Hidden Keys to NY Knicks Sustaining Regular-Season Success into 2013 Playoffs
Looking at their roster, the Knicks have the talent to make a deep run on paper. But with the added intensity, it may not be so easy in practice.
To make some noise in the East, New York will need to rely on Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler. Beyond them, however, the team needs to do some less obvious things, which can make a big difference down the stretch.
Let's go through the top-five hidden keys for playoff success for New York.
Improving on Defense
After going into the season aiming to be one of the best defensive teams in the league, the Knicks ended up as a slightly above-average team defensively.
They weren't bad by any means, but they'll have to be a lot better in the playoffs. The perimeter needs to be tightened up, and the switching on pick-and-rolls needs to be more selective.
In Game 1 against the Boston Celtics, New York did exactly that. The Knicks held the Celtics to just 25 points in the second half—the lowest total in a half in Celtics playoff history.
Sustaining that level of defensive intensity throughout the playoffs will be essential, especially on nights when the offense isn't up to scratch.
It will take an effort from the entire team, but if Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin stay healthy, their defensive focus should rub off on everyone else.
J.R. Smith Attacking the Basket
Carmelo Anthony is an elite scorer, but to be successful in the playoffs, the Knicks will need a reliable second scoring option.
After averaging the most points off the bench (18.1) in the NBA in years, J.R. Smith has the talent to be that scorer. He can shoot with the best of them and has the athleticism to do some serious damage.
With that said, Smith isn't going to be successful if he relies only on his jump shot. Defenses aren't going to give him good looks in the postseason, but he absolutely cannot settle for bad shots.
To be fair to Smith, he has improved his shot selection this season. Coach Mike Woodson has done a great job of preaching better shot selection, hammering home that Smith must attack the basket.
Over the last 15 games of the season when the Knicks went 14-1, Smith shot more than six free throws per game, which was much higher than his season average of four. As a result, he shot much more efficiently, giving the Knicks offense the reliable second option it needed.
The key to Smith's playoff success is simple: He needs to continue attacking the rim and letting his athleticism flourish.
Unselfish Offensive Play
At times during this season, New York's offense has been unstoppable. The Knicks have the personnel to shoot at a high percentage, and when it all comes together, the offense can be a nightmare for opposing defenses.
When the Knicks have been most successful, however, the main reason has been ball movement. They need to play unselfishly to find good shots, and the same recipe applies in the playoffs.
Raymond Felton will need to penetrate and dish, Carmelo Anthony will need to kick out of double-teams and shooters will have to make the extra pass on the perimeter. When those things happen, the Knicks will find high-percentage shots.
During his 36-point performance in Game 1 against the Celtics, Melo looked like he was moving away from that formula. On multiple occasions, he chose shooting over passing, which we haven't seen much from him this year.
When it came down to the wire, however, Melo once again trusted his teammates. He found Kenyon Martin rolling to the basket after a double-team, getting his first assist on the most important possession of the game.
You can excuse Anthony for wanting to play hero in the biggest game of his Knicks career so far, but over the course of the playoffs, it has to be a team effort on offense.
The Emergence of Chris Copeland
If one thing makes the playoffs different than the regular season, it's the opposing defense.
Double-teams are more effective, shots are better contested and it's much harder to establish position in the post.
The Knicks have the personnel to be effective despite stouter playoff defenses, but they can't just rely on their main guys. Other players will have to step up to spread the floor and stop defenders from keying in on Carmelo Anthony.
That's where Chris Copeland comes in.
The 29-year-old rookie proved to be a capable scorer in the regular season, with a nice post game and a sweet outside stroke.
He gives New York an extra punch outside of Melo and J.R. Smith and will need that to continue in the playoffs.
Copeland started in Game 1 against Boston but scored zero points in just 12 minutes of action. It's not a surprise that the team only scored 85 points in the game.
The Knicks can't ask for too much from Copeland, but when he does well, he can be the X-factor offensively. Having another talented player makes it a lot easier for the offense to break down playoff defenses.
Injuries have been a huge issue for the Knicks all season, but they go into the playoffs as healthy as they've been all year.
Everyone except Amar'e Stoudemire and Pablo Prigioni is ready to play, which makes New York one of the deepest teams in the Eastern Conference.
However, with so many old, injury-prone bodies, it's not out of the question for health to emerge as an issue in the playoffs.
The frontcourt in particular is fragile, with Tyson Chandler, Kenyon Martin and Marcus Camby all suffering injuries over the last month.
Unfortunately, the Knicks can't do much about this problem. They'll just need to hope for the best and not overuse any of their bigs.
It's a tough situation, but if New York can stay healthy, it has the potential to make some serious noise in the East. If not, it's going to be an uphill struggle.