New York Knicks: What's Plaguing Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Co.?
In the iconic 1993 movie Philadelphia, Denzel Washington's character, a lawyer named Joe Miller, frequently asks a question in order to break down a situation into its simplest terms: "Can you explain it to me like I'm a six-year-old?"
Watching the New York Knicks-Milwaukee Bucks game yesterday, it became readily apparent that the problems plaguing the Knicks are easy enough for a six-year-old to understand.
As frustration mounts among Knicks fans, here are the 10 simple reasons why the Knicks have looked like a YMCA pickup squad in recent weeks.
Landry Fields: 21 Minutes?
Landry Fields has played 21 minutes in each of the past two games. Jared Jeffries played two more minutes than Fields in the Knicks' 99-95 loss to Detroit Friday. Six Knicks played more minutes than Fields yesterday afternoon in the 100-95 loss to Milwaukee.
Sit back and read those three sentences again.
Fields is the third-best player on the Knicks right now (if you don't believe me, check Chauncey Billups' recent stats) and has offered consistently good play all season. He averages roughly 10 points and seven rebounds per game on 51 percent shooting (41 percent from beyond the arc).
Is there any good reason why Fields shouldn't be getting at least 30 minutes per game?
Battle on the Boards
The Knicks have been outrebounded in seven of their last eight games. Yesterday afternoon, three Bucks pulled down at least 11 rebounds, leading Milwaukee to a 50-39 board advantage
This problem will not be solved with this current roster incarnation. Head coach Mike D'Antoni tried to rectify the issue by starting Shelden Williams at center yesterday, but to no avail.
The Knicks must draft a big man, hopefully one of Kansas' Morris twins or Kenneth Faried if any of them are available, to solve this problem.
This isn't a recent issue, nor will it be an issue that goes away unless Mike D'Antoni leaves, but the Knicks' dependence on three-point shooting is suffocating the team's offense. This is part in parcel due to the lack of a serious low-post threat outside of Amar'e Stoudemire, but the system prevails, no matter who is playing in it.
Sometimes the system works perfectly and knocks a team out of commission, like when the Knicks made 20 three-pointers against the Memphis Grizzlies in a 120-98 win.
Sometimes, the Knicks beat themselves to death with missed three-pointers, like when they made just 7-of-30 in a 106-93 loss to Indiana. Because the Knicks are not a good rebounding team, second chances are few and far between, leading to long rebounds, fast breaks and easy transition buckets.
Let's start with three basic facts.
1. The two men you see in this picture, Toney Douglas (left) and Bill Walker, were the only two players on the team one year ago today.
2. Two free-agent pickups in the 2010 offseason, Amar'e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton, were given the Knicks' co-captain titles in July. Felton is now in Denver.
3. Only two active players on the Knicks roster, Landry Fields and Toney Douglas, were drafted by New York.
How is a team supposed to succeed when the roster is in flux? Didn't we learn anything from the beginning of the Miami Heat's season, and even their recent slump? The road to success is an ongoing process in New York.
Of course, the devil's advocate side to that statement is that the Knicks are on the second phase of their third rebuilding plan since Patrick Ewing was traded to Seattle. So the road to success has been going on for over a decade with the roster changing every month. Like this will ever change.
Carmelo Anthony and the D'Antoni System: Part 1
Carmelo Anthony did not endear himself to Knicks fans and the local media with his recent behavior in two recent games.
To set the table for the first tantrum, the Knicks were down 119-117 to Indiana with three-tenths of a second remaining. Jared Jeffries was inbounding from midcourt. Anthony was wide open and calling for the ball, but according to NBA rules, a team can only tip in a shot with three-tenths of a second or less on the clock. Jeffries fired a pass to Landry Fields for an attempt, but the tip never even occurred.
Anthony flipped out at Jared Jeffries at the end of the game, angered that he didn't receive a pass. The following game, Anthony shot just 2-for-12 in the Pistons loss, got annoyed on the court and blew off the media after the game.
In a savvy PR move, Anthony met with reporters before the Bucks game yesterday to talk about the Pistons game and the future. He admitted that he is not fully comfortable in the Knicks offense just yet and how he was just competitive and frustrated lately. However, Amar'e Stoudemire mentioned, without naming names, that new players had to buy into D'Antoni's system and play at a more up-tempo pace for the team to have success.
Here's a simple question though: If D'Antoni's system is predicated on the wing players standing in the corners or hanging outside of the arc most of the time, and Carmelo Anthony is a wing player who prefers to play a one-on-one game inside the arc, how is this going to fuse together?
Simple answer: Hold your breath and cross your fingers.
