Warning Signs NY Knicks Are Destined for Playoff Disappointment Again
With a 38-22 record and home-court advantage likely ahead in the playoffs, the 2012-13 campaign has easily been the New York Knicks' most successful in the last decade.
However, their strong regular-season play does not guarantee that New York will finally have the postseason success that has eluded the franchise since the Patrick Ewing era.
This Knicks team is far from perfect; they have several glaring issues that have hurt them during the regular season and should only be amplified come April and May basketball.
For everything that Carmelo Anthony has done in his MVP-level campaign, this is still a team that relies too much on perimeter shots and does not rebound particularly well, among other problems.
Although it is not too late for New York to fix their most glaring problems, here are some warning signs that the Knicks and the Madison Square Garden faithful could be in for yet another disappointing playoff run.
Statistics accurate as of March 10th, 2013.
Amar'e Stoudemire's Injury Trouble
Poor Amar'e Stoudemire. Right as he was rounding into shape and proving to be a lethal sixth man for New York, his troublesome knees failed him once again.
Now, per ESPN New York's Ian Begley, Stoudemire will miss six weeks after surgery to clean debris out of his knees, which needed surgery in the preseason as well.
After a very slow start to his 2012-13 season, STAT was beginning to find his form as a scorer, averaging 14.2 points, five rebounds and 0.7 blocks per game while shooting a blistering 57.7 percent from the floor.
Relying less on outside shots and more on his refined post game, Stoudemire gave New York an inside presence off the bench that they desperately lacked. On a team reliant almost exclusively on perimeter scoring Stoudemire's ability to score in the paint was vital.
If the six week timeline holds, Stoudemire should be back in time for the playoffs, but he will be coming back in questionable shape after a month-and-a-half off the court.
Having Stoudemire come off the bench gave the Knicks a player who mitigated J.R. Smith's erratic shooting with his high-percentage attempts around the rim.
Though he is not going to be scoring 25 points per game, having a healthy Stoudemire who is capable of pouring in 15 efficient points is something New York needs in the postseason.
Coming off yet another cumbersome surgery, STAT simply may not be able to provide that.
Reliance on Outside Shooting
Part of the reason for New York's struggles following their torrid start to the season is that the outside shots that were falling in November and December are not falling as much in February and March.
New York leads the league in three-point attempts at 29.3, with only the Houston Rockets coming even remotely close. The No. 3 team, the L.A. Lakers, attempt nearly five fewer shots from beyond the arc.
By contrast, New York shoots just 24 shots at the rim per game, which puts them at 20th in the NBA. They have plenty of players capable of attacking the paint but too often are reliant on firing from outside.
When New York is hitting its three-pointers, they are a very difficult team to beat. But teams are more locked in defensively in the playoffs and the outside shot will be something defenses look to take away.
Tyson Chandler can score off the pick-and-roll, but he is not much of a post-up threat and his offense usually has to be created by a guard. Stoudemire will be the main inside presence, but he will be coming off of an extend absence and entering right into postseason play.
J.R. Smith, Raymond Felton and Carmelo Anthony all have the ability to score inside, but have shown a troubling reliance all season on tough perimeter shots in the face of tight defense.
The Knicks create plenty of good looks from outside, but they also take more than their share of questionable shots and at times have trouble getting to the foul line.
Record Against East's Playoff Teams
In order to make the Eastern Conference Finals, New York is going to have to beat either the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics or Brooklyn Nets, and what will be awaiting them afterwards will likely be the Miami Heat.
Against the Pacers, the Knicks hold a 1-2 record. They trail the Bulls 0-3 and are tied with Boston 1-1 and Brooklyn 2-2. The only likely playoff teams they own a winning record over are the Miami Heat at 2-1 and the Atlanta Hawks at 1-0, but that comes with the caveat that Miami beat them in their last meeting and is playing the best basketball of its season.
In case you don't feel like doing the math, the Knicks boast a 7-9 record against the other teams currently in the Eastern Conference playoffs, not including their 2-0 record against the Milwaukee Bucks, a team they likely won't face in the postseason.
If the current standings hold, New York will face the Hawks in the first round, a team that they should be able to beat even with a talented young core of Al Horford, Josh Smith and Jeff Teague.
However, it is entirely possible they will draw Boston, a team that plays brutal defense and has the kind of veteran leadership that means they are always playing their best basketball in the postseason.
The length and athleticism of Indiana has bothered New York in their previous meetings. Chicago's stingy team defense and the potential return of Derrick Rose would make them a tough out in the postseason.
Had New York posted a brilliant record against the other strong teams in their conference the might have more hope, but their mediocre play may signal an upcoming postseason disappointment.
Iman Shumpert's Poor Play
No one expected Iman Shumpert to return from an ACL tear and instantly be the player he was during the 2011-12 campaign, but through 23 games the former Georgia Tech standout has struggled more than anyone could have anticipated.
Shumpert's averages of five points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.3 assists are bad enough, but when his 30.9 shooting percentage from the floor is factored in it is clear just how poorly Shump has played on the offensive end.
His 34.5 percent clip from three-point range is a nice boost, but he is struggling to finish around the hoop and having trouble creating his own offense consistently.
Since his return in late January, Shumpert has scored in double figures just twice and only played 20.1 minutes per game. The fact that he has not scored well could be forgiven though, if Shumpert was playing the kind of defense he did during his rookie year.
Unfortunately, he has simply looked a step slow. He is not as quick laterally and is being beaten off the dribble more regularly. He is not moving around the court as fluidly or pressuring the ball as well.
To put it simply, Shumpert does not resemble the athlete that he was in 2011-12, and he has admitted to struggling with his return from the injury.
This is not to say that he is going to look this poor for his whole career, but that it may take longer than a month or two before he is back to tip-top shape.
Shumpert is easily New York's best perimeter defender and a reliable ball handler for the Knicks, but with him looking like a shadow of his former self, New York will have some serious difficulty locking down opposing scorers.
Difficulties on the Glass
Not being a great rebounding team won't necessarily kill a club during the regular season, but it is the kind of problem that can be amplified significantly in the playoffs.
Despite having big men in Chandler, Anthony and Stoudemire who are all capable of putting up big rebounding numbers, New York is a mere 22nd in the league in rebounds per game at 41.3 per contest.
Because New York plays a good deal of possessions with Anthony at power forward in a small ball lineup, they are extremely vulnerable on the inside. Anthony is capable of taking advantage of quickness matchups on the offensive end, but he has difficulty keeping opposing bigs off the boards.
Beyond Chandler, there is no one on this team who puts in the kind of effort on the glass necessary to win postseason games against teams with true interior size and muscle.
When the pace of games slows down it is incredibly important to finish a defensive possession with a rebound and not give opponents another chance to score. All season long, New York has been susceptible on the offensive boards and that has cost them several games during the regular season.
The addition of Kenyon Martin should help here somewhat, but with STAT, Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace battling nagging injuries, this could be a problem that costs the Knicks big in the postseason.