I would like to start this article off by saying I am a believer in Mike D'Antoni, I am a believer in Jeremy Lin, I am a believer in Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, and I believe in this New York Knicks team.
As I sat with my friends watching the Knicks face the Mavericks, pining for the days of Linsanity and hoping upon hope they wouldn't break my heart as they have done so many times before, it struck me as to what ails the Knicks.
The three ball.
As a young coach myself using the modern marvel of YouTube, I looked at the evolution of Linsanity Knicks to the new-look Knicks with fresh eyes and dissected what has become of them. Let me take you back.
Stoudemire is out, Melo is hurt, and this young kid has just willed his way to a win against the Nets, yet the season outlook still seems bleak. Then something happens—D'Antoni's vaunted offense appears, the Knicks are beating teams they have no business beating, hope is restored to a once failed season, and a new craze is born.
Now Melo and Stoudemire return to the starting lineup and suddenly the offense isn't quite so crisp, the front line seems stagnant, and the second team is outplaying the first on their way to a 2-3 record since.
The gut reaction is simple and predictable:
Deal for Dwight Howard.
Stoudemire's surgery has finally caught up with him.
I want to put you minds at ease, NY: Melo and Amar'e are not the problem. And I promise you this team has the pieces to win the NBA title. As much as it pains me to say it, Landry Fields is what's standing between the Knicks and dominance.
Now, I am not saying Landry should be buried on the bench—he has earned his PT and is a vital piece of this team's championship dreams. What I am saying is that his role should be captain of the Legion of Boom (the Knicks' second unit).
The Knicks starting five currently is as follows: Jeremy Lin, Landry Fields, Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler.
This is an energetic, talented and dangerous group, but they have one glaring issue: the three ball. As a unit, this group is shooting less than 35 percent. To most teams this is irrelevant, but for the Knicks, it's their Achilles' heel.
Anybody who watched the NBA Finals last year has a newfound respect for the 2-3 zone, as it relegated the Miami Heat to a jump-shooting team—not exactly their forte—and caused a stunning upset by the upstart Mavericks.
What I saw against the elite defenses of the Celtics and Mavericks, and even the bad defenses of the Bobcats and Nets, is that to beat the Knicks' starting five, teams have switched to the 2-3 zone. By virtue of shooting so poorly from three, no defense has any respect for the arc.
This does three major things against New York: layers can leave Landry on the arc to trap Lin coming around the pick; when Stoudemire or Lin drive the lane, the bigs can now collapse in on the basket and shut down the paint; and it is very easy to bring the double against Melo in the mid-range—all of this stems from knowing that the Knicks cannot kick out to the arc and drain an easy three.
Here is the Legion of Boom: Baron Davis, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Steve Novak, Jared Jeffries.
A lot has been said how this group has been beating the starters in practice and saving the Knicks in games. I will tell you right now, it is not because they are better. They are better suited for D'Antoni's offense.
It is no secret that when Steve Novakaine is on the floor, the Knicks seem to do way better. I will tell you why: When Novak is hanging around the arc, that 2-3 zone suddenly becomes very dicey as it is designed to protect the paint, not the arc. Having that stretch three-point shooter is key to D'Antoni's offense.
What this second unit has is a excellent mix of snipers (Smith and Novak), driving (Baron and Shumpert) and a solid pick man in Jeffries. When they are on the floor, the vaunted D'Antoni offense takes shape and it is some of the most exciting basketball I have ever seen.
And finally, why is J.R. Smith the answer to the Knicks' problems?
Smith has matured as a player, as a man and finally as a role player—he's just playing the wrong role. While in China, his not speaking the language allowed him to focus on one thing and one thing only: playing basketball. His energy, defense and sniping are assets that the starting five desperately misses. The results speak for themselves.
Zhejiang Golden Bulls
By moving Smith to the starting lineup, by moving that stretch shooting guard to a unit that desperately needs help beyond the arc, this Knicks team becomes the deadliest team in the league.
The Knicks' new starting five: Jeremy Lin, J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler.
Legion of Boom: Baron Davis, Iman Shumpert, Landry Fields, Steve Novak, Jared Jeffries.
When the threes, or even the threat of threes, are on the floor, all kinds of space opens up on the inside. With a three-point threat like Smith and Novak constantly lurking beyond the arc, the 2-3 zone will disappear, allowing Lin the space required to work his magic. The second unit will still be dangerous as Novak is not moving to the starting lineup any time soon and Baron constitutes the greatest backup point guard in the league.
The Knicks don't need any more pieces, and they don't need to make an unnecessary trade. The keys to their success are right in front of them.
Take me to the Garden—I still believe!
What are your thoughts?
Hit me up here or on Twitter @PhilRusso55.