With Tyson Chandler sidlined, the Knicks have their work cut out for them.
Prior to the start of the NBA season, many questioned whether the New York Knicks would be able to keep up in a vastly improved Eastern Conference. After a lackluster 1-3 start and an injury to center Tyson Chandler, those doubts have turned deafening.
It may be too early to hit the panic button, but the first four games have helped shed some light on what’s working and what’s not for one of the league's most enigmatic teams.
Stats courtesy of NBA.com.
In a week where everything seemed to go wrong, Iman Shumpert's efficient play has Knick Knation hopeful.
In the midst of the Knicks' rocky start, Iman Shumpert has been one of the team's few consistent bright spots.
His per-game numbers (12.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals) might appear pedestrian, but his efficiency and consistency have become indispensable. Owing to an improved confidence—in both his game and a now fully healed left knee—Shumpert’s true shooting percentage (60 percent), player efficiency rating (16.0) and win shares per-48 minutes (.165) have all seen significant early upticks.
The key to his success has been his ability to finish—and draw contact—at the basket. Last season, he connected on a paltry 42 percent of his shots within five feet of the rim. Thus far this season, he’s 6-of-9 in that quadrant. More importantly, an improved free-throw stroke (up from 77 percent a year ago to 92 percent thus far) has added a new dimension to his game.
The result: He's scoring 25 percent of his points at the stripe, compared to just 12 percent a year ago.
Sadly, even this singular bright spot feels like it’s shining on borrowed time.
As one of New York’s few young assets, Shumpert has been no stranger to trade rumors. And while such speculation seems to have only added fuel to the third-year guard’s fire, there is a growing concern that owner James Dolan—forever fuming over Shump bowing out of July’s Las Vegas Summer League—will continue to entertain and perhaps even pursue trade scenarios.
Still, Shumpert’s high-energy play and sparkplug moxie have endeared him to a fanbase desperate for something to hang their hats on. With Tyson Chandler sidelined, small ball is back in New York, and Shumpert—one of the few Knicks with the ability to play three different positions—stands to benefit.
The return of J.R. Smith from a five-game suspension might muddy the waters a bit, but Shump’s blossoming versatility could well grow from small silver lining into full-on ray of hope in Gotham.
After an off year in 2013, Tyson Chandler appeared back to form during the Knicks' first three games.
At first glance, it didn’t look like much: It was run-of-the-mill collision between Kemba Walker and Tyson Chandler late in the first quarter of Charlotte’s 102-97 win on Tuesday night in New York.
But anyone who watched Chandler’s locker-room limp could sense that the Knicks were in trouble. On Wednesday, those fears were confirmed when further tests revealed that he had suffered a small right leg fracture that could sideline him for six weeks.
To say the team will miss the 7-foot stalwart is an understatement; he’s the team’s vocal leader, defensive linchpin and screaming locker-room conscience. But Chandler has also been one of the most productively efficient centers in the league, even if the numbers never exactly jump off the page.
Following an injury-plagued 2013 campaign, many wondered whether Chandler—entering his 13th year in the league—could summon a bounce-back season. Through three games, he looked well on his way to doing just that, with his early production mirroring that of seasons past.
More specifically, Chandler had once again become the team’s most indispensible defensive presence. As Yahoo's Dan Devine points out, the Knick defense has conceded a whopping 13.5 points more per 100 possessions with Chandler on the bench.
The Knicks will miss him desperately—that much is obvious. But if there’s one silver lining, it’s this: Without his trusted center, Mike Woodson may be forced to recalibrate his offense to feature Carmelo Anthony at the power forward slot, where he excelled for much of last season.
If it works, Chandler can simply be plugged back in upon his return (likely for Andrea Bargnani, whom Woodson indicated may start at center on Friday in Charlotte). This would keep the small-ball configuration while reinforcing a defense that is certain to suffer in the interim.
It's not much, but Knicks fans will take any sliver of solace at this point.
Following an impressive 2013 season, Mike Woodson has seemed reluctant to double down on what worked for the Knicks.
One year ago, the Knicks burst out of the gate to a 6-0 record thanks to a crisply efficient attack predicated on precise spacing, prescient ball movement and knockdown perimeter shooting. By the end of the regular season, the Knicks boasted the league’s third-most efficient offense at near 109 points per 100 possessions.
Then the playoffs happened.
Over 12 postseason games, the Knicks were at their best offensively when wielding a unit of Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni, Iman Shumpert, Anthony and Chandler. The productivity (101.2) wasn’t quite what it was during the regular season, and Indiana would eventually render the argument moot by outmuscling New York’s small-ball lineup and sending their defense to a woeful 112.2 defensive rating. Still, the Knicks had at least forged a coherent offensive philosophy.
Fast-forward to today, and the debate still rages: What gives New York its best chance of making a run come spring—going small or big?
Small sample size aside, this year’s early slate of games exposes some interesting stats: The starting five of Felton, Shumpert, Anthony, Bargnani and Chandler (31 minutes) has produced the most potent offense (101.8) of any unit with more than 10 minutes of court time logged.
The downside? That same unit has given up a whopping 131.2 points per 100 possessions at the other end.
Meanwhile, the small-ball platoon of Felton, Prigioni (note the two point guards), Shumpert, Anthony and Chandler has struggled somewhat from an offensive efficiency standpoint (96.4) but has been certifiably lockdown at the other end, charting an incredible 68.6 defensive rating in 31 minutes of court time.
Losing a former Defensive Player of the Year for a quarter of the season is not ideal, but if the Knicks can somehow replicate last year’s offensive continuity and hold down the fort, they might have the makings of a top-10 defense once Chandler returns.