How real are the New York Knicks?

The year was 1973. US Troops withdrew from Vietnam. Richard Nixon denied involvement in what would would become the Watergate scandal. The Godfather won the Academy award for best motion picture. Roe v. Wade made abortion a constitutional  right. Americans were bopping to Bob Marley, Abba, and Elton John. On Thursdays, we welcomed the Walton family into our homes. On the hardwood, at 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue, the New York Knickerbockers-in the quintessential display of symmetry, balance, and team ball-defeated the fearsome Los Angeles Lakers 4 to 1, to become NBA champions. Fast forward 40 years, and the pain of everything from  the  Kent Banister, Eddie Lee Wilkins years, to the crushing dominance of the Jordan-Pippen Bulls still weighs on Knick fans like bowling balls in a suitcase. Do we dare forget the John Stark's 2 for 18  game seven horror show in the 1994 finals? What about  hoops dystopia under the toxic trifecta, Jim Dolan, Isiah Thomas, and Stephon Marbury? Further down the road, you have the implosion of D'Antoni's speed-ball and the basketball tsunami called Linsanity. It seemed like only yesterday. Well... actually it was. After this long tortuous road, that would have made Sisyphus grimace, there is finally have a glimmer of hope. Yes, Knick fans have a reason to smile. With nearly a quarter of the season gone, the Knickerbockers are sitting a top the Eastern conference with a 15 and 5 record. While no one is mistaking this crew for Reed, Bradley, Debusshere, Frazier, and Barnett, the town is percolating with optimism. Beating a depleted Sixer team and post-Dwight Howard Magic squad is one thing. But, smashing the champion Miami Heat team with  Lebron, Wade, Bosch, and Ray Allen by 20-TWICE? Then going on  to beat San Antonio on the road, these are not your father's Knicks.

 Knick general manager, Glen Grunwald, is the chief architect of one of the seasons true surprise teams. His   savvy acquisitions of battle-scarred, post-season warriors have imbued this Knick team with a fortitude, confidence, and resiliency needed for playoff wars. Kurt Thomas, Rasheed Wallace, Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby have given these Knicks a swagger not seen since the Oakley, Ewing, Mason, and Starks  years. This vet-stacked squad  has a winning point differential of 7.7 points-third in the entire NBA, behind the Spurs and Thunder. They are also number one in least turnovers committed per game at only 11, number two in team offensive efficiency 109.9 ( the number of points a  team scores per 100 possessions), while shooting a ridiculous 40.6% from downtown-third in NBA.

But most impressively the ball is moving. Basketball oracle, Jason Kidd, sees to that. His ability to settle down the team, execute at crunch time, and keep composure under pressure may not always show up in the box score. Kidd, however, is an indispensable piece to team success. He may have lost a few steps, but his ability to slide over to the 2, gives the Knicks two ball handlers on the first-unit (with point guard Raymond Felton). It allows for better offensive flow-especially weak-side ball reversal and spacing. Felton is showing his first stint with Knicks was no fluke. He is the Knick's second leading scorer at 16.5 points  a game, dishing out nearly seven dimes, while keeping opposing teams honest;he is shooting 41.2 % from behind  the arc. His player efficiency rating-PER( a player's statistical per-minute production)- is 18.27% -the highest of his career.

Tyson Chandler, the anchor of the stiffing Knicks defense, is also its leader. His mobility, dexterity at showing and recovering on pick-and rolls, the rim protection, the communication on defense, is the engine that keeps things moving.  He is their Kevin Garnett. Chandler is also having one of his best all around seasons. He has a  PER of 23.6(highest of his career) while leading the NBA with a 73.2% true shooting percentage(calculates what a players shooting percentage would be if you accounted for free throws and three-pointers). He not Carmelo is the most valuable Knick.

But one has to focus on the all-around play of Carmelo Anthony. IN his TRUE POSITION- the 4- Melo is  math-up nightmare. He now stretches the floor opening up the driving lanes. His handle on the perimeters, and quickness on the blocks, allows him to  give the Knicks a nightly positional advantage.blow g by his too quick on the perimeter for opposing 4's, He has finally started to focus on the non-scoring facets of winning ball. One need look only at his dive in the stands against the Hornets to save a loose ball( resulting in a lacerated middle finger on his non-shooting hand) to see Melo is finally getting it. His passing out of the double teams, his nightly commitment to defense are all intangible elements that have produced immediate bottom-line benefits. And this is all being done without two of ther pme-time players: Amare Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert. If Woodson does what he better do, have Stoudemire as a leader on the second unit, this Knick will  field the kind of depth  that championship teams boast. Imagine a starting five of Chandler, Melo, Brewer, Shumpert, and Felton. Your second unit would be Sheed, Stat, Kidd, JR, and Pablo. You can now go small, big, or any where in between.

The are however, some early season structural fissures that must be addressed. If not they are likely to derail this Knick championship aspirations. Elite teams must be able to produce offensive in variety of ways. The Knicks love affair with long-distance dialing has undermined many a team. Right now the Knicks are taking-and making three-point shots. They are averaging 33.2 points in the paint. Only the Wizards are worse. Nearly 35 percent of their points are from downtown-first in NBA. As troubling, they are only 18th in the NBA in 4th quarter points with 23.1. Now factor they are 25th in free throws attempted,28th in percentage of points from from free throw line, 25th in assists( and this is with better ball movement), and 28th in rebounding a disturbing pattern emerges. Simply put , you will NOT win an NBA championship like this. The Knicks must stop relying on the three-ball and attack the basket more. For starter, Carmelo is  not finishing like is should. He is only shooting 52.5 percent at the rim, and 26.3 percent from 3 to 9 feet-both career lows. While he is shooting a stellar 46.2 percent form long 2's ( his best ever), he is only dishing 2.1 dimes with an abysmal 0.6 percent leading to shoots at the rim.

JR Smith is averaging the most minutes in his career 33.2, yet outside of 3-point shooting, he seldom attacks the basket. With his athleticism and handle, that is patently unacceptable. Coach Woodson must address.  that. Smith is also having trouble finishing (could be due to unfamiliarity). He is shooting a career worst 50 percent at the rim. Smith is also mired in a troubling shooting slump.He is only shooting 41 percent. Could it be the propensity of off-balance, fall-away 2's?  By  having Smith and co. attack the rim, with Melo posting-up more, you are not only getting easier, higher percentage looks, you are putting pressure on the defensive. Moreover, opposing defensive's will smarten up and start doubling Melo on the catch, the dribble, fronting him more( as Battier in the play-offs) and what is plan B? Who is the reliable second scoring option that all championships teams have? Is it Felton or Smith? Is it  Stat  or Shumpert when they get back?  Oh, and let's not forget Sheed. "Ball don't lie"  has been a net plus. But please get him on the blocks more. He should not be launching half of his shot attempts from the Queensboro bridge.

The good news is the season is still young and these issues can be addressed. Mike Woodson has proved to be a great motivator, a solid x's and o's guy, and great fit as coach. But in the NBA, it is all about adjustments and how you adjust to those adjustments. Its time coach to dial-up your inner-Red Holzman and figure this all out. Long suffering Knick fans are relying on you.

No comments:

Post a Comment