Tyson Chandler looks back to form.
This would be a good time to start worrying about the New York Knicks—the initial grades are in and let’s just say no one got an “A.”
Here’s what we have to work with so far: A typical let-them-back-in win against the Milwaukee Bucks, a last-chance loss to the Chicago Bulls and a helpless defeat to the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Garden.
But individually, the Knicks aren’t playing that bad, and while no one is at the head of the class, most on this roster still get high marks.
This begs the question: What’s Mike Woodson’s grade? The Knicks collapsed in the third quarter against the Bucks, lost a lead to the Bulls and opened up against the T-Wolves with a 19-40 first quarter. The starting lineup is still not set.
This might be a good time to start worrying about the Knicks, except for a few things. It’s early. Key players are coming back from injury and suspension. New York is actually playing well—just not putting it all together. And they play the Charlotte Bobcats the next two games in a row.
In the meantime, let’s give Mike Woodson a C-, and the rest of the Knicks, these grades.
These four guys haven’t played yet.
J.R. Smith had knee surgery in mid-July and was looking at a three-to-four month recovery. He’s smack in the middle of that schedule, having made it into the Knicks’ final preseason game late in October.
Smith scored 11 points in 13 minutes on 60 percent shooting and was deemed ready for the season. Only thing is, he’s been suspended for violating the NBA’s anti-drug policy.
The Knicks will get their second-best scorer back on Sunday, when the San Antonio Spurs hit New York City.
Cole Aldrich made the team, but has been in Mike Woodson’s doghouse since the backup center’s soft preseason in which he recorded 4 points and 21 rebounds in 56 minutes. Woodson told the New York Post’s Marc Berman, “he’s got to be more rugged.”
Aldrich was benched for two of the last three exhibition games and hasn’t put a toe on the court in the Knicks’ three regular season games. Power forwards Andrea Bargnani, Kenyon Martin and Amar’e Stoudemire have all picked up the slack when Tyson Chandler has sat.
Toure’ Murry, the Knicks’ 6’5” fourth-string shooting guard, averaged 8.3 points and 2.8 assists for the D-League Champion Rio Grande Valley Vipers last year.
Murry had a strong preseason, scoring 16, 14 and 12 points in three straight games.
The Knicks have opted to go with Tim Hardaway, Jr behind Iman Shumpert in J.R. Smith’s absence, but it will be exciting to see Murry get out there at some point.
The Knicks are deep at the 2.
Like brother J.R., Chris Smith has yet to enter a regular season game. He logged 20 minutes in the preseason, scoring three points and dishing just two assists.
Third-string point guard Beno Udrih has been a complete non-factor, even when the Knicks went with two starting points against the Bucks—the only game in which he’s played.
In Udrih’s 11 minutes, he managed just two points on 25 percent shooting (1-for-4) and added two assists. The Knicks were outscored 12 points during his time on the floor.
This puts a hitch in any two-point guard schemes. Even considering the below-average (and aged) season put in by Jason Kidd last year, Udrih is showing to be a downgrade here.
It’s a bit merciless to give Amar’e Stoudemire an F, seeing that he’s recovering from yet another knee surgery and has only played 11 minutes in one game. At least he’s playing already—unlike last year—but Amar’e has never looked more spent.
According to ESPN’s Ian Begley, he will be even more limited going forward, in an effort at preservation: “The medical staff has advised coach Mike Woodson to limit Stoudemire [and Kenyon Martin] to 10 minutes per game.” And that’s when he plays.
After hoofing it against the Chicago Bulls on Thursday, Stoudemire still wasn’t rested enough to play on Sunday against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Will he surpass last season’s total of 29 games played? Not if he plays once every three games.
If this is the case, you wonder if perhaps this Bulls game should have been one of Stoudemire’s off nights—not so much because of his minor (five point) offensive contribution, but because he was a huge defensive liability in what turned out to be a one-point game.
Amar’e stood powerless and stuck as if in quicksand, watching the Bulls offense swarm around and through him.
On the other end, he added four personal fouls and three turnovers (in 11 minutes!).
Andrea Bargnani is coming off a poor preseason, so much so, that coach Woodson changed his starting lineup on the eve of the opening game.
It looked all along that Bargnani was going to start at power forward, pushing Carmelo Anthony back to the 3, but the seven-footer found himself on the bench for the opener.
He has a combined +/- of -31 in the three games, pitching in on the Knicks’ horrendous defensive performance.
Bargnani’s offense is falling short of what New York desperately needs, but his improvement each game, sparking some hope, staved off a D grade.
Andrea has upped his point totals in each of the three games from six to nine to 14. The Knicks need him to stay around that last number to consider his pickup a success. He’s shooting 50 percent from the floor, which helps and bodes well for him.
Bargnani has looked more energetic as the week wore on, too, finding enough spring in his step to muscle in some boards.
Tim Hardaway, Jr is looking like another nice NBA Draft surprise. He’s not on the same level as Iman Shumpert, but will clearly be a contributor from day one on.
He’s got no defense at all, something the Knicks are sorely missing right now, but has shown some offensive spark.
Other than Udrih, he’s the least efficient player on the floor (PER of 3.9), but how much can you expect from a rookie? The 21-year old has played as well as can be expected, holding the fort in J.R. Smith’s absence.
Against the Bulls, ESPN credited Hardaway with rallying the team to a lead: “New York trailed 76-66 with 7:53 remaining, but rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. made a 3-pointer to spark a 12-0 run for the Knicks.”
He still has some ways to go before earning a B, but that was a nice bright spot.
