The Knicks lost to the Detroit Pistons 92-86 for their third consecutive loss. Here are some thoughts about the game.
1. The Knicks started their fifth different lineup of this young season. Beno Udrih and Kenyon Martin were the 9th and 10th different player to be in the starting line up. As Coach Woodson said after the Atlanta game “we don’t have an identity.” It gets boring having to repeat or find new ways to say the same thing: the Knicks are a lost team and they need to figure it out quick.
While the season is still young, the lineup shuffling is a massive indictment on the structure of this current team. If this stretch continues, you have to wonder if last year’s run was a mirage and an everything-went-right-for-us scenario that played out. The team looked as though they had never practiced with one another- a byproduct of having to work another guy into the rotation. Beno Udrih had totaled a whopping 20 minutes over the last 9 days. And that’s only because he played all 20 minutes in a Spurs blowout loss. That’s right, Mike Woodson started a guy who had not played a single minute in the last three games despite having Pablo Prigioni on the team. That’s borderline irresponsible on Woodson’s part to try and pull something like that off and attempt to get away with it.
Again its early but there’s tons to touch upon in regards to improvements so let’s see where I can start:
2. Some people asked me what benefit a zone defense would bring to these Knicks and I said its a system that fits this current roster. Especially if you want to give Amar’e a bigger load of minutes. Especially if you don’t have a Tyson Chandler to mask Carmelo Anthony’s bad one-on-one defense against fours. The zone is a bend but don’t break defense which means when played right it can limit the number of wide open shots which is what has plagued the Knicks these last few games.
The fundamental problem with the Knicks is communication. Guys fight through screens, yet find themselves doubling on a guy that they don’t need to. I counted four times in the first half that the Knicks unnecessarily doubled a Detroit big man 20 feet away from the basket. For what? To go even further, if you give Josh Smith space he will gladly chuck the ball with absolute glee. The law of percentages say that he won’t hit more than 40% of those shots. Why even try and pressure a guy who will shoot his team out of a game and force him to do the unselfish thing? The Pistons are full of guys who struggle with the concept that there is only ONE basketball in play at one time. Why force guys to pass when they will gladly shoot their team out of a game when they are given daylight?
This game was a tailor made streak buster and the Knicks screwed that up by playing undiscplined and allowing the Pistons wide open shots by not playing their opponent rather than playing the scheme. The good teams understand their opponents and have a sense of their weaknesses. Brandon Jennings was clearly not himself because he wasn’t trying to beat the Knicks by himself. Will Bynum was out. There were any number of reasons to believe the Knicks could win this game, but once again their team defense and specifically their help defense wasn’t just a step slow, it was non-existent at times. Guys were no where near the rim as Detroit players were streaking to the hoop at will. It was embarassing.
The zone defense allows bad one on one defenders to play a specific area of the floor and make teams hesitant to drive into the lane because there will always be someone there. With the three second rule, you are asking whomever is playing center to be quick enough to enter the picture to deter an offensive player from getting an uncontested look at the basket but at this point its worth trying if only for the sake of “let’s try something different than the current scheme that is clearly NOT working.”
In that scenario, you would have to hide Amar’e and Bargnani because they are just bad help defenders and keep Kenyon Martin on the floor. At this point the Knicks would probably have to look into Cole Aldrich for a steady diet of minutes IF ONLY for the reinforcement he would provide. And besides, like teams used to say about playing Shaquille O’Neal, “we need guys who can play six (fouls).”
3. The Knicks are regularly getting beat by a second, third, and fourth option. Like on the regular these days. Rather than play the team, the Knicks prepare for the starting five and almost throw up their hands in disbelief when they realize teams have a bench player who also can score. Its almost beyond belief how terribly overmatched the Knicks seem to be. They exert so much extra energy into the defensive end on overhelp and over-switching that when the team does swing it to the open man they basically get down on their knees to pray that an NBA player misses a wide open shot.
I know we like to clown a lot of players but most of those guys will hit those shots. And last night, it was Rodney Stuckey who burned the Knicks. On four straight possessions he forgot that he was a middling player on a destined to be 30-35 win team. He must have felt like he was back in high school, doing what he wanted against an overmatched JV squad. Stuckey bruised the Knicks for 21 points and with each made shot he gained more and more confidence that by the time they decided to stick Stuckey, he was in heat-em-up NBA Jam mode. Turrible as Sir Charles would say.
4. Losses like last night can make players get frustrated and you saw it in Carmelo’s play. This was a four play sequence for the Knicks on four consecutive possessions:
Carmelo Offensive foul
The very next play, Greg Monroe fouled him and replays showed Melo should’ve received the continuation but the referees refused to give him the call because guess what? Melo had pretty much spent the last twenty minutes of real time complaining to the refs that they weren’t doing a very good job. Instead of going for a three point play the Knicks left with an extra possession. The result of those four turnovers? 7 points for the Pistons who went from up one to up eight and a comfortable enough cushion to withstand a minispurt by the Knicks.
Amar’e later picked up a technical himself because Amar’e feels he should never be called for a foul on defense even if half of Detroit can hear him slap somebody’s wrist playing defense. Add in the fact that you saw players visibly pointing at parts of the paint where Detroit players were routinely blowing by their defenders and having zero resistance at the basket and you have the obvious recipe for disaster. A team in disarray. Pick any starry headline you want. The optimist’s optimist would tell you that its a good sign that the players are visibly upset over their performance because it shows they care. Of course who cares if they show they care if we don’t see tangible results? We will see if the caring will play out on the court and manifest itself in better overall play.