Carmelo Anthony and the D'Antoni System: Part 2
Pot, meet kettle: Carmelo Anthony griped about the defense to the media prior to the Memphis game, citing his lack of understanding of the defensive schemes and certain decisions that were made in recent games, specifically the team's defensive plan against Tyler Hansbrough in the Indiana series.
I don't even know what to say here, really. I'm more or less bewildered. That paragraph speaks for itself.
Wilson Chandler vs. Jared Jeffries
Wilson Chandler has the ability to guard anyone from shooting guard to power forward. So does Jared Jeffries.
Wilson Chandler can easily score 20 points on any given night. It's a gift if Jeffries gives the Knicks five.
That's a big problem, and this issue is a domino that is causing many smaller problems. Chandler's ability to spread the floor from the power forward position on offense helped the Knicks run a smooth up-tempo system, whereas now, the team is trying to drive 100 miles per hour with the emergency brake on. The Knicks' original starting lineup used to include four legit three-point threats. Now, it only has two, sometimes three if Anthony is feeling it.
Even keeping Timfoey Mozgov would have put the Knicks in a better position than they are right now, since Stoudemire could have still played the four and all five starters would have given the team offensive production.
Do you think the Knicks can win a title with James Dolan as the team's owner? Re-writing this man's atrocities is another article in and of itself, but he recently had the gall to raise season-ticket prices 49 percent next season. Imagine if the Knicks were actually good.
Rumor has it that Dolan also pushed hard for the Carmelo Anthony trade despite some objections from Mike D'Antoni and Donnie Walsh, knowing that he had to mortgage the team's assets to get him.
Dolan has been an abject failure as owner of both the Knicks and New York Rangers, and his presence has plagued them for over a decade.
I watched Florida State suffocate Notre Dame yesterday on the defensive end in a Round of 32 NCAA tournament matchup. The Seminoles have one of the best defenses in all of college basketball.
Aside from excellent strategy (the 'Noles employed this odd kind of help defense where they played man-to-man, but a second man would swarm the ball-handler at times, too), Florida State's players exuded tremendous hustle, energy and grit en route to a dominating performance.
Oh, yeah, and FSU's best player, Chris Singleton, sat for almost the entire game.
Meanwhile, the Knicks give up more points per game than any NBA team aside from the Minnesota Timberwolves. They also have a defensive efficiency rating in the lower third of the league. The Knicks may not have the best individual players suited to play defense, but they had some good ones in Wilson Chandler and Ray Felton. Yet, the Knicks defense was still porous, and the 'Noles defense is incredible.
(Ironically, Toney Douglas used to play for Florida State and was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2009.)
Do the 'Noles have the best athletes in college basketball? No. Do the Knicks have the worst athletes in the NBA? No. Ultimately, it comes from the top.
Ultimately, it comes down to simple science. If five players are running hard down the court on offense, it's only natural for them to try and catch their collective breath and slow down a bit on defense so that their bodies can recover. FSU doesn't run on offense, so the 'Noles can go all-out on defense.
The Knicks under D'Antoni will never be a good defensive unit. The best they can go hope for is to get a rebounding machine at power forward to prevent second chances for the opposition and for the team to stay intact long enough to at least gain some modicum of defensive chemistry in order to become average.
Chauncey Billups has been back from injury for five games. The Knicks have lost four of those games, all contests in which Billups was outplayed by the opposing point guard.
Brandon Jennings nearly had a triple-double yesterday.
Darren Collison averaged 20 points, 8.5 assists, three rebounds and a plus-20 rating in the two-game set with New York, compared to Billups' 11.5 point, 4.5 assist, 3.0 rebound and minus-18 rating averages in that same span.
Rodney Stuckey and Billups each had 12 points in Friday's game, but Billups committed eight turnovers to Stuckey's four in a game where every possession counted.
As Billups goes, so go the Knicks right now.
What We Learned, and How the Knicks Can Be Fixed
What's plaguing the Knicks? To sum up 10 slides, a relatively new personnel grouping that doesn't fit an offensive-minded coach's system is plagued by a tyrant of an owner who doesn't know how to win.
Many Knicks fans are incensed with D'Antoni and think he isn't the right answer for this team. I argue that he deserves a fair chance with a group of players who can fit together and develop some semblance of chemistry. Then, we'll see how he does.
Is he the right man for the job? No idea, but do you have any better options to coach the team?
At this point, I'd find the best available 3/4 or 4 that fits the D'Antoni system in the NBA draft. Do you want a center? It's not looking good. For those who are on the Tyson Chandler bandwagon, fat chance Mark Cuban lets the restricted free agent walk. Plus, the Knicks' free-agent money is going to a point guard in 2012. It's just a matter of whom.
Ultimately, though, the hard truth is that the Knicks aren't title contenders at presently constituted, and D'Antoni deserves a grace period until the slippers fit. Until then, fans have to deal with the same problems game after game.