Are the New York Knicks Suffering Growing Pains or Showing Their True Colors?
Now that New York has dropped six of their last 10 contests and generally looked less than dominant, the question has shifted to whether or not the Knicks are showing their true colors midway through the season.
After a disheartening 99-93 home loss to the Miami Heat, the voices of concern are only growing louder. Behind brilliant first half play from Carmelo Anthony and Jason Kidd, New York held a 14-point lead going into halftime against the defending champions, but managed only 34 points in the second half.
The team shot just eight-for-29 on threes, highlighted by a three-for-14 performance from J.R. Smith from beyond the arc. Miami locked down on the perimeter, and the Knicks simply could not muster enough inside scoring. Add to that an untimely turnover from Raymond Felton, and you have the making of a fourth quarter comeback that left the Madison Square Garden crowd shaking their collective head.
New York ranks sixth in the league in three-point percentage at 37.1, while attempting an NBA-high 29.1 shots from deep per game, a number only the Houston Rockets come close to. Early in the season, New York was moving the ball brilliantly and their open shots were falling, but that has not been happening as much as of late.
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The ball movement is still decent, but not as crisp as it was in November and December. Back then, the extra pass was always being thrown and players were finding themselves completely open.
Although New York's rank of 20th in the league in assists per game at 19.5 is somewhat misleading, they have gotten away from the unselfish passing that made their offense so hard to slow down.
This is not a team of Sacramento Kings-ian ball hogs, but it is a team that can be rushed into bad shots by an aggressive defense.
The Knicks have interior scorers in Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler who can score off the pick-and-roll and, in STAT's case, through catching the ball in the post, but the team is often content to just jack up outside shots.
Entirely too often, New York will snag an offensive rebound, only to quickly launch a three without trying to create a higher-percentage look. The team also loves to shoot the long-ball on the fast break which works sometimes, but certainly not always.
In the postseason, teams will be locking down even harder on the outside, meaning that those open perimeter looks will be harder to come by.
That doesn't suit New York's offense, which is tied for 18th in the league in free throw attempts per game at 21.7.
Injuries have also been a serious issue for New York. Stoudemire is back after missing a good deal of time early in the year following knee surgery, but he is on a limit of 30-minutes per game.
Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace were both expected to be not only presences in the locker room, but contributors on the court as well. Wallace was solid early, but he and Camby have been sidelined for the majority of the year.
Kenyon Martin was signed to provide some muscle off the bench, but he has not played basketball since the 2012 playoffs and will need to take time to work his way back into shape.
Obviously rotations shorten as the playoffs approach, but still, front court depth was once a huge asset for New York.
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In the backcourt, Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith have largely played well, but Iman Shumpert has been a disappointment since returning from an ACL Tear.
Working himself back into game shape, Shumpert is playing just 19.4 minutes per game and posting 4.6 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists on 29.9 percent shooting from the field. His defense has looked worse than his rookie year and he has been absolutely lost on the offensive end of the floor.
His numbers should improve as he continues to work his way back into shape and into the rotation, but New York needs him to be able to lock down on the perimeter like he could in 2011-12.
As for Smith and Felton, both have had some brilliant moments, but are shooting poorly overall from the field and have made their share of bad decisions this season.
Jason Kidd had a strong performance against Miami, posting 14 points, eight rebounds and six dimes, but he has struggled with a cumbersome back injury and has fallen off considerably since his strong start, when he played a good deal of 2-guard alongside Felton.
This team is incredibly tough to beat when Kidd is playing well, but lately he has been an afterthought. However, in true Jason Kidd form, he should find his way in time for the postseason as long as Mike Woodson can try to limit his minutes.
Defensively, New York ranks 10th in points allowed at 96.3, something that has been a strong suit of the team all season. They play good half court defense and have an anchor in Tyson Chandler who makes all of his teammates better on the defensive end of the floor.
That being said, they have recently found themselves relying too heavily on switches, which are creating difficult matchups that opposing offenses are taking advantage of. There is nothing wrong with switching if the matchups are advantageous, but New York does it even when that isn't the case.
The team has also had trouble rebounding the basketball despite having players in Chandler, Stoudemire and Anthony who should be controlling the glass. Because the team spends a good deal of time playing small with 'Melo at the four they leave themselves susceptible and rank just 21st in the NBA in rebounding with 41.3 per contest.
Make no mistake, New York is a very good basketball team. Carmelo Anthony, posting 28.6 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game, is playing the best basketball of his career, and when this team is hitting from outside they are unstoppable offensively.
Is the Knicks' recent rough stretch proof of who the team really is?
However, they are not aggressive enough offensively, settling for too many difficult shots. That has been a huge reason for their drop to third in the Eastern Conference standings after vacillating between the top slot and second place for much of the campaign.
A brutal month of March, featuring a Western Conference road trip that pits them against Oklahoma City, Utah, Golden State, Denver, Portland and the Los Angeles Clippers in a 10-day span, will be the best possible barometer for what direction this squad is heading.
For now though, it appears that what New York has shown following their unexpected early season success may be what the Knicks actually are: a team good enough to win a playoff series or two, but not a championship.
There is always the possibility that the threes start going down at a higher clip once more, or that the defense finds the fire it had early in the season, but it seems that these are the true colors of the 2012-13 New York Knicks.
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