New York Knicks: 10 Improvements Amar'e Stoudemire and Co. Need Before Playoffs
The New York Knicks have fallen off the Big Apple sports radar with Father of the Year Antonio Cromartie telling the public how he really feels about Tom Brady, but following a challenging Western Conference road trip, it's as good a time as any to reflect on what the Knicks need to improve in the second half of the regular season in order to prepare for a solid playoff run.
Without further ado, the list in alphabetical order.
Amar'e Stoudemire and His Technical Foul Problems
Amar'e Stoudemire currently has 11 technical fouls after 38 games. If he commits five more technicals, Stoudemire will sit out one game.
This may seem inconsequential. What's the big deal if Stoudemire misses one game, especially since the Knicks seem locked into the sixth seed for the foreseeable future?
Well, Knicks fans will be furious if they miss out on the fifth seed by one game because Stoudemire had to sit, causing the Knicks to falter in a game they could have won.
Let's face it: The current incarnation of the Knicks match up horribly against Miami, Orlando and a healthy Boston Celtics team. Advancing into the second round is a much better (but still tough) proposition if faced with the task of playing the Atlanta Hawks or Chicago Bulls.
NBA referees hold more power today than they ever have, so Stoudemire just needs to grin and bear it as he's getting hacked by triple teams nightly.
Backup Point Guard
I talk about overall bench play needing to improve later in the article, but this deserves its own slide.
Ray Felton is averaging 39 minutes per game, which ranks in the top six in the entire NBA. He played 40 minutes last night against the Utah Jazz even though he sprained his ankle the night before against Portland, a game in which he also played 40 minutes.
That tells you all you need to know about Mike D'Antoni's thoughts regarding Toney Douglas' ability to man the point guard position.
Give credit to Toney Douglas for playing through chronic shoulder pain all season, but Donnie Walsh needs to grab a backup point guard to take 5-10 minutes per game off Felton's hands so he can have something left over for the playoffs, and in case Douglas needs extended time to rest his injury.
Danilo Gallinari sometimes looks like a 12-year-old kid who grew six inches over the summer and isn't accustomed to his new body. His herky-jerky motion to the basket doesn't look effective, but he can get to the line frequently by driving. I'd like to see him improve his slashing game to add another dimension offensively, a la Wilson Chandler.
Gallo knows that Knicks GM Donnie Walsh has publicly stated Wilson Chandler will re-sign with the team. That will most certainly light a fire under Gallo when he comes back from injury next week.
Gallo also needs to improve his footwork on defense. He has a lot to learn on that end, but any defensive deficiency Gallo has isn't due to a lack of effort. Ultimately, he's still a hungry 22-year-old kid trying to make it in the NBA.
What sense is there in talking much about defense knowing that it isn't very high on the Knicks' list of priorities?
The Knicks don't have a shut-down, man-to-man defender. They have a collection of players whose defense ranges from very good in limited spurts (Ronny Turiaf) to good but inconsistent (Toney Douglas) to solid (Ray Felton, Wilson Chandler, Landry Fields) to mediocre (Danilo Gallinari) to poor (Amar'e Stoudemire). I haven't seen enough of Bill Walker and Shawne Williams to judge them yet.
With so much energy spent into the transition game, it's only natural for the Knicks to lack that same amount of energy on the defensive end. The Denver Nuggets are the only playoff-caliber team that has a worse defensive efficiency ranking than the Knicks right now.
The Knicks have an average home record by NBA standards, sitting at just 10-7 right now. They lost some bad games to Philadelphia, Houston and Golden State in the beginning of the season at the Garden, but since then, they have gone 9-3.
New York needs to turn MSG into a battledome and a place where road teams fear going, like when the Knicks went a maniacal 37-4 at home during the 1992-93 regular season.
Landry Fields may be hitting that proverbial rookie wall in the middle of the season where young players get tired from not having played a full 82-game slate before.
He is averaging 8.5 points per game in his last eight contests and has only accrued 10 or more rebounds once during that stretch.
It's a little harsh to say that Landry Fields needs to improve. He more or less needs to persevere and find his second wind.
Offensive Rebounding Rate
The Knicks have the second-worst offensive rebounding rate differential in the NBA, "trailing" only the Phoenix Suns, a team that decided to have Grant Hill guard Amar'e Stoudemire last week (see picture for evidence). In essence, that means other teams grab offensive rebounds at a higher percentage than the Knicks do.
Actually, let's make a change here. We shouldn't count a team in the rankings who has given up on their next five seasons, and has 27 swingmen on the roster. Let's try again.
The Knicks have the worst offensive rebounding rate differential in the NBA. Part of this is due to Amar'e Stoudemire's penchant for using his athleticism and leaping ability over rebounding fundamentals to grab boards, and part of this is due to Wilson Chandler playing the 4.
It is what it is, but somehow, it needs to improve.
Opponents take 30.3 percent of their shots at the rim against the Knicks, the fourth-highest number in the entire NBA. In total, an average of 16.7 field goals are being made down low against New York. There are some people out there who don't believe a bruising 5 would work well in D'Antoni's system, but if you look at the numbers and watch the tape, interior defense is probably the team's biggest weakness. Something needs to be done to shore it up down low.
Ronny Turiaf can only do so much off the bench.
Starters Minutes Must Decrease
On a micro level, I'm not very concerned about the Knicks' 131-125 loss to Utah last night. While I wish I had the Elias Sports Bureau on speed dial to answer this question for me, generally teams don't perform well if they are playing for the fourth time in six days, specifically if that fourth game is the second of a back-to-back set.
For further example, the Knicks played horribly in their fourth game in seven days (let alone six) at Cleveland back on December 18, also the second game of a back-to-back set, and lost in overtime. That was the Cavs' only win since November 27.
On a macro level, it's disconcerting that all five Knicks starters played anywhere from 35-41 minutes against Portland the night before, leading to dead legs against Utah. I realized that Danilo Gallinari would have eased some of the burden, but he would have eaten the substitutes' minutes more than the starters' minutes.
Shawne Williams and Bill Walker were called on last night, and played fantastic basketball offensively. Combined, they scored 48 points on 16-of-23 shooting (10-of-13 from three-point range). They need to continue to light it up from downtown to take some burden off Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and Landry Fields in the future.
This is a shameless plug, but at least it's meaningful: I wrote an article yesterday explaining why getting a big man midseason to complement Stoudemire is much easier said than done. Hence, expect the Knicks to hope and pray that Mozgov can contribute something to the team. If he can even give 10 minutes a night and isn't falling over his face, getting dunked on or dropping passes, I consider it a plus. Baby steps.