Crucial Problems NY Knicks Must Solve in Season's 2nd Half
Standing at 32-17 and in first place in the Atlantic Division, the New York Knicks do not have too much to complain about in the 2012-13 season.
Behind the MVP-caliber play of Carmelo Anthony and a core of committed veterans, the Knicks have far exceed expectations, and they appear poised to be a serious contender to make it out of the Eastern Conference for the first time since the 1998-99 campaign.
However, that is not to say that his team, which is coming off of a 102-88 home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, is the perfect ballclub. New York, despite its impressive success, has several issues that it must look to address as we head into the most important stretch of the NBA's regular season.
No matter how strong a team is, there are always areas it can improve. Let's take a look at five areas New York needs to look at as the season's second half looms.
Statistics accurate as of February 10th, 2013.
Keeping Pace on the Boards
The New York Knicks have plenty of talent in the frontcourt but, their size has not exactly translated to a dominance on the glass. The team ranks a mere 23rd in the league in rebounds per game, grabbing just 41 boards per contest.
Tyson Chandler is great on the glass, averaging 11.2 rebounds per game, but often he does not have much help. Carmelo Anthony can be a strong rebounder when he is playing side, but when he is forced to play out on the perimeter, it greatly limits his effectiveness on the glass.
Having Amar'e Stoudemire back has helped, as STAT is averaging 4.6 boards per night, but his minutes are still being monitored. He has been called upon more to provide an inside scoring punch than to provide a presence on the glass.
Even during his best years with the Phoenix Suns, Stoudemire was never the kind of dominant rebounder someone with his body type should have been.
From the perimeter, J.R. Smith can crash the glass, and Jason Kidd, even at his age, remains one of the best rebounding guards in the league, but the team still struggles to assert itself on the boards and at times can be completely overwhelmed.
The team also plays a good bit of small ball with 'Melo at the power forward, something that obviously makes them vulnerable on the boards.
Injuries, which we'll discuss later, have certainly hurt New York in the bounding department. With Marcus Camby (3.7 rebounds in 10.4 minutes) and Rasheed Wallace (4.2 boards in 14.6 minutes), both missing the brunt of the season, the Knicks have been exposed by larger teams.
Surprisingly, New York is good at keeping opponents off the offensive glass, ranking first in the league by giving up just 9.8 offensive boards per game.
Still, in the playoffs, when possessions are at a premium, it would pay for the Knicks to add another rebounding presence if Camby and Wallace are not healthy.
Attacking the Basket
New York has had unbelievable success shooting the three-ball in 2012-13, but at times it has been too reliant on jumpers instead of driving hard to the hole.
When the three-pointers are coming off of penetration and smart ball movement, obviously the team should shoot them, but firing from deep should not be the primary option on any given offensive play.
In its home loss to the L.A. Clippers, New York finished just 7-of-23 shooting from deep. On the road against the Washington Wizards, the Knicks connected on just nine of 28 attempts. In those two games, J.R. Smith has connected on just one of his nine attempts from beyond the arc.
Historically, the jump shot is fickle, and teams that are too reliant on the perimeter game do not have great success in the postseason.
The Knicks have players in Anthony, Smith, Iman Shumpert and Raymond Felton who are all capable of using their off-the-dribble games to take the ball to the basket, but the team ranks only 22nd in the league in free-throw attempts per game at 20.8.
The Knicks are tied with the Brooklyn Nets, who lack any semblance of a post game outside of Brook Lopez. New York, on the other hand, has Stoudemire, 'Melo and even Tyson Chandler to finish with authority in the paint.
Should the Knicks pass up an open three-pointer if it's there? Of course not, the team is shooting 38.5 percent from beyond the arc for the season.
However, many of its losses have come when it cannot connect from distance and continue to fire away. This is a team with plenty of scoring options and not one that needs to jack up threes when it is down to put itself back into a game.
The league's better defensive teams will work to make the three harder to come by and try to run shooters off the line, making it imperative that the Knicks are aggressive in attacking the hoop.
Containing Explosive Guards
Under Mike Woodson, New York has morphed from a poor defensive team to an exceptional one, but there is an area it still needs to improve drastically: guarding the point guard.
The Knicks' point tandem of Kidd and Felton are capable on the offensive end, but they are often burned by the young, speedy guards of the Eastern Conference.
John Wall poured in 21 points and nine rebounds against New York, burning the Knicks with pick-and-roll plays with Nene and using his quickness to attack the hole.
Jrue Holiday hammered the Knicks with 35 points in a 97-80 win for Philadelphia. He blew past defenders all night and found himself with open looks both at the rim and on the perimeter.
Against Los Angeles, Chris Paul was able to drop 25 points in 25 minutes and round out his numbers with seven assists and four steals. Paul jackknifed his way into the lane all afternoon and New York's pressure did little to affect his game.
The Knicks play strong team defense, particularly in the half court, but this a point guard-dominated league, and not being able to contain explosive guards could present a serious issue in the postseason.
Once Shumpert rounds into midseason shape, his play will make a significant difference, but this is an issue that must be addressed for the Knicks to have success.
With the way the Eastern Conference is built, New York is going to be playing top shelf guards regularly. It needs to find a way to force them into tough outside shots instead of letting them wreak havoc with the pick-and-roll.
This one is out of New York's control to a degree, but a lack of healthy bodies doomed the Knicks to a first-round loss in 2012 against the Miami Heat. As the oldest team in league history with an average age of 31.3 years, New York has shown its fragility at times throughout the campaign.
Stoudemire and Shumpert missed the early portion of the year recovering from their respective knee surgeries, while Felton was sidelined with a broken hand midseason.
Veteran big men Wallace and Camby have both struggled with foot injuries that have kept them from making many meaningful contributions, and even Anthony has been battered more than usual.
Having an experienced team has plenty of perks come the stretch run of the season, as players know what it takes to win the most meaningful games, but it also means that players will be somewhat run down when the playoffs finally begin.
New York may have experienced another stroke of misfortune as Felton hurt his head and neck during the loss to Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles Time's Brad Turner.
This Knicks team has the chance to do something no Knicks team has done in a decade: be a true title contender. In order to do that, though, they need their full stable of players healthy and prepared.
Whether it is giving Anthony or Stoudemire a game off during the season or monitoring minutes more tightly, New York needs to find a way to ensure its most important pieces remain healthy for the second half of the year.
Pushing the Pace
This is not a critical issue per se, but with New York's personnel and ball-handlers it would be nice to see them push the pace of the game more often. The team ranks just 24th in the league in overall offensive pace at 92.6, sandwiched between middling teams Detroit (93) and Toronto (92.6).
The Knicks can be dynamic in transition with their combination of above-the-rim finishers and spot-up shooters, but they will often set right up in the half court after they force a turnover.
This is a team that is extremely careful with the ball and has players in Kidd and Felton that are capable of running the break beautifully and finding open shooters like Steve Novak or Anthony camped out behind the arc.
Add to that big men in Chandler and Stoudemire that love to run the floor and you have a team that should be looking to run more than it did in the first half of the 2012-13 season.
The Knicks' half-court offense has certainly been strong, as the team ranks third in offensive efficiency at 109.1 points scored per 100 possessions, trailing only the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder.
However, the Knicks rank 29th in the NBA in fast-break points with just nine per game. New York is obviously an older team, but it has plenty of players that excel in transition, and there is no reason this team shouldn't be more of a threat in the open court.
The game slows down considerably in the playoffs, but in the regular season it can pay dividends to look for run-out opportunities. While this is not essential for the Knicks to improve, it would give their already-dynamic offense another facet.
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