5. I’m not ready to place all the blame on coaching and Woodson because he seems as mystified as we all do but it isn’t to say that he shouldn’t have the finger pointed at him. Woodson’s second full season (if he’s even afforded that) has been symbolized by mismanagement and a severe lack of direction. Woodson isn’t sure who he trusts and he’s equally clueless about how to fix the issues the team has on defense which tells you that he had no back up plan in the event that Tyson Chandler went down. The Knicks are an imperfect roster that can only win if their three point shots are going down and the players show a willingness to play coherent defense. The Knicks have decent defensive players but on the most part they don’t have the personnel to run a system that asks players to know where they should be in the event that one of their teammates will leave their man to help on another player.
Woodson has shown an almost borderline unwillingness to adapt. Who knows if he’s stubborn or truly believes he can make it work with this roster but the evidence is being played night after night: these guys can’t keep playing this way night after night. Last year’s experiment of Melo at the four was brought on by injury, not by Woodson having an epiphany to try something different.
It could be that Woodson wants to beat the system into the players and have them work it out on the court rather than switch everything up on defense and then switch back once Chandler comes back. Again, its early but let’s see what Woodson does to solve the issues that plague the Knicks.
6. You have to wonder how long a leash Woodson is going to give J.R. Smith who’s had one idiotic dope-head move after another. I won’t blame the knee surgery after the contract because that falls squarely on the Knicks shoulders. But the twitter feed, the beef with Brandon Jennings continues the leaguewide rep that he has of a troublemaker and not worth the headache for good teams to have. It could be that Woodson is trying to be supportive of JR much like he was last year by continuing to run him out there even though he’s playing poorly. But the fact remains that Smith can not possibly continue to shoot at 28% and expect to keep logging 30-35 minutes a game. Woodson can’t afford to play him those kind of minutes.
It bears watching though if Woodson is trying to coach him through this rough stretch by continuing to believe in his ability to snap out of it. Like any streaky shooter you ride the waves of good with the bad and hope that the highs stay longer than the lows. One thing you have to wonder about though is how the arthroscopic knee surgery is actually affecting his ability to drive to the basket. JR has been more than content at pulling up for jumpers and playing the perimeter jump shooting game. He was successful at that last year but only after establishing his ability to drive to the basket and he was always best when he was being aggressive. He has his bouts with the one on one, over dribbling but it bears watching that as his health returns he will begin to be more aggressive towards the hoop.
7. An interesting point raised by Mike Breen was the void of leadership on this current Knicks team. Last year’s team had wise sages like Kurt Thomas, Rasheed Wallace and Jason Kidd. Kidd left to coach the Brooklyn Nets to the ground (good looks Jason!). Sheed is player/coach-ing the Pistons and Kurt Thomas is a mall cop somewhere. I’ve always been a guy who believes in that team camraderie/things-you-can’t-quantify stuff that stat geeks like to say they don’t believe in yet are forever to prove using numbers. This year’s team leader flowchart would have Carmelo Anthony at the top by virtue of calling players only meetings (always a fave of mine, five games into a season), and frankly he’s not ready to lead. He leads by hoisting up fifteen shots. You saw it towards the end of the game where Melo was hellbent on taking on the entire Pistons team to bring the Knicks back- heroic yes, but its the biggest complaint Melo detractors have about him. He doesn’t make his team better, he only betters his stats.
Last year’s team had older players but they had players who could keep guys like J.R. in line and be professional. If you are looking for Melo to do that, its putting him in a role he’s not fit to play. I’m not saying that Melo can’t become a better leader, heck anything’s possible, I just think like Michael Jordan trying to run a professional basketball team, he can’t teach his skill to people around him. He will stand around and expect them to get it and that’s not how to be a leader. The Knicks could use a few old guys to keep players in check and manage tempers because its showing. Just another thing the Knicks are lacking this year.
8. And just in time for this big stink-fest are the Indiana Pacers who roll into town with a 9-1 record and the memory of knocking the Knicks out of the playoffs last year. If the Knicks had any pride, they would compete their hearts out based solely on the memory of being beaten by the Pacers. But anyone expecting them to protect their home court with their glowing 1-5 mark is almost foolish at this point. There will be plenty to write about dissecting the Pacers roster construction when compared to the Knicks in my next post but let’s just say that if this whole Melo thing doesn’t work out this year- looking at the Pacers model wouldn’t be so bad. But who knows, when you expect the Knicks to lose, they pull off a mini-miracle and remain competitive against a good team.
9. Finally, among all the things the Knicks have gone through their front office and owner have reverted back to their old meddling ways and begun to ruin the Knicks from the inside as they love to do. I can’t tell you strongly enough how much I want James Dolan to sell which probably means he equally wants to keep the team. I imagine him sitting in his office reading fan mail and crying…..because he’s laughing so hard at all the heartfelt emails asking him to step down or stop fooling around with the personnel guys long enough to allow them to do their jobs. From hiring someone to tail Woodson to guaranteeing wins in November to sending a cease and desist to his own Knicks cheerleaders (probably because they make people feel good at the Garden and Lord knows we don’t need that) to making a GM change on the eve of the NBA season, its been one thing after another that has kept the constant black eye on the franchise. At this point what’s the expectation of any kind of normalcy at this point?
10. And sadly I STILL SAY #KNICKSTAPE