New York Knicks fans need to keep the faith.
The New York Knicks have lost 14 of their first 19 games, including nine in a row and one by 41 points at home to the Boston Celtics. Seemingly everything that could go wrong has gone wrong for Mike Woodson's team, but it is not time for Knicks fans to give up on their team just yet.
More than three-quarters of the season remains, and despite their struggles, the Knicks are squarely in the playoff hunt. If they turn things around soon, New York could even win the Atlantic Division.
Some of the Knicks' problems are systematic and related to the makeup of their ill-conceived roster. However, a great deal of their struggles are attributable to temporary circumstances. There is reason to believe that New York's fortunes will take a turn for the better, beginning with a favorable schedule over the next few weeks.
*All statistics are as of Dec. 9.
Felton and Smith have been slowed by nagging injuries.
Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith were the Knicks' second and third options last season, averaging 13.9 and 18.1 points, respectively. Both have had dreadful starts to this season.
Smith, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, has seen his scoring average drop to 11.2 points per game on 34.8 percent shooting from the field and 33.3 percent from behind the arc (compared to 42.2 and 35.6 percent last season.) His decline in number of free-throw attempts per game from 3.9 to 1.8 is indicative of an unwillingness or inability to attack the basket, and his defensive focus has been sporadic at best.
Felton has not been much better. The starting point guard has been unable to break down opposing defenses with dribble penetration and is connecting on just 28.8 percent of his three-point attempts (compared to 36.0 percent last season). His scoring average is down to 10.6 points per game.
Felton and Smith's struggles can be traced to injuries. Smith missed most of training camp after undergoing surgery on his left knee in July. His athleticism appears to be diminished, and he recently admitted that he is experiencing soreness in his knee, via Ian Begley of ESPN.com.
Felton dealt with a hamstring injury at the start of the season and missed four games in November with a pinched nerve in his hip. Neither he nor Smith's injuries are considered serious, and both players should return to form once the pain subsides.
Tyson Chandler makes the Knicks a better team on both ends of the floor.
The New York Knicks defense has been atrocious since Tyson Chandler broke his leg on Nov. 5. Mike Woodson's squad is ranked 25th in defensive efficiency (104.1 points per 100 possessions), via ESPN.com.
Chandler's original timetable was 4-6 weeks. According to Rob Mahoney of Sports Illustrated, the Knicks center participated in non-contact drills at practice on Dec. 9, and the big man told reporters that he hopes to be back by Jan. 1, via Al Iannazzone of Newsday.
Chandler will not solve all of New York's defensive problems. The Knicks guards are incapable of keeping opposing point guards out of the paint, and several players gamble too often on defense while failing to make the proper rotations or fight through screens. But Chandler's return will certainly help.
He demands accountability from his teammates on defense, and his ability to protect the rim compensates for their lapses. Last season, the Knicks' defensive rating was 92.2 when Chandler was on the court and 106.8 when he was not.
The big man's greatest contribution will be his pick-and-roll defense. Teams have shredded the Knicks with a steady diet of pick-and-rolls targeting Chandler's replacement at center, Andrea Bargain. According to Synergy Sports, New York is ranked 24th in defending pick-and-roll ball-handlers (.81 points per possession) and 30th against the roll man (1.2 points per possession).
Chandler will help the Knicks offensively as well. He and Raymond Felton developed nice chemistry in the pick-and-roll last season, which improved the team's spacing and led to easy baskets at the rim and open long-range shots.
The Knicks are standing behind their embattled coach.
Teams that fail to meet expectations and endure lengthy losing streaks often point figures at each other, engage in heated confrontations and quit on their coach. New York has experienced the first two so far.
Amar'e Stoudemire's comments about the team's lack of ball movement was interpreted by many as a veiled shot at Carmelo Anthony. Iman Shumpert shouted at Anthony in the huddle after Anthony botched a defensive assignment during the Knicks' loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Dec. 1, and Kenyon Martin and Metta World Peace reportedly had a heated argument prior to the same game, per ESPN New York's Ian Begley.
However, by all accounts, Woodson has not lost the locker room. The Knicks players have stood behind their coach amid speculation that his job is in jeopardy, refusing to allow Woodson to take the blame for their poor play.
"No, it's definitely on us," J.R. Smith said following the Knicks 114-73 loss to the Boston Celtics on Dec. 8, via Begley. Melo agreed. "He (Woodson) can't teach effort. I know coach, I know what type of guy he is, so he's always going to put it on him. But you can't teach effort," Anthony said, via Begley.
The rebuilding Boston Celtics sit atop the Atlantic Division.
The Eastern Conference has been historically bad this season. As of Dec. 9, the East is 32-71 against Western Conference teams, and just three teams in the conference have a winning record (Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks).
The Atlantic Division is the most pathetic of all. The rebuilding Boston Celtics without Rajon Rondo are in first place with a 10-12 record. The team expected to pose the greatest threat to the Knicks' quest to repeat as division champions, the Brooklyn Nets, are 6-14.
Despite the Knicks' horrendous 5-14 record, only three-and-a-half games separate them from first place in their division and the Chicago Bulls for the eighth seed in the conference. If New York were in the West, their season would be over, but in the Eastern Conference, as few as 35 wins could be enough to make the playoffs.
The Knicks have the same nucleus that won 54 games last season.
The Knicks are a year removed from a 54-win season and an Atlantic Division title. The only core contributor from last year's squad no longer with the team is Jason Kidd, and he was a liability in the playoffs.
The Knicks found a formula that worked. They fed Carmelo Anthony in the post or on the wing and surrounded him with shooters who could knock down shots when he was double-teamed. Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler also created open looks off of pick-and-rolls, and the use of a two-point guard lineup facilitated the ball movement that led to an NBA-record 908 three-pointers.
New York provided a glimpse of that ball movement in recent back-to-back 30-point victories over the Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic.
J.R. Smith can score in bunches, especially when he confines his game to spot-ups and dribble-drives. The Knicks are capable of getting easy baskets off of pick-and-rolls when Chandler and Felton are healthy, and New York can provide a greater effort defensively.
This team performed as a cohesive, unselfish, efficient unit last season and is capable of doing it again.