The New York Knicks are back to winning ways. The Garden is rocking again and the city is more excited about basketball than it has been in a long time.
Led by the stellar play of Amar'e Stoudemire, the Knicks are playing an exciting brand of basketball and are the highest scoring team in the league (albeit they're also the third-worst defensive team in the league).
With this recent resurgence, there are some who believe that the Knicks could challenge for a Finals appearance in the next year or two.
Even if New York acquires Carmelo Anthony before the trade deadline, they still won't be ready to compete for a championship.
With that said, here are five reasons that the Knicks are a frisky playoff team at the moment, rather than an elite team.
As impressive as Amar'e's play for the Knicks has been this season, his poor defensive ability cannot be ignored.
His 9.2 rebounds per game is mediocre for a big man of his athletic ability, placing him at 13th in the league.
Even in games where he has been on fire offensively, he has allowed the opposing team's center to rack up big numbers (Andrea Bargnani scored 41 against him).
Until Amar'e becomes more of an inside defensive presence (the Knicks currently give up the second most points in the paint out of any team in the league), the Knicks won't be able to get the stops they'll need in order to win playoff games.
Almost as valuable as a crunch time scorer, is a defender who can shut down your opponent's best perimeter player at the end of the game. Bruce Bowen made a living doing this as a member of the San Antonio Spurs championship teams for the past decade.
If you look at the recent championship teams in the NBA, each team has had at least one lock-down defender. Last year, the Lakers had Ron Artest (who is past his best days as a defender but still managed to hold Kevin Durant to 35% shooting in the Lakers 1st round series with the Thunder last year) and Kobe Bryant, who prides himself on defensive 1-on-1 game as well as his offensive ability.
In 2009, the Lakers also had Trevor Ariza, an athletic swingman who came up with some critical late-game steals in the playoffs. The '08 Celtics had James Posey and Paul Pierce and the '07 Spurs, of course, had Bruce Bowen.
At the moment, the Knicks don't have a single player who can disrupt the likes of LeBron James and Paul Pierce on the defensive end. A long, athletic perimeter defender such as Tayshaun Prince or Matt Barnes would be a necessary addition to New York if they're looking to crack the league's elite.
Right now, the Knicks are one of the top five most entertaining teams in the league to watch and the highest scoring team at 107 ppg, due in large part to the system that Mike D'Antoni has in place.
The same was said for his Phoenix Suns teams of the last decade, of which Amar'e Stoudemire was a vital component. Those teams were successful, twice reaching the Western Conference Finals, but they could never get over the hump and reach the Finals.
The Suns, a below average defensive team, were often stumped by strong defensive transition teams like the Spurs and Lakers. These teams managed to dictate the pace of the game, taking the Suns out of their comfort zone.
In the playoffs, the pace of the game typically slows down. If we take the stats from last season as an example, we see that the average team's pace decreases by roughly three possessions per game in May and June.
This trend does not bode well for the Knickerbockers, whose 99.1 possessions per game is the second highest in the NBA. At the moment, the pick and roll is working well with Amar'e and Felton, but they will have to develop a more well-rounded half-court offense if they want to win playoff series.
This is not to say they should abandon the fast-break style that is working so consistently, as fast break points are also an important factor in winning games. However, a blend of fast break and fluid half-court offense will benefit the Knicks in the long run.
The Knicks attempt the most 3 pointers in the league (24.6 per game), yet they are only ninth in the NBA in terms of 3 point percentage (37%). Granted, 37% is still a pretty high clip to be shooting threes at, but if you're taking that many threes each night, you need to make a high percentage of them to give yourself a chance to win.
The advantage of this tactic is that the Knicks always have the potential to mount a quick comeback, as evidenced by their last two games against Miami and Orlando, where they had a shot to win each game after being down double digits at some point.
The disadvantage, however, is that if they aren't shooting the three well on any given night, it's going to be quite difficult for them to find a way to win, as their success relies so heavily on them making threes consistently.
A team's three-point shooting is something that can fluctuate greatly between games, whereas a team with strong inside presence usually has pretty consistent points-in-the-paint numbers from night to night.
This means that in order for the Knicks to win a playoff series, their long range shooters will have to show up for at least 4 of the 7 games, a feat which is entirely possible, but it is a risky tactic nonetheless.
Yes, the Knicks leader, Amar'e Stoudemire has considerable playoff experience, averaging 24.2 ppg and 9.2 rpg in 52 career postseason games. If you take away Amar'e though, the rest of the starting lineup has played in only 4 playoff games combined.
It takes time for a newly assembled, young team to learn how to win playoff games. The Knicks won't be used to the increased defensive intensity in the playoffs as well as the pressure of elimination games.
Once they have a few playoff series under their belts, they'll be better equipped to challenge the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
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