It may not seem like it, but the New York Knicks have improved over the course of this season.
Unfortunately, that progress is overshadowed by Mike Woodson's incompetence, and his infatuation with Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith: Two careless players that force passes and shots, and waste numerous possessions per game.
Both players could be serviceable, perhaps, if Woodson's offensive schemes contained creativity or motion; but since his "system" calls for players to consistently make plays on their own as their teammates stand around and watch, Felton and Smith are severely overmatched.
Felton and Smith continue to play over 30 minutes a game while shooting less than 40 percent from the field. For the Knicks to continue improving, those minutes should be cut and redistributed amongst Toure' Murry, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Iman Shumpert.
The Knicks played its best defense when Murry and Shumpert were paired together in the backcourt. Both athletes are 6'5" ball hawks that love creating offense through their defense—something you rarely see from Felton or Smith.
Murry may be a little raw offensively, but he hasn't affected New York negatively by chucking shots out of rhythm or by trying to be a hero.
Despite the Knicks trailing the Nets by 10 plus points for most of the second half, Woodson never gave Murry an opportunity to ignite a fast break until the game was mailed in by everyone in the Garden. Woodson also benched Shump for most of the fourth quarter and kept J.R. in the game, despite the fact that Smith had shot 2-for-8 from the field through the first three quarters.
Keeping Shumpert and Murry on the bench neutered any fight that could have rallied New York past their cross town rivals.
If Woodson could get his favoritism out of the way and play his most reliable athletes—that always play both sides of the ball—New York could experience another stretch when it wins 6-of-7 games.
The Knicks constantly create mismatches for themselves—on the wrong end of the court.
It's one thing to switch everything if you have a team full of LeBron James's, but when you have slow footed centers guarding explosive point guards on a regular basis, you're never winning any games that matter.
When New York switches less, the Knicks are balanced defensively, and games are within reach. Andrea Bargnani is a serviceable man-to-man defender, but when he finds himself defending a guard, he's virtually useless. The same goes for Iman Shumpert against a big man.
Woodson does his players a disservice by preaching this switching philosophy that fails more often than not. All the great defensive teams switch as a last resort and if the Knicks can curtail this habit and instead fight through screens, a winning record is inevitable.
Carmelo Anthony Facilitating
The Knicks are 11-2 when Carmelo Anthony records four or more assists in a game. To put that in perspective, NY's record is currently 15-26.
As seen in the adjacent video, because of all the attention Melo commands with the ball in his hands, it's easy for one of his teammates to sneak into a crevice in the defense and be open for an easy shot.
When he's finding players cutting to the basket, or kicking out to shooters open on the perimeter, instead of forcing contested jumpers, the Knicks' offense runs smoothly and New York wins games.
Anthony is also a talented passer off of the pick-and-roll, as seen in the video below, where his chemistry with Amar'e Stoudemire is on display.
Melo is a special player whose versatility continues to grow with each game. Anthony has been a monster on the boards this season, averaging a career high 9.1 RPG.
While he's only averaging three assists per game, he's dishing out 6.5 assist opportunities per game; but only 7.5 points are created by assist per game, via NBA.com.
Anthony and the Knicks still have a ways to go until a trip to the playoffs is certain, but they are far from eliminated with 41 games left in the season. If Woodson can trot out a defensive-based backcourt, the switching decreases and Anthony continues to be a distributor, the Knicks will be getting better with each passing game.
Stats are accurate as of Tuesday, January 21, 2014.