One year ago, the New York Knicks were the surprise of the season as they led the Atlantic division and were second only to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference with a 54-28 record. Considering that, they had high expectations this season, however the Knicks have instead had a nightmare of a season with a 27-40 record, and their hopes of being a playoff team is currently in trouble. Luckily for them, they are in a weak Eastern Conference.
Before getting into how the Knicks can maneuver their way into the playoffs, why exactly have they slumped a year after winning 54 games?
Starting at the top, while Carmelo Anthony is a great player, he has his faults. He never has and most likely never will be a great defensive player. Secondly, and the biggest problem of his, is that unlike some of the greats, he seems to have the inability to make those around him better. Instead, he is trying to singlehandedly beat teams and it just isn’t working.
Having said that, he isn’t the problem and is the bright spot of the Knicks. He has probably been playing the best basketball of his career this season as he is second only to Kevin Durant in ppg and is what propels the offense on the team. Where he has really made strides though is in his rebounding, where he is averaging 8.3 rpg opposed to last year’s 6.3 rpg.
Tyson Chandler is arguably the best and most likely only defender on the Knicks, which is what hurts the Knicks tremendously especially for being in a defensive-heavy conference. The 2013-2014 season has not been kind to Chandler though. He has been on and off the court since the beginning, having missed 27 games. Despite that though, he is leading the team in rebounds at 10.2 rpg, field goal percentage at 59.2 percent, and blocks with a 1.3 average. While his blocks may not be as great as they should, what Chandler does is act as a force under the basket as well as guard any big man in the league.
Everyone else on the Knicks leaves a lot to be desired. J.R. Smith, who was the sixth man of the year in the 2012-2013 season, has dropped off significantly from 18.1 ppg to 13.3 ppg. Additionally, he has been a headache and a distraction. It started when he reported an injury immediately after signing with the team, which resulted in patellar tendon surgery. Next, he persuaded the team to sign his undrafted brother who only averaged 5.2 ppg for the Las Vegas summer league. Many said his brother wasn’t NBA-caliber and he had trouble fitting into the system, which also disrupted team chemistry. As a result, the team waived him.
It didn’t stop there. In August, Smith failed the NBA’s drug policy and was awarded a 5-game suspension once healthy, which resulted in him starting the season on November 10. In addition, he has had several fines ranging