3 Players Who Still Have to Step Up for the New York Knicks

Sara Peters@3FromThe7Featured ColumnistNovember 24, 2016

AUBURN HILLS, MI - NOVEMBER 1:  Jon Leuer #30 of the Detroit Pistons boxes out Lance Thomas #42 of the New York Knicks on November 1, 2016 at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Nearly every New York Knicks player has stepped up with a few stellar performances this season. But sometimes the breathtaking skills they flash Tuesday aren't enough to distract you from their lackluster effort Monday.

Energetic starters are sluggish, fluid bench units are erratic.

Inconsistency has been the Knickerbockers' key trouble in their 7-7 start to the season. If New York is going to power into the playoffs, it'll need more reliable performances—from three men in particular.

Lance Thomas 

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 12: Lance Thomas #42 of the New York Knicks warms up before the start of NBA game action against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre on November 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Lance Thomas has actually been quite consistent: consistently disappointing.

In fairness, he has been harassed by injuries. A bone bruise in his ankle and plantar fasciitis in both feet kept him sidelined the past five games. He's only clocked into eight of the team's 14 games so far, and what we saw was not encouraging.

His scoring has dropped sharply from his breakout offensive season in 2015-16: 3.9 points on 37.8 percent shooting, down from 8.2 points and 44.2 percent. That's just a quibbling issue, though.

The main problem is that Thomas' greatest contribution was always how he improved the overall performance of the team around him. He was Mr. Intangibles, always setting screens, providing help defense, deflecting balls, making hand-offs.

That's why he had one of the best on-court plus-minus stats on his team last season. They struggled to win without him when Thomas was injured: the Knicks won 42.4 percent of their games when Thomas played, and only 30.4 percent without him. They were simply better with him on the floor.

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Not so this year. Thomas has, instead, been a liability. New York is 2-6 with him, 5-1 without. Because of his sloppy ball-handling, bad shot selection, ill-timed fouls and squishy defense, Thomas' on-court plus-minus in 2016-17 is a dismal -16.5.

The Knicks are now simply better with him not on the floor.

There's still plenty of time left in the season to turn Thomas around. If the plantar fasciitis doesn't continue to plague him all year, we might yet see the essential role-player the Knicks paid big to re-sign this summer. 

  

Joakim Noah The Defender

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 12: Joakim Noah #13 of the New York Knicks reacts to a call during NBA game action against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre on November 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that,
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

It pains me to criticize He For Whom I Am Most Thankful, on Thanksgiving of all days. Yet it must be said that, while Joakim Noah is making an impact (particularly on offense), he has not been the defensive powerhouse fans have hoped for and the team has needed. 

In fairness, a star scorer can sometimes put a team's offense on his back, carry them to a win and take home a sparkling stat sheet as a souvenir. Defense doesn't work that way; It takes all five players. So, even the best defensive player will find it hard to look like the toughest bulldog on the block if the rest of the dogs are asleep on the job. 

Also, Noah has had a few outstanding defensive performances. For example, Nov. 16 versus the Detroit Pistons, he showed young rebound machine Andre Drummond that those boards belonged to him. Noah out-rebounded Drummond 15 to nine and logged one steal and three blocks, including one monster swat on the Pistons big man. 

The trouble is, he's inconsistent. Some nights, he's a step behind, too late cutting off that drive, failing to anticipate the shot attempt. Shots that seem easy for him to block or alter sometimes go sailing over, uncontested.

Noah currently has one of the worst defensive ratings of all centers—109.4, right below Brook Lopez, who is not the Lopez brother known for defense. Happily, Noah is near the top of that list in offensive rating (110.7), largely because of his assists and offensive bounds.

If he can maintain his D at the levels he's shown it can still hit, then Noah still has a credible year ahead. 

Carmelo Anthony The Passer

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 17:  Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks dribbles the ball against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on November 17, 2016 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading a
Rob Carr/Getty Images

When you're a nine-time All-Star and former scoring title champion, currently averaging 22.5 points per game and shooting 46.1 percent from the field, and thousands of your home crowd fans are screaming at you to pass the ball...that's odd.

Yet, it's happened to Carmelo Anthony multiple times already this season.

Maybe fans are spoiled because the team now has other scorers to go to, like Latvian wunderkind-belle-of-the-ball Kristaps Porzingis. Maybe they're spoiled because Melo was such a willing passer last season—he was not only the team's leader in assists, but the overall driver of their ball movement.

As with Joakim The Defender, we have seen some beautiful moments from Carmelo The Passer this season. He is actually averaging 2.6 assists (which is a drop from last year's 4.2, but is still solid).

Yet we also see long stretches of Melo holding the ball for 12 seconds or Melo dribbling in place like he changed his name to Jose Calderon. He makes the fewest passes per game of any starter, despite playing the most minutes. It slows the entire pace down, encourages the rest of the squad to hang around, inert, waiting for him to do something in isolation (which he does 23.3 percent of the time, more than nearly anyone in the league). 

The Knicks are 6-1 when they have 20 or more assists; 1-6 when they have fewer than 20. Sharing is not just caring, sharing is winning for this team, and if they want the Ws to keep rolling in, Melo needs to cough it up.  

All stats are from NBA.com/stats and current as of Thursday, Nov. 24. Disagree with Sara Peters on Twitter @3FromThe7.