Carmelo Anthony and Mike Woodson, you're on your own.
Tyson Chandler went down in the first quarter of the New York Knicks' loss to the Charlotte Bobcats, and while initial X-rays proved inconclusive, further tests revealed he suffered a small fracture of his right fibula. Though surgery is not required, Chandler is expected to miss four to six weeks.
As Grantland's Zach Lowe points out, that means Chandler could be sidelined for up to 25 games, which is beyond problematic.
Chandler sat out 16 games last season, during which time the Knicks were 12-4. But that was 2012-13, when the Knicks were running the third-most efficient offense in the NBA. This year, their offense ranks 23rd so far.
New York has relied on its defense to keep it competitive, ultimately coming up short most of the time anyway. Chandler, a former Defensive Player of the Year, is the Knicks' linchpin in the middle. Without him, they have no competent bigs to plug in.
Amar'e Stoudemire? He's forever on a minutes cap and currently playing only every other game. Kenyon Martin? Same thing. Cole Aldrich, a former lottery pick, made the roster for his size and his size alone. In three years, he's never averaged more than 8.6 minutes per game.
After them, there's Andrea Bargnani, the once volume-scoring 7-footer who can neither rebound nor defend. Inevitable sizing issues will force him to man the middle more than the Knicks would prefer, and it's not going to be pretty. Replacing someone like Chandler never is, because, like Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley astutely observes, it's impossible.
There is no longer an active defensive mainstay available to the Knicks. After Chandler, they have no one. So these next six weeks, it's on Anthony and Coach Woodson, and them alone.
Defense is no longer going to win them games. Not with Chandler out. And the impact of Metta World Peace and Iman Shumpert will be mitigated by a need to play the defensively challenged Bargnani and Stoudemire (health permitting) more.
From here on, it's on the offense. On 'Melo. On Woodson. The Knicks have to score enough to replace the points they'll be giving up without Chandler.
With him in the game, they were allowing an average of 92.2 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com (subscription required). That's the current equivalent of the second-best mark in the league. Forget about that, though. It's over. He's gone. Soldier on. Push through.
Without him, they're forking over 105.6 points per 100 possessions, or the 20th-best mark in the league. That's the reality Anthony, Woodson and the Knicks are facing. They're officially a bad defensive team, a harrowing notion they'll have to accept.
Soldier on. Push through. Score.
Only, scoring hasn't come easily for the Knicks or the 2012-13 scoring champion. Not only do they rank 23rd in offensive efficiency, 'Melo is shooting a paltry 37.1 percent from the floor. Collectively, the Knicks are converting 43.3 percent of their shots (18th). Those three-point onrushes of last season? They're gone, too. New York is hitting a mere 29.9 percent of its bombs (22nd).
This, from a team that was so dependable on offense last year. That made and attempted the most three-pointers in NBA history. That was built to score and, to an extent, even win in the absence of Chandler.
All of that—gone. Ancient history.
"I believe we’ll get out of this," said Anthony after the Knicks fell to the Bobcats, per ESPN New York's Ian Begley. "We’ve got to remain positive. It’s easy to go into a dark place right now. It’s easy to listen to all that negativity that’s going to be coming our way, but we’ve got to stay together as a unit, as a team, remain positive and get through this."
The only way the Knicks get through this is if 'Melo scores like he did last season (28.7 points per game), shoots like he did last season (career-best 37.9 percent from deep) and has the profound impact he had last season.
When he was on the floor in 2012-13, the Knicks' offensive rating stood at a towering 110.5. 'Melo himself was at 112, a personal best. Early on, the Knicks are scoring just 98.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, making them a run-of-the-mill offense even with him in the game. That needs to change.
As does Coach Woody's emphasis on going big. There is no more going big. New York doesn't have the manpower.
"I've got a lot to think about right now," Woodson said when asked about removing the minutes and every-other-night caps on STAT and K-Mart in Chandler's absence, via Begley.
There certainly is a lot to think about, but there isn't a lot of time. Abandoning the current idea that the Knicks must start two bigs—Bargnani and, without Chandler, a Martin, STAT or, God help us, Aldrich—is vital to the team's survival these next few weeks.
Dual point guard lineups went 38-14 for the Knicks last year. Playing power forward allowed 'Melo to have the best season of his career. The Knicks won 54 games playing small. Sans Chandler, they're smaller than ever, and it's time to embrace it.
Woodson's big lineup is already 0-3 on the season. A combination of Raymond Felton, Shumpert, Anthony, Bargs and Chandler is also being outscored by an average of 29.4 points per 100 possessions on the season, according to NBA.com.
Realize this, Coach Woody. See that it wasn't working with Chandler and that it sure as hell won't work without him. Then do something about it. Go back to being small, to spacing the floor. Play to your inherent strengths. Soldier on.
Then, ask 'Melo to do the rest.
The outcome of this season is going to determine his future with the Knicks, and how well the team copes in Chandler's absence will largely define this season. You do the math.
"For myself, maybe I'm second-guessing myself as well," 'Melo admitted before the Knicks lost to the Bobcats, via ESPN New York's Ohm Youngmisuk.
For now, the Knicks are still his team, and they cannot afford for him to second-guess himself. There is no looking ahead to 2014. Or 2015. There is no Tyson Chandler coming to the rescue.
There is only Anthony and Woodson, toting the weight of an entire team, season and city on their own.
*All stats used in this article were retrieved from NBA.com unless otherwise attributed and are accurate as of November 6, 2013.
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