The New York Knicks are like a Rubik's cube. There are so many possible combinations of players and offensive and defensive approaches and plays and focal-points that a genius is required to solve the problem.
This is no child's game.
Is Mike D'Antoni the genius, or is he the child? Does he have the coaching talent to get this talented Knicks team figured out?
Lets look at what D'Antoni has to work with. He has Carmelo Anthony, one of the premier scorers in the modern game. He has Amar'e Stoudemire, a top-five power forward and he also has Tyson Chandler, the center who took the Dallas Mavericks to the NBA Championship last season and has been described as the glue that got the Mavs the title, as well as his loss being blamed for Dallas' struggles this season.
Surrounding this core, the Knicks have a melting pot of role players, rookies and veterans, all with different skills and attitudes.
The Knicks took point guard Iman Shumpert in the 2011 NBA Draft, a solid pickup who was selected to fill the backup point guard role behind whomever the Knicks picked up to start. The problem here is that said starter, Baron Davis, has been injured and is not expected back until early next week.
This has thrust Shumpert, a shoot-first point guard (a la Derrick Rose), into the limelight of leading D'Antoni's offensive system. With Anthony and Stoudemire on the floor, the Knicks offense must go through one of these two given their huge offensive repertoires.
So Shumpert shoots just as much, if not more, than these two. Perfect solution.
The trouble for the Knicks (and this may turn out to be all on D'Antoni) is that they don't seem capable of applying subtle changes in emphasis. After Shumpert's shoot-a-palooza in which he took more shots than Anthony, Stoudemire and Chandler combined, 'Melo then shot 30 a few games later.
Totally out of control shooting from a player who is good, but 30 shots is offense-killing, not offense-driving.
It was all isolation plays for Anthony and the rest of his team was reduced to four guys standing around watching 'Melo's series of up-fake/jab-step/pull-up jumper possession after possession. In a four-game losing streak, Anthony shot 35-of-105, meaning an average of 17.75 missed shots per game.
Can you win this way? Is it a solution to the Knicks puzzle? No.
D'Antoni and Anthony both admitted they had to change how the offense worked. Next time out, the Knicks beat the Charlotte Bobcats (an awful, awful team) by 33 points, yet 'Melo scored just a solitary point in what many media outlets and hoops experts ironically labelled his "best" game as a Knick, as he passed the ball well and all seven of his shots were the right basketball play.
Is this the problem in New York? That they seem incapable of making small adjustments and only seem to swing from one extreme to another?
The ideal ground would be to have Anthony shooting about 15 to 20 shots every night, only reaching the upper figure in those close games or when he's dominating his matchup.
On to the next piece in the puzzle: Amar'e Stoudemire. The trouble with Amar'e, it seems to me, is that he, like Carmelo, requires the majority of the shot clock to establish himself and get up a good shot. The pair also play at completely different paces - Anthony is much more fluid, shooting off the dribble from anywhere on the court at any time in the shot clock.
Stoudemire's game is best accentuated by running through plays to get him set up deep in the lane, where he can bully his way inside for the easy, high-percentage shots.
This incompatibility was unforeseen when the Knicks brought Anthony to join Stoudemire in the Big Apple. Could it be that the two simply cannot coexist the same way that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade or Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol can?
If you're a Knicks fan, you better hope not.
The hopeful solution comes in the form of currently-injured Baron Davis. He is an expert point guard adept at running the offense at a high tempo—the sort of offense Mike D'Antoni is trying to force onto the Knicks.
His experience could come in handy, too, as part of a New York club that has little recent playoff experience and very little winning playoff experience. Davis knows how to handle to pressures of the playoffs and of a fanbase desperate for some success.
I feel sorry for Mike D'Antoni, who is a fantastic coach. He has been thrust into a job in the most sports-obsessed market in the country to manage a team with two massive egos with massive pressure to win now.
His offensive philosophy is good, but whether it fits this team is questionable.
What has New York fans really worked up is the team's shocking attitude towards defense. There are times when the Knicks put together a run of defensive plays that halts the opposing team, but plenty of these are down to missed shots rather than forced turnovers/misses. Carmelo Anthony has a reputation as a bad defender, but this season he has taken it to new levels, allowing players to blow by him and failing to communicate to teammates.
D'Antoni is regarded as an offensively-minded coach and perhaps this has something to do with the lackadaisical performance on defense. The addition of Tyson Chandler was supposed to bring a new level of defensive toughness to the team. However, thus far, the Knicks are still losing games by bunches both home and away.
While saying all of this, the New York Knicks are not too much worse than last year, record-wise at least, as they were 42-40 and are currently 7-11 (a couple games below .500, but ultimately recoverable).
It is also important to remember, in this condensed season, that things can take much longer to take shape as the lack of practice bites, meaning teams with deep-running problems have even more trouble ironing them out.