Biggest Adjustments NY Knicks Must Make to Transform into Title Contender
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
What adjustments do the New York Knicks need to make to transform their 2013-14 roster from a group of postseason early-outs into true title contenders?
The acquisition of a wish-list superstar would instantly do the trick, but the key word there is “wish,” as in: not going to happen.
It’s all got to come from within—and with the help of a handful of sub-$2 million free agents.
J.R. Smith, whether off the bench or in the starting lineup, needs to be more consistent and selective. Can he get up to 20 PPG and blossom into that real second superstar or at least an ever-reliable second option?
Amar’e Stoudemire needs to remain healthy and contribute all season.
Tyson Chandler just needs to do what he’s done the past two years, but this time into the postseason.
Raymond Felton—who is “prone to episodes of streak shooting and questionable decisions,” per Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated—has to tone it down some.
That said, Felton should get the ball more, taking away a small percentage of Anthony’s isolation minutes. This will keep Melo as the main man, but also get everyone else more involved.
Those are the basics.
Let’s dig a little deeper.
Mike Woodson Season, Series and In-Game Adjustments
It starts at the top.
Head coach Mike Woodson has been the team’s best since Jeff Van Gundy, but there is room for improvement, especially in the postseason where he has consistently failed to push his Atlanta Hawks and Knicks teams to their fullest potentials.
The Knicks were beat handily (4-1) by the Miami Heat in Round 1 of the 2012 playoffs, barely eking out a lone 89-87 win. In 2013, they fell short in the semis, when the Eastern Finals were their outright destiny.
Back in Atlanta, Woodson coached the Hawks to improved regular-season records six years in a row and three postseason appearances. You can forgive the 2008 first-round exit against the Boston Celtics, but the two subsequent semifinals sweeps were inexcusable.
This season, Woodson was slow to make the in-series and in-game changes necessary to get a handle on the Indiana Pacers in Round 2.
Why didn’t Chris Copeland get more playing time? Why did Marcus Camby not play when clearly Tyson Chandler was not up to par?
Pablo Prigioni went underutilized, as well. Down 2-1, Woodson opted to “ditch the starting lineup that carried the Knicks through early spring to go big [in Game 4] by replacing Pablo Prigioni with Kenyon Martin,” as Newsday’s Neil Best noted.
Finally, an adjustment, but it backfired. They should have stayed small. The Pacers were better big-on-big.
Woodson needed to get the ball out of Jason Kidd’s and J.R Smith’s hands on several occasions.
How about settling on shooting guard for Iman Shumpert, where he’s best, once and for all?
Ben Kopelman over at The Knicks Blog blamed the first two losses against Indiana on the coach:
Woodson’s failure to adapt his game plan to keep working what worked and abandon what did not are as big of a reason that we lost Games 1 and 3 as any missed shots by Melo and JR.
Bleacher Report’s Ciaran Gowan had premonitions of this during the regular season:
The Knicks are switching on defense way too often, leading to huge mismatches that almost always end up in an opposition buckets; the perimeter defense still isn't up to scratch outside of Shumpert; and rotations have been a big issue.
If the Knicks are going to join the champions of the past two decades, Mike Woodson is going to have to make adjustments and up his game to somewhere amongst these guys’: Erik Spoelstra, Rick Carlisle, Phil Jackson, Doc Rivers, Gregg Popovich, Pat Riley, Larry Brown and Rudy Tomjanovich.
It’s possible, but Woodson’s not there yet. Some on-the-fly adjustments will help make a case—and help the Knicks contend.
That is all not to say Mike Woodson hasn’t done a great job (72-34, .679) nor hasn’t made any successful adjustments—Melo at the No. 4, two-PG lineups, getting everyone to play defense, managing injuries all season long—but as the coach, there is one other place Woody has fallen short: fostering a championship mindset.
The New York Knicks have two attitude problems, one passive and one aggressive, and both will cripple their chances at a title if not reined in.
