There's three keys Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks must follow to avoid a further skid.
Chemistry is something that every great team in the NBA has and every team that's in turmoil strives for during the course of the season. For the majority of the 2012-13 season for the New York Knicks, good chemistry has been a huge factor in their 33-20 record.
Yet recently the Knicks have began to slide out of control and are looking more like the early-season Los Angeles Lakers these days than a team who started the season with an 18-5 record.
The Knicks and their fanbase are searching for answers as to how the team can avoid the Lakers-style chemistry crisis and get back to the winning ways where they were thought of as one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference. Here are three ways the Knicks can avoid a serious collapse by the end the season and regain the elite status they once had.
No. 1: Getting Rotations Right
One of the main reasons the Knicks haven't been able to gel as a team recently has been because of injuries as well as players returning from injury. Iman Shumpert has missed 37 games, Amar'e Stoudemire has missed 30 games, Raymond Felton has missed 12 games and the defensive-minded post trio of veterans Marcus Camby, Rasheed Wallace and Kurt Thomas have missed a combined total of 94 games.
It's been an extremely hard task for Mike Woodson this season to adjust to all the injuries that the Knicks have dealt with, but lately it's been at its worst.
Since Shumpert returned to the starting lineup from his ACL injury on January 17, the Knicks have gone just 9-7. In the Knicks' most recent 99-93 win over the Philadelphia Sixers on Sunday, Shumpert saw just 13 minutes while guards Jason Kidd, J.R. Smith and Raymond Felton all saw over 26.
In the team's most recent 100-98 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Friday, Shumpert saw just 15 minutes while Kidd, Smith and Felton all saw over 32 minutes.
Last season Shumpert averaged nearly 29 minutes per game. This season his average has dropped to just 19 a game.
The Knicks need defense to right the ship, and using physical guards like Jason Kidd and Iman Shumpert over the defensively challenged Smith and Felton would work wonders. Give the extra minutes to Amar'e Stoudemire for offense and Steve Novak for his ability to spread the floor.
The ideal lineup for the Knicks should be Kidd, Shumpert, Carmelo Anthony, Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler. Anthony and Stoudemire will provide offense and Chandler, Shumpert and Kidd will provide defense.
The Knicks have allowed opponents to shoot 45.8 percent this season, which places them 19th in the league. If they can cut that down to 44 percent they'd rank in the bottom of the top 10. The Memphis Grizzlies, Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors and Miami Heat currently round out the top 10, holding their opponents to just above 44 percent.
Woodson has to use this starting five moving forward so that the team can gain more of a defensive chemistry. It's easier to make adjustments based on offense, but as the saying goes in sports it's the defense that truly wins championships.
No. 2: Playing Amar'e Stoudemire More
Amar'e Stoudemire is not a lower-usage player. This is the first season where he's played under 30 minutes per game since 2005-06 with the Pheonix Suns, where he tore his ACL just three games into the season. Playing Stoudemire a little under 23 minutes a game is a joke, especially when he's shooting nearly 57 percent from the field.
The Knicks have scored over 100 points just four times over the past 11 games. In the four games where the Knicks did score over 100, Stoudemire averaged 16 points on an unheard of 28 of 33 (84.8 percent) from the field. Stoudemire's also scored 18 or more in the three games where he's received over 28 minutes this season.
The simplest solution for a team struggling with offense is to give more minutes to a guy who's been known throughout his career for creating it, especially given his recent success. Stoudemire will be one of the key members of the team when the playoffs roll around and if he's not on the same page with the rest of his teammates, than they're going to be in a lot of trouble.
No. 3: Trusting Carmelo
Surrounding Carmelo Anthony with defense will allow him to focus on what he's done his whole career: score the basketball.
The Knicks have a similar team makeup to the 2000-01 Sixers. That team reached the NBA Finals by playing stellar defense and through the high-volume scoring of guard Allen Iverson.
Here's how the two teams compare:
Center: Dikembe Mutombo, Sixers (defensive POY) — Tyson Chandler, Knicks (defensive POY)
Power Forward: Tyrone Hill, Sixers (points/rebounds) — Amare Stoudemire, Knicks (points/rebounds)
Small Forward: George Lynch, Sixers (athletic defender) — Iman Shumpert, Knicks (athletic defender)
Shooting Guard: Allen Iverson, Sixers (MVP candidate) — Carmelo Anthony, Knicks (MVP candidate)
Point Guard: Eric Snow, Sixers (smart veteran PG) — Jason Kidd, Knicks (smart veteran PG)
Sixth Man: Aaron McKie, Sixers (sharpshooter) — Steve Novak, Knicks (sharpshooter)
As you can see, the two teams are set up pretty similarly. The only difference is the Knicks have a much deeper bench than that Sixers team did. Felton, Smith, Pablo Prigioni and Kenyon Martin hold a lot of value if used correctly.
Much like the way the Sixers rode Iverson in the 2000-01 season, the Knicks should be riding Anthony in the current season. The team went to Iverson for scoring and in turn played unselfish basketball and defense around him. When Iverson saw how much effort his teammates put in for him it made him play even better.
This is how the Knicks should be using Anthony. He should have the ball go through him on every play. If he's struggling to produce offense, he should act like a distributor, much like Iverson did in the past and like Kobe Bryant did for the Lakers earlier in the season.
If the Knicks can place their focus on defense with the right starting lineup and rotations, give Amar'e Stoudemire more minutes and entrust Carmelo Anthony with the majority of the team's scoring then the team's chemistry is going to be very high the rest of the season.
The team has lost its focus over the past month, and it's Mike Woodson's job to find the right formula that works. Look no further then here coach.