It's just the Nets, right?
And, yes, the Nets are embarrassing.
But Knicks fans have waited too long to taste victory, and fan favorite Iman Shumpert has waited far too long for the kind of breakout game he laid on the Nets: 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting (5-of-7 from three) and six rebounds. This is a moment to celebrate.
The Knicks came into Thursday night's game against the Brooklyn Nets looking to make a statement. Mike Woodson reminded anyone who would listen that the Atlantic Division is still ripe for the taking (though, considering how bad all five Atlantic teams are, maybe "ripe" isn't the best word).
But once the ball was tipped, it was the Knicks' players who made a statement against the Nets' 30th-ranked three-point defense: The old New York, mad-bomber three-point attack is not quite dead yet.
The Knicks made it rain from behind the arc against Brooklyn, knocking down 16 threes. And it was Shumpert who led the way, with a big assist from an unlikely source.
Explosive Shumpert, Crafty Carmelo
Following Sunday's loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, all Knicks followers wanted to talk about was the supposed rift between Shumpert and star forward Carmelo Anthony. Shumpert appeared to yell at Anthony in the huddle, and both players had to downplay the incident to the press.
Now, NBA players are a competitive bunch, and it's not terribly uncommon to see teammates yelling at each other. But these are the Knicks, and this is Melo and Shump, so the New York rumor machine kicked into high gear. Shumpert didn't play the rest of the game: Did Melo and coach Mike Woodson conspire against him? Does this mean Shumpert will be traded immediately?
Instead, Melo and Shumpert came out on Thursday night and did the strangest thing imaginable: They acted like professionals. Melo had perhaps his most unselfish game of the season, taking only 12 field-goal attempts and tying his season high with six assists.
And many of Melo's passes found Shumpert. The third-year guard summoned up all the rage from a season of trade rumors and on-court struggles and took it all out on the Nets in a scintillating 11-point third quarter, sealing the Knicks' first win in their last ten games.
Shumpert's performance was a microcosm of all that once was good about New York, and might be again. The 2012-13 Knicks set a record for three-pointers made, thanks in part to Shumpert, who shot an impressive 40.8 percent in his sophomore season.
But all of that has come apart in 2013-14, as the Knicks sat near the bottom of the league in three-point percentage (28th) coming into Thursday (Dec. 5), and the front office put Shumpert on the trading block.
Given his career track, the Knicks' mistreatment of Shumpert has been unconscionable, as Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal explains:
But by overlooking Shumpert's progress on offense, the team might have already stunted whatever growth he had left to show on that end. He went from shooting 30% from behind the arc as a rookie to 40% in his second season—a 10% year-to-year leap that only 12 other players (including Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant, Allan Houston, Joe Johnson, Rashard Lewis, Antoine Walker and Jason Terry) have made before turning 23, according to Stats.
Unlike most of those players, who took a greater percentage of their team's shots the following year, Shumpert's had a diminished role in the Knicks' offense: His 12.4% usage rate—which measures what percentage of the team's possessions he uses while on the court—is down from 15.6% last season. (The only other players on that list to see a drop in usage: Sacramento's Donte Green and journeyman Daequan Cook.)
But on Thursday night the Knicks switched course and put the ball in Shumpert's hands. And Shumpert made sure the Knicks didn't regret it.
The Starting Lineup: A Cause for Hope?
It's no secret that the Knicks have struggled since center Tyson Chandler went down with a fractured leg in the second week of the season. But anyone who has watched New York play over the past few weeks knows that the Knicks have fielded a very competitive starting five since point guard Raymond Felton returned from injury.
The Knicks could not really compete with both Chandler and Felton out of the lineup, but they've fielded strong lineups as long as Melo, Bargnani, Shumpert and Felton are in the mix. Interestingly, those four have been just as effective when playing small with J.R. Smith as they have when playing big with Kenyon Martin.
|Anthony, Bargnani, Shumpert, Felton, Smith||8||96||107.2||92.9||+14.3|
|Anthony, Bargnani, Shumpert, Felton, Martin||5||58||111.1||96.8||+14.3|
|Anthony, Bargnani, Shumpert, Udrih, Martin||4||51||101.1||109.4||-8.4|
The problem for the Knicks has come when the bench takes over.
Beno Udrih and Metta World Peace have been so bad this year that they've been relegated to mop-up duty. Amar'e Stoudemire should be relegated, but Mike Woodson continues to shoehorn him into the second unit, despite the fact that the Knicks are being outscored by 15.3 points per 100 possessions with him on the court.
On Thursday, whether through a surge in the quality their own play or just the Nets' incompetence, the Knicks didn't have that problem. The Knicks current core four—Melo (19 points), Shumpert (17 points), Bargnani (16 points) and Felton (13 points)—annihilated the Nets, while even Stoudemire (plus-12) managed to post a positive plus/minus rating of higher than plus-2 for the first time this season.
The Knicks finally utilized Stoudemire in the pick-and-roll, and Amar'e responded with an efficient performance, capped by a highlight-reel block on Joe Johnson.
The Knicks haven't been as bad as their record suggests, but they'll need to shore up the bench if they want to notch a few more wins before Chandler comes back.
The Right Players Taking the Right Shots
The Knicks looked particularly feisty tonight, embodied by the very unlikely toughness of Andrea Bargnani, who was tossed from the game after a bit of rough-housing and trashing-talking with loathed Knicks nemesis Kevin Garnett.
Not only did Bargnani get the last laugh with the Knicks' victory, but he also got in the quote of the night after the game.
Per Peter Botte of the New York Daily News:
What did Bargnani say to get ejected? Garnett: "I don't speak Italian." Bargnani: "I wasn't speaking Italian."— Peter Botte (@PeterBotte) December 6, 2013
But the Knicks have played feisty games this year—and lost. They won tonight, not only because they played a terrible team, but because they moved the ball and shot threes. They need to put the ball in the hands of shooters like Shumpert (39.6 percent from three) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (39.2 percent from three) from time to time.
While the defense has been a nightmare this season, the Knicks still have the components of a good offensive team. If they want to compete in a weak division, they get back to doing what they do well.