Back during that disastrous second-half road-trip, J.R. Smith told Newsday’s Al Iannazzone, "We got to check out our heart. We either got to compete or pack up and go home. It's just that simple."
After being bounced by the Indiana Pacers, Carmelo Anthony had this to say to Steve Serby of the New York Post: “We kinda teased the city of New York a little bit, because now everybody expects us to play at this level, this high level.”
Sorry, the city of New York has waited 40 years for an NBA championship. The city of New York expects the Knicks to play at something higher than an Eastern Conference semifinals level.
He’s right. The Knicks are too complacent, satisfied with their performance. They need a little more “heart.”
On the other hand, they’re aggressive at all the wrong times (and in the wrong places if you count outside the Boston Celtics’ bus).
On the court, losing composure equals worse—losing games.
There is arguing with refs while play continues, and there are technical fouls, ejections and the resulting suspensions.
Anthony (14), J.R. Smith (13) and Tyson Chandler (10) were amongst the league leaders in technical fouls. The first Miami Heat on the list is LeBron James (six) in 41st.
They say defense wins championships. So does heart and composure. Can’t win one without those three.
Make Defensive Adjustments
Speaking of defense, David Vertsberger at knickerblogger.net put together an in-depth examination of the “Knicks’ defensive downfall,” in 2012-13.
The 2012 versions of Iman Shumpert and Tyson Chandler were miles above their levels of play this season. In Shumpert’s case, it was a combination of injury and rust; while Tyson Chandler’s backslide from defensive anchor to passable rim protector came seemingly out of the blue.
The Knicks went from fifth in defensive rating in 2011-12 to a bottom-half 17th in 2012-13 (giving up 103.5 points per 100 possessions).
The Knicks were OK on defense last year—not dominating by any means. The Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers—all serious Eastern rivals and contenders—gave up fewer PPG. All but the Heat are guaranteed to improve on that side of the court in 2013-14.
One thing that will help the Knicks is a full season out of the quickly maturing Shumpert. He was coming on in the end, looking mostly recovered from his torn ACL.
Hopefully, Chandler’s neck will be 100 percent after the layoff. He faded once that injury hit.
The addition of Elton Brand, Lamar Odom or another big man will be a defensive boost on the inside (we’re not counting on Andrea Bargnani here).
With those items shored up, the Knicks need to turn their attention to a defensive Achilles’ heel: opposing point guards.
Matt Shelter of Bucketsoverbroadway.com unveiled how bad it was through March:
Just look at what opposing point guards have done to the Knicks this season:
PPG: 22.1 points per game (29th in NBA)
APG: 7.8 assists per game (fourth)
RPG: 4.9 rebounds per game (22nd)
FG%: 46.9 percent from the floor (last)
3-PT%: 39.5 percent from behind the arc (29th)
PER: 22.8 (2nd)
That alone illustrates that opposing point guards are feasting on the Knicks. The only good sign there is that they are only dishing out 7.8 assists per game, but that number is low because they are scoring at will.
Starting Iman Shumpert at shooting guard (or at least 28-30 minutes) has to be the play here against those and other scoring point guards.
Look for Pablo Prigioni to get the bulk of starts alongside Raymond Felton in Woodson’s effective dual-PG sets. The Knicks were 16-2 when those two were the starting backcourt.
Defense had a lot to do with it, per ESPN’s Ian Begley: "Prigioni brings a lot on the defensive end of the floor. The end-to-end pressure he puts on opposing guards can disrupt and delay an opponent's offense."
That does leave J.R. Smith the sixth man again, if New York wants to be a title contender. Smith brings defense to the second line along with his offense.
Glass Adjustments: Rebounding, Rebounding
The New York Knicks are a terrible rebounding team, 25th in the league.
They were bounced by the best rebounding team in the league, the Indiana Pacers.
The Pacers surprisingly gave the Miami Heat a seven-game challenge—or is that not so shocking? The Heat are the worst rebounding team of all.
Against the 10 worst rebounding teams in the league, New York went 22-9. That includes the San Antonio Spurs (swept 2-0) and the Atlanta Hawks (swept 3-0), along with the Heat (3-1) and Boston Celtics (3-1, 7-3 including playoffs).
Against the 10 best rebounding teams, the Knicks were 14-15. Here we have the Chicago Bulls (swept 0-4), Houston Rockets (swept 0-2), Brooklyn Nets (2-2) and the Pacers (2-2, 4-6 including playoffs).
Rebounds matter. Ten of the top 11 rebounding teams made the postseason.
Tyson Chandler should continue to get his 10 rebounds a game.
Carmelo Anthony can up his contribution to eight or nine a game (from seven) if he forgoes some isolation play in favor of the backcourt handling the ball for more minutes, freeing him up for an additional offensive board or two.
He’s working with Hakeem Olajuwon on his defensive post game, too. That will improve his positioning.
Finally, J.R. Smith is good for another five to six rebounds per game.
The Knicks, though, need a rebounding specialist, and that is not where Andrea Bargnani comes in. Bargnani, when healthy enough to play, is a cinch for double-digit scoring, but not too many rebounds (expect three to four a stint).
Amar’e Stoudemire can’t be counted on here, either, with those shabby knees. Woodson will push Stoudemire to the outside this season, rather than have him crashing around on the inside.
In other words, the Knicks’ offseason will be considered a failure—and their attempt to become a title contender will take a big hit—if New York doesn’t bring in someone else to work the glass defensively and get those second-chance opportunities on the offensive end (especially important on a team whose primary scorers weather frequent shooting slumps).
Elton Brand is a good reach. He averaged over 10 rebounds per 36 minutes off the Dallas Mavericks’ bench in 2012-13 and is a lifetime nine RPG. He led the league in offensive rebounds twice.
Lamar Odom works here, too.
One way or another, New York will pick up a rebounder sometime this offseason.
Big-Man Offensive Adjustments
One of the “biggest” adjustments the New York Knicks will make in 2013-14 will be the increased offensive contributions from its big men.
With J.R. Smith capable of going AWOL on any given night, New York has to develop a backup scoring plan behind Carmelo Anthony.
When Smith is on, the Knicks can still find another 30-35 points from the power forward (not Anthony) and center positions.
Back in 2010-11, the second scoring option was supposed to be Amar’e Stoudemire. It never worked out thanks to injuries and a failure to mesh him and Anthony.
Mike Woodson has to push Stoudemire further outside in 2013-14 and make him primarily a perimeter scorer—even beyond the arc. This will space out the floor, spread out opposing defenses, keep Stoudemire healthy and give room for Anthony, Tyson Chandler and a penetrating Raymond Felton to comfortably control the inside.
The numbers support Stoudemire converting exclusively to a perimeter force, even from three. In his last full season (2010-11), Amar’e was an increasing 44 percent from 15-19 feet, 47 percent from 16-20 feet and 55 percent from 20-24 feet. The three-point line is just nine inches beyond that.
Big-man point production was also the whole point of the trade for Andrea Bargnani. He is no rebounder or defender, but Bargnani could score if he stays on the court. Marcus Camby could do neither.
Bargnani was peaking just a few years ago before injuries wrecked his career path. In 2010-11, he averaged over 20 PPG. And his range extends beyond the arc, as Frank Isola NY Daily News shows:
In a league where 3-point shooting is at a premium, Bargnani is a big with three-point range. He fits perfectly with the Knicks, who are looking for players to complement Carmelo Anthony. Bargnani’s presence means more space on the floor for Anthony to operate. [via ]
It’s hard to see Tyson Chandler ever improving on the old putback. You can’t expect more than 10 points a game out of him—and that’s a recent career development, so just be glad.
In the meantime, you can be sure that the Knicks will sign a rebounding big man to the veteran’s minimum this offseason.