The New York Knicks have gotten off to a terrible start this season. I had a chance to check with my buddy Seth, editor at SBNation's Knicks blog Posting and Toasting for some of his thoughts on the situation. Seth might stop by this thread before the game, so if you have any follow up questions for him, leave a comment.
Steve: Welp. The Knicks were 54-28 last season, and have started 3-10 this year. I can't decide which one surprises me more. Which one surprises you more?
Seth: I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but this certainly feels like more of a departure from what the Knicks can do. Mike Woodson and his charges learned last season that they can get away with mediocre defense if they just play small and share the ball in halfcourt offense. They're not doing any of that, and the defense has only degraded. Perhaps the Knicks shouldn't have been THAT good last season, but they really shouldn't suck as much as they do right now.
Steve: Do you think that Amare Stoudemire will exercise his early termination option this summer, or do you suppose he wants to go ahead and take $23M from James Dolan? I'm just effing with you! Seriously, what the hell are you gonna do about that? Is Stoudemire ever going to be a useful NBA player again?
Seth: Useful? Sure. He still has plenty to offer on offense. It's just that his defense is so bad and his offense so specialized at this point that lineups have to be intricately crafted around him to maximize his utility without hurting the team overall. It's tough. They could always just...you know, not play him a lot.
Steve: The Knicks had six different players who made 36% or better from the three point line last season -- they have one this season, and that's Prigioni who's hardly a volume shooter. Is there a good explanation other than randomness? Is there a spacing issue, a missing offensive catalyst? Obviously Novak and Copeland are gone, but that still leaves a whole list of guys who shot better from deep last season.
Seth: Losing shooters hurts (Jason Kidd was great for a little while there, too, and even Ronnie Brewer had his moment), but losing spacing and ball movement hurts just as much. The Knicks regularly played lineups that surrounded Carmelo Anthony with at least three shooters and at least two guys with point-guardly sensibilities. If the Knicks ran a pick-and-roll or Melo kicked out of a double team, the ball MOVED and it found that open shooter. That'll boost people's percentages. Now-- even when Raymond Felton has been healthy-- Woodson has gone to bigger lineups with fewer guys who can pass and hit an open three with any consistency, so that hurts. And then guys are just missing open shots, I guess because they're sad. It's a bit of everything, but it goes beyond just losing personnel.
Steve: The Clippers' defense has been bad all season. But the Knicks defense has been worse! I'm beginning to think Andrea Bargnani is not as good a defender as the currently injured Tyson Chandler. Do you think maybe I'm onto something?
Seth: Yeah, no, he's not. He's actually quite a good post defender, but his pick-and-roll help and rotations to protect the rim are even worse than Chandler's when he was hurt last year, which is to say very bad. Of course, he's not alone. The guards do pretty much nothing to contain penetration, and it's not like the other big men beside Bargnani are doing anything to protect the paint themselves. The team defense is astoundingly bad. All it takes is one screen to ruin the whole thing.
Steve: OK, bright side time: as bad as it's been, the Knicks are all of three games away from the automatic playoff spot that comes from a division title -- even a title in the Atlantic Division. Chandler's supposed to be back pretty soon, the threes could start falling -- the Knicks will surely make the playoffs, right? I mean, they have to find eight teams in the East somewhere.
Seth: Yeah, probably. And there's plenty of time to turn things around. We're still at the point where I console myself by saying "if this happened in the middle of the year, it would just be a very bad month, and this just seems bad because it's the beginning of the year", although...nah, no, we're past that point. They really suck right now.
Many thanks to little Seth for his insights into a struggling team. You know, a little over a week ago the Grizzlies were a struggling team, and then they went on a west coast trip that included a game against the Clippers and got better in a hurry. Early struggles don't mean a lot in the big picture, if they work themselves out. Hopefully, if it happens for the Knicks, it won't be tonight.