New York Knicks' Biggest Needs Heading into 2016-17 NBA Trade Deadline
As the New York Knicks’ losses pile higher and the midseason trade deadline draws nearer, it feels like the roof will soon cave in on the entire place.
Madison Square Gulag, where being in the wrong place at the wrong time could get you dragged out screaming by guards, where threats of being traded to distant lands fly freely, and where (seemingly) all are left bare to the braying curses and slinging stones of the angry masses.
If there is a midseason deal that Knicks management could make to salvage the franchise's reputation before a mob scene erupts on Seventh Avenue, it would have to be about more than "tanking" and "assets."
It has to be about basketball.
If there are personnel changes the "masterminds" in the front office are determined to make before 3 p.m. Feb. 18, they had better address some of the following issues.
New York’s defense is futile, not because it lets opponents shoot so well, but because it lets them shoot so often. Peek at its defense dashboard and you might be hoodwinked into believing it's a strong unit, holding opponents to 0.5 percent below their average shooting efficiency (10th in the league).
Yet they are fifth-worst in opponents’ field goals attempted; 21 teams have launched the ball more often than their season averages when playing against the Knicks. All those attempts eventually add up.
So what’s the problem?
One of the biggies is that the Knicks have the worst defensive rebounding percentage in the league. (That's mind-boggling, considering they have the third-best offensive rebounding percentage.) Twenty-three teams have torn down more offensive boards than usual when playing against the Knicks, and only the embarrassing Brooklyn Nets allow opponents to score more second-chance points.
It's a problem. There are some teams that may deal a powerful d-bounder now. Perhaps the Memphis Grizzlies finally pull the trigger on trading Zach Randolph if in exchange for an expiring point guard (contract) as a credible Mike Conley backup—though Randolph's leadership and posterity value to that franchise make it unlikely.
Smart Help Defenders
The Knicks give opponents too many second chances, and the first chances come too quickly.
Rather than applying pressure, they relieve it. This is also seen when neglecting to defend inbounds passes or chase guards in transition, giving perimeter shooters too much space, switching too willingly, etc.
There are a variety of reasons the Knicks defense gets burned, but one common refrain is that the help defense is too late, in the wrong place or never arrives at all.
Hence, the opponent's star three-baller is wide open behind the arc, or an automatic finisher like DeAndre Jordan is perfectly positioned for yet another lob, while two Knicks bump into one another, confused.
New York could use players who have the instincts to know when to roll and cut off that drive to the hoop after someone gets beat on a pick, or when to stay on their man, or when to run into the backcourt and help Brandon Jennings hound a point guard into an eight-second violation.
Right now the team is short on those yet long on players who cause Jeff Hornacek to break his clipboard on the sideline.
Another Stretchy Forward
One bright spot of the frustrating loss to the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday?
The play of Kristaps Porzingis, who finally looked his unicorny self again after a hideously nonmagical January.
He had fouled out of four of the 10 games he played last month and commits more whacks per game than any player in the league. So KP must sit more often because he's in perpetual foul trouble, and eventually Carmelo Anthony must rest. When the two of them are out, the court shrinks—both in width and height.
The Knicks' other options at the 4 entirely change the scheme.
Although Willy Hernangomez and Kyle O'Quinn can (sometimes) both sink the kind of jumpers that Joakim Noah would never attempt in his dizziest daydreams, they are predominantly post players. Mindaugas Kuzminskas is 6'9" but willowy, without much of a post game or ability to defend inside. Lance Thomas is injured, with no hint of returning. Maurice Ndour is more of a defensive specialist.
So, without KP or Melo, it's either a very small-ball lineup or one that's light on long-range threats. New York could use another option—not a unicorn, surely, but a forward with some size and a nice perimeter jumper.
Guards Who Shoot the Long Ball
Oh what a difference three points make. Seven of the Knicks' defeats were lost by three points or less. One more from downtown in each of those games and New York would be snuggled in a low playoff berth—or better.
Yet the point guards hardly launch the rock from there, and the shooting guards don't shoot at all.
That's an exaggeration, perhaps. But Derrick Rose is ranked 134th of 144 in three-pointers made among starting guards, and Jennings' off-balance lunging tripe is a spotty 34.2 percent.
Courtney Lee, Ron Baker and Justin Holiday all have solid three-balls, but all are underused in the offense. Instead of a shooting guard who's only called upon to make giant shots in excruciatingly high-pressure moments, and get open when Carmelo draws a double-team, why not have a guard who is a regular threat himself?
Both Knicks point guards are free agents this year and perfect midseason trade fodder. If moved, the Knicks might find a replacement who could upgrade the perimeter offense.
There is precedent for a coach to be traded. I am not suggesting that, but it should be noted that if Hornacek cannot keep his team consistently motivated, or get them to execute pick-and-roll defense, or find lineups that work, then some eyebrows should be raised in his direction.
Yet the boos that have rained down have targeted only the players, and Hornacek's crew has escaped the "Fire Fisher" treatment we heard last year when Derek Fisher coached a team with less talent.
The real problem, we all know, is neither the coaches nor the players.
Sadly, the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement does not include provisions for trading owners and general managers for an egg sandwich.
Finding a trade partner to agree to such a deal with the Knicks would probably still be a challenge anyway.
Phil Jackson, the builder and destroyer of three losing Knicks teams, refuses to answer questions to the public and hardly communicates with his team. When he finally chooses to break that sullen silence, it's with cryptic, passive-aggressive attacks on the only player who's performed consistently well and taken the public abuse in stride.
Owner James Dolan, overseer of many years of wreckage, either directly ordered the removal of Charles Oakley—as Oakley himself told ESPN Radio (h/t New York Daily News) but the Knicks call "pure fiction," per the team's Twitter (h/t Daniel Popper of New York Daily News)—or simply sat idly by as it happened, then allowed a hasty press release impugning Oak's character. (Granted, if I thought Charles Oakley was not a fan of mine, I'd likely move safely to Mars, instead of risk having him sit two rows behind me at the Garden.)
It was an act of cowardice, entitlement and tyranny—either of commission and/or omission—that showed disrespect for basketball, New York, the fans, the Knicks and the history of the franchise as it celebrates its 70th year. In short, it was a perfect representation of every other move Dolan has made in regards to this team.
All stats are from NBA.com/stats and up-to-date as of Feb. 10.