5-Step Blueprint for Beating the New York Knicks

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5-Step Blueprint for Beating the New York Knicks
Nick Laham/Getty Images

The New York Knicks steamrolled through the early portion of their schedule. By mid-December they had the best record in the Eastern Conference at 18-6 and were being touted as a legitimate championship contender.Since then, New York has lost four of their past seven games, revealing several flaws on both ends of the floor in the process. Teams like the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers have provided the rest of the league with a blueprint for beating them.5. A Steady Diet of Pick-and-RollThe Knicks' defense has been horrendous over the past few weeks, starting with their inability to defend the pick-and-roll. According to ESPNNewYork.com, heading into their game against the Portland Trail Blazers on January 1, New York had surrendered the 752 points off the pick-and-roll, seventh most in the NBA.That subpar pick-and-roll defense has been weakened in recent games by injuries to key contributors. Raymond Felton's broken finger forced coach Mike Woodson to move Jason Kidd to the 1. At 39 years old, the future Hall of Famer is no longer quick enough to stay in front of point guards many years his junior.Woodson felt compelled to play Pablo Prigioni—an offensive liability who is 35 years old himself—down the stretch against Portland Wednesday night. Iman Shumpert, the team's best on-the-ball defender last season, is still recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL.

Chris Trotman/Getty Images
The Knicks miss Iman Shumpert's ball pressure.
The Knicks' pick-and-roll defense is especially poor when Tyson Chandler is not on the floor. Rasheed Wallace, who anchored the Knicks' second unit early in the season, has missed the last nine games due to a stress reaction in his left foot, while Marcus Camby has been hobbled by plantar fasciitis.Teams should continue to feast on the Knicks porous defense with a steady diet of pick-and-rolls until New York is back at full strength.4. Exploit Amar'e StoudemireAccording to Jared Zwerling of ESPNNewYork.com, Stoudemire admitted after practice on Wednesday, January 2, that he was never taught how to play defense. He told reporters:

"I've never been taught defense in my whole career, so to now have a coach that actually teaches defense and teaches strategies, and knows positioning and posture, how to guard different plays, it's going to be helpful. I'm going to take it as a challenge, and I'm going to accept the challenge and try to improve as a player."

Unfortunately for Amar'e and the Knicks, his lack of schooling on defensive principles is only part of the problem. The six-time All-Star experiences frequent mental lapses on defense, leading to easy layups or open baskets for his man, like the one seen below.

Even when Stoudemire is focused and motivated on the defensive end, he has poor instincts, often taking incorrect angles in isolation and pick-and-roll situations. His lateral movement is also severely diminished after numerous major knee injuries, to the point that he appears to be unable to get into and maintain a proper defensive stance.Stoudemire's athleticism has allowed him to be a solid weak-side shot-blocker throughout his career, but teams have routinely exploited him in one-on-one and pick-and-roll situations. His unwillingness or inability to hedge pick-and-rolls allows opposing point guards to turn the corner and break down the Knicks' defense.The inevitable rust from not playing for two months after undergoing knee surgery will make STAT even more vulnerable defensively. Teams should continue to run plays designed to exploit him on that end of the floor.3. Crash the Offensive BoardsThe downside of playing a small lineup with Carmelo Anthony at the 4 is that New York is at a distinct disadvantage on the boards. According to Hoopdata.com, the Knicks rank 27th in the league in total rebound rate and have struggled against teams with big front lines like the Memphis Grizzlies and Chicago Bulls. Chicago outrebounded New York 47-40 and 51-40 in their two December meetings—both games won by the Bulls.New York trailed the Portland Trail Blazers by 11 points at halftime of their January 1 contest due in large part to the Knicks' inability to rebound the basketball. The Blazers scored 14 second-chance points in the first quarter alone.         

#Knickshttps://twitter.com/search/%23Knicks">#Knicks> only had 7 defensive boards. — Jared Zwerling (@JaredZwerling) https://twitter.com/JaredZwerling/status/286298466194436096" data-datetime="2013-01-02T02:30:48+00:00">January 2, 2013
     Teams are free to crash the offensive boards against the Knicks because Mike Woodson's team will not make them pay for it on the other end. The Knicks' pace of 92.9 possessions per game ranks 25th in the NBA, according to Hoopdata.com. New York is even less inclined to push the tempo with Raymond Felton on the sideline.  2. Force the Knicks Point Guards to Make a Play on Pick-and-RollsRaymond Felton and Tyson Chandler have sliced and diced defenses with the high pick-and-roll this season, often culminating in thunderous slams by Chandler.

Most teams defend the Knicks' pick-and-roll by having the man covering the screener hedge to stop the ball-handler from pulling up for the jump shot or getting a full head of steam towards the basket. At that point the screener, typically Chandler, dives to the rim for the easy alley-oop,as seen below.Once Chandler catches the ball around the basket there is little an opponent can do. The Knicks' center is leading the league in field-goal percentage for the second consecutive season at 69 percent.If another defender sinks down to help out on Chandler, Felton kicks the ball out to the open man for a three-point shot. The Knicks' guards and wing men have been killing teams from downtown, knocking down 38 percent of their three-point attempts on the year.The best option against the Knicks' pick-and-roll is to force Felton, Jason Kidd or Pablo Prigioni to hit a shot or attempt to finish around the basket. Felton is shooting just 40 percent from the field, including 47 percent in the restricted area, 32 percent in the paint and 38 percent from mid-range.

PLAYER AVG
 
FG Percentage                                                             Shot Distribution
 
             47 percent          
           73-155         
33.7 percent
A. Restricted Area
 
            32 percent           
           17-54         
11.7 percent
B. In the Paint (Non-RA)
 
            38 percent           
           51-135         
29.3 percent
C. Mid-Range
 
            28 percent           
           5-18         
3.9 percent
D. Corner Three
 
            38 percent           
           36-96         
20.9 percent
E. Above-the-Break Three

Instead of hedging, the man defending the screener (Chandler) should maintain contact with the screener and sink toward the basket. Chandler is not a threat to step out and knock down a jump shot, nor are his backups Rasheed Wallace—who, despite his proclivity for letting it fly, is shooting 39 percent from the field—and Marcus Camby.Teams can live with Felton's efficiency on pull-up jumpers and around the basket. That approach is even more effective against backup point guards Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni.Kidd no longer possesses the quickness to beat his man to the basket. Just 13 percent of his shots have come from inside the paint this season. He and Prigioni both prefer to hit the screener or kick the ball out to the perimeter rather than look for their own shot.1. Play Carmelo Anthony One-on-OneCarmelo Anthony is the second leading scorer in the NBA, averaging 29.2 points per game and is virtually impossible to defend one-on-one, yet that is exactly what teams need to do to beat the Knicks.The Knicks' game plan is to get No. 7 going early—in fact, he leads the league in first-quarter scoring. Once defenses begin to help out on Anthony, he makes them pay by moving the ball to the Knicks' outside shooters, who are draining threes at a record-setting pace.

Anthony passing out of double-teams against the Orlando Magic during the 2011-2012 season, via Postingandtoasting.com.
New York is less effective when the ball stops in Anthony's hands, regardless of how hot he is. The perimeter players become stagnant and are not in rhythm when they are called upon to make a play.Opposing coaches can still shade their defenses towards Anthony and occasionally send over an extra defender to try to confuse him, but double-teaming him on a regular basis simply plays into the Knicks' hands. Anthony cannot win games by himself. Opposing teams should force him to try.* All statistics accurate are as of January 3, 2013

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