Aside from the last game, Raymond Felton has proven to be a wrench in the works of the Knicks’ game plan. He had 12 assists against the Timberwolves, but was more interested in scoring against the Bucks and Bulls.
Felton’s been his usual erratic on the floor—a fact that has led him to more steals, but also poor decision-making, shooting and ball control. He continues to express a lack of maturity that leads to out-of-control play.
The turnovers need to come down (2.7 a game). Better shots need to be taken—he’s 1-for-7 from three-point land.
What the Knicks have again is the same old career C+ Raymond Felton. He needs to play better and more like a true point guard—and assume his proper role as support member, not the offensive star of the team, with a little grace.
Metta World Peace has been a passive contributor off the bench these opening games. The Knicks need more from him on both sides of the floor, but more so on offense.
He wasn’t exactly picking his shots well the first two games (5-for-15), but he boosted his accuracy to 42 percent with a sizzling 7-for-13 against Minnesota. He’s 4-for-9 from downtown. Not shabby there, either.
World Peace has played some fair defense, too—above his career averages per 36 minutes for rebounds, steals and blocks—which jacked up his grade a notch.
Something’s missing though. Fire in the belly? He might improve his grade by flashing a little (just a little) of the old emotion along with a trickle more points. The Knicks need both of those in this intense Eastern Conference.
There’s not much to say on Kenyon Martin other than that he’s doing exactly what the Knicks brought him back to do: add his energy to the mix, be a capable, big fill-in off the bench, contribute on the boards and exploit the occasional scoring opportunity.
Martin’s only played 25 minutes, but it’s been smart ball—high-probability shots, no turnovers and well-positioned defense. If only he could play more, but Kenyon, too, is going to be limited to select games with restricted minutes on top of that.
Then again, there was this against the Timberwolves, as recapped by the AP for ESPN:
When they weren't getting ahead of the Knicks' defense for fast-break layups, they were getting to the line, such as when Love had a four-point possession after Kenyon Martin fouled him on a 3-pointer, then gave an extra shove for a technical foul.
He almost got a B.
Tyson Chandler is the most efficient regular Knick at 21.5 PER. He disappeared against the T-Wolves but showed his old defensive flash in the previous two games, netting a +/- of +26 on 17 points, 25 rebounds and nine blocks. Very solid.
It looks like Chandler’s neck injury, stomach ailment and whatever else caused his downfall through last year’s end run and postseason are things of the past.
All that’s left to do is get his average scoring (9.0 points per game) into double digits. We’ve yet to see if Chandler has upped his offensive game as promised.
ESPN’s Ian Begley tweeted this from the Knicks’ Media Day: “Chandler said he's worked on his mid-range jumper & jump hook extensively this summer. ‘I definitely want to get involved,’ he said.”
He’s started off on the right offensive foot. Now it’s a question of consistency.
Carmelo Anthony’s play thus far has been subpar on the offensive end, but he is playing his heart out—and you can see it off the glass and all over the court—perhaps earning a B+.
But that last shot against the Chicago Bulls—with plenty of time and plenty of room—should have gone in. The Knicks should have won that game on that shot. This is what Anthony has to do.
He's scoring in double-digits as usual, averaging 21 points per game and has two double-doubles already, including a 22-point, 17-rebound outing against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He’s pulling down 11 boards a night, way above his career average.
He leads the Knicks in points, steals, three-pointers and is just one board behind Tyson Chandler.
But his accuracy is a weak 37.7 percent from the field and an atrocious 26.7 percent from long distance. No one around here wants to hear about bad shooting after the 2012-13 postseason.
Anthony's defense continues to improve and is at least on his radar—now an important facet of his game, thanks no doubt to Woodson's constant reinforcement—but he's not there yet and his turnovers have contributed to opponent points and runs in all three games.
Anthony is the best guy on the team. If that were the baseline of comparison, he’d get an A. But we need to compare Anthony to himself and the rest of the superstar leaders on contending teams.
Anthony’s playing below himself, and them, right now.
Pablo Prigioni is getting the time to show what he can do, finally. He started game one against the Bucks, in that now-familiar, successful (16-2) dual-PG set with Raymond Felton because Anthony played power forward.
Guess what, the Knicks won.
But with Bargnani’s insertion into the starting lineup for the next two contests, Prigioni is once again coming off the bench. The Knicks lost both of those games, but don’t blame Pablo. He’s averaging over six more minutes of playing time—and maximizing it.
Across the board, Prigioni’s numbers are up and he’s been the team’s most accurate shooter (forgiving the small sample): 50 percent from three-point range, 75 percent beneath the arc and 63 percent overall.
He's the anti-Felton, working ball-control and conservative play above all.
Iman Shumpert continues to grow and impress and may be the Knicks’ “only hope,” in 2013-14 says ESPN’s Ian O’Connor—and he's playing like it.
One of two things has to happen for the Knicks to be worthy of sharing the postseason stage with the Miami Heat…Steve Mills, new president and GM, has to acquire a legitimate second star or Iman Shumpert has to become that legitimate second star, much sooner rather than later.
He’s not exactly there yet, but Shumpert is off and running with the best offensive start of his short career—almost 12 points a game on 44 percent shooting. He’s 50-50 beneath the arc, flexing both mid-rangers and penetration.
Shumpert’s frenetic defense remains a given, even if it has gotten off to a relatively slower start, but his positioning and play off the glass are definitely improved.
And he’s doing all the little things—how about that 7-for-7 from the stripe.
Looks like J.R. is going to be coming off the bench again, and probably for the rest of his contract.