Looking for the Light Through a Blue and Orange Prism

Posted: March 12, 2012 by sirdiggy in sports
Tags: , , , , , ,

I’ve been pretty busy on Knickerblogger.net today, fully engaged in conversation about what the New York Knicks could or should do with the team to improve it.  I’m sure just about every fan of every NBA team (except maybe the Miami Heat) has the same conversations.  This Knick team is in a unique situation because they’ve had a lot of new parts added to the team before and during this season, with not a lot of time to weld them together properly.  These parts surround a traditionally high-scoring forward tandem (Amar’e Stoudamire and Carmelo Anthony) that unfortunately are playing below their peak career numbers for different reasons.  Another thing about this forward-scoring tandem: one’s defense is often-described as spotty (Anthony), the others is downright shit-tay (Stoudamire).  This is a problem, because while the Knicks starting backcourt of Landry Fields and Jeremy Lin may be the “smartest” guard tandem in the NBA, they are awfully porous defensively.  That leaves center Tyson Chandler as the lone “plus” defender in the starting five.  It’s great to once again have a defensive presence in the middle, but he can’t do it alone.  Rookie guard Iman Shumpert has the makings of an elite perimeter defender, and backup point guard (and finally healthy) Baron Davis has shown scrappiness on D as well.  In sum, the Knicks don’t have enough good defenders to mask Melo and Stoudamire’s deficiencies on that side of the ball.

Having said that, the Knicks Defensive Efficiency rating is tenth-best in the league, so it can’t be just the D.  Another huge problem this season: turnovers.  The team is next to last in turnovers per game in league.  Before J-Lin, such gaffes were attributed to not having a true point guard on the floor, as the rest of the team (save Melo) were poor passers.  But now Lin and Baron Davis is playing, and the team still coughs it up alarmingly – for all of Lin’s immediate success, he’s averaging three and a half turnovers a game.  And several fans have observed that many Knick turnovers lead to fast break baskets by the opposition versus “side-out” situations where the opposing team has to take time to run their offensive sets.  In today’s game against Philadelphia, the Sixers score 17 points off 18 Knick turnovers.  Think of it this way: the Oklahoma City Thunder own the second best record in the NBA and the highest per-game turnover average.  David Aldridge just wrote an article where the team expressed their concern over their turnover numbers; if a significantly superior team is worried about turnovers affecting their Title hopes, then what of the Knicks and their hopes just to make the playoffs and not get run out of it early?

The third problem: the team’s Offensive Efficiency is ranked 22nd out of 30.  That high-scoring forward tandem of Melo and Amar’e… well, both are scoring well below their career averages.  Melo is averaging his LOWEST Field Goal percentage of his NBA career at 40.1%, and Amar’e is suffering a career-low as well(45.9%).  Blog posters are wondering if Amar’e isn’t quite right after off-season rehab was needed to tend to a back injury he suffered in last year’s playoffs, and at age 29, some are starting to wonder if his trademark explosiveness will ever return in full force.  Melo’s also been nicked up at points earlier in the season and tried to play through it, which affected his shooting ability for a stretch.  Newly acquired bench scorer-extraordinaire J.R. Smith has been more off than on, averaging 7.6ppg on 33% shooting since his return from China.

So you have a team that turns the ball over too much, is littered with below-average defenders, and whose top-two scorers are not living up to past billings of offensive forces.  Like I said earlier, there were a lot of new ingredients thrown (or fallen in the case of Lin) into the pot, and in a lockout-truncated season and only a week’s worth of training camp, perhaps there will not be enough time realistically for this meal of basketball talents to come together this season.

But us New Yorkers have already endeared a decade of pathetic, losing basketball.  So (more than) some of us are a bit impatient, worried that this current plan of building a championship contender will fall short as the Knicks draw nearer to 40 years since their last NBA Title.  So, to decide on whether this current plan – or these current players – will work, let’s examine the prism in which this team is currently looked through and the prism shifts (read: change of plans) that could be considered:

  • Current Prism:  Amar’e/Melo; The “Elite-Scoring” Forwards

In 2010 Amar’e was the first to sign on the dotted line.  When LeBron decided to “take his talents to South Beach” (grrrrrrr), the team eventually set its sights on Melo, who wanted the city + the money, thus the responsibility of “bringing it” in NY.

Both wanted the responsibility, actually.  The problem is even with one year in, the results aren’t what was desired, and there’s not enough evidence to show that the two can play well off each other.  Despite this, Amar’e has (or had) more goodwill built up than Melo for three reasons:

  1. He was the first to publicly and honestly accept the responsibility of bringing the Knicks back to prominence, and started out the first half of 2010-’11 season playing at an MVP-worthy level.
  2. Melo came mid-season getting the city he wanted and the max-deal he wanted, at what is still largely considered a great expense of good role players and draft picks  (my take: I thought the Knicks coughed up one player and a pick too many thanks to MSG boss James Dolan, but those role players were ultimately replaceable).
  3. He appears to be a stand-up individual and all-around good man.  Not to say Melo isn’t, however.
  • Choices of Prisms:

Keep Melo/Trade Amar’e – you do this because you’re tired of seeing Amar’es woeful D (bad man/ball awareness, mediocre Man D, HORRIBLE paint protection) and you worry that at age 29, his offensive prowess his taken a dip that he won’t fully recover from.  And because you remember Antonio McDyess, you fear his back will never fully recover to allow him that extra pop/spring.

So how would you sell Stoudamire to potential suitors?  Tell them he just needs this summer to get back into off-season conditioning, that his low numbers were due to Melo being featured more in the offense and that the team had no PG for almost half a season and had to adjust to two new PG’s mid-season.  His knees, from all reports, are not a problem.

Keep Amar’e/Trade Melo – you do this because you believe: A. Melo will never fit with the offense, because; B. D’Antoni’s system is not the best for Anthony’s talents, and the coach re-ups after this season, and; C. the team needs a bit of an overhaul and Melo can fetch you the most in a trade of all the current Knicks.  Either you think Melo is an iso-loving, self-serving bum (which means you’re not paying close enough attention to the games) or you think he doesn’t deserve the brunt of the blame of the team’s woes (fairly more accurate) and he should be shipped out “for his own good”.  Maybe you even net a draft pick or two.

Trade Both Amar’e & Melo – You do this because you feel that a team centered around two scoring but defensively inept (a little less maybe with Melo, but more-so with Amar’e) forwards who aren’t the 10 best players in the NBA will not net you an NBA Title.  Even though the two have played together for the equivalent of one season and the team had made some good decisions/gambles in stocking the talent around them – not counting Jeremy Lin falling into the team’s lap.  Either you want out of the “Three-Star Plan”, or you want a makeover on two of the three “stars”.  Which could lead to…

JLin/Chandler – Shifting to The Point Guard/Center Prism: You’ve seen how effective the Lin/Chandler pick’n’roll is.  You seen how Chandler brings it every night and is the heart of the team’s D.  You believe not just what you’ve seen out of Lin, but that he will get better and you know that he is, as Bill Simmons put it, a de-facto rookie point guard in a league filled with talented PG’s.  So you say, “you know what, let’s scrap the current “star” plan and build a team around our newfound PG and defensive stud C.  Let’s find a PF who can help Chandler on the boards, D his man effectively and hit a 15-18ft J.  Let me find a versatile SF who’s athletic, can defend and hit the 3-ball above say 35%.  Let’s see if Shumpert can work on his outside shot during the summer and improve on the makings of an elite perimeter defender.

The Dwight Howard Prism – Offer some Combo-Package of Chandler/Melo/Amar’e to Orlando for Dwight Howard/etc – I have no clue if the Knicks have made Orlando an offer, or if Orlando would even consider.  Allegedly, Howard wants NY but with the Nets (and their move to BK).  Personally, I think a Melo/Chandler package for Dwight (and Hedo Turkoglu’s bummer contract) should be enough to at least get Magic GM Otis Smith on the line, and it trumps any offer New Jersey can make beginning with C Brook Lopez.  But imagine pairing a bright young PG with the league’s best C that can cover-up a plethora of defensive mistakes a team makes.  If you make the deal w/out including Amar’e, you not only change the prism of the team, but the prism of what to do with him.  Do you keep him and see if he can play along Dwight, or do you shop him for spare parts (the PF and SF that can do as I mentioned in the last paragraph).

That leaves you with one last prism: the current head coach Mike D’Antoni.

The coach is in the last year of his contract, and has been expected to be the chef to “make it work” with the ingredients given him.  Regardless if these expectations prove to be mostly realistic or not, most believe the emergence of Jeremy Lin – and the seven game winning streak which coincided – saved him from a pink slip.  But the team, now at mostly full-strength, is struggling again.

Here are poster comments/observations after this last loss:

“The knicks W-L is below their talent level.”
“They don’t play with sustained intensity. They usually come out flat every quarter.”
“Terrible clock management.”
“Bad rotations.”
“They lose most of their games.”
“I’ve always been a big fan of D’Antoni. He’s not doing a good job…figuring out how to get the players to mesh. For all the talk about “can melo play with stat” it seems like the much better question is “can melo play for D’Antoni? I think changing coaches ultimately wouldn’t make more than a few games difference over the season.”

I always believed D’Antoni was brought to the Knicks to try to create an entertaining on-court display while the team shed its bad contracts and dead weight to make room for the Summer of 2010.  After that summer, he would truly begin to earn his money.  There’s been reports that Phil Jackson might be interested in becoming the Knicks next head coach should the team not re-up on D’Antoni.  While many would jump for joy to have Jackson coach, there’s a question if all of the current players would be good fits for his triangle offense.  Jeremy Lin, in particular, comes to the front of my mind because Jackson’s past manifestations of the triangle did not involve or need a prominent pass-first point guard.

  • My Opinion (as I posted on Knickerblogger):

If the Knick execs were absolutely sure that they could not swing a good offer for Howard, then let this season play out.  Then, take the summer for Shump Shump to get a better clue on offense (improve on finishing around the rim, work on that J), Lin to tighten his handle and react to double-teams as well as working to stay in front of his man, Landry to revive his outside J (esp from deep), and Amar’e to get his back in order and find that missing lift. A full summer, a full training camp. Then let it rip and use the first half of next season to decide if the pieces can once-and-for-all fit.  And that’s even if there’s a coaching change.

[Whew, that only took forever to write]

  1. chuckspears says:

    Excited at the prospect of Phil Jackson heading the Knicks. But I don’t think we have the A level talent he’s used to. We have a few sand outs, but there’s no Kobe or Jordan here. Phil can bring out the best in a team though.

    Now PJ in Miami…that’s scary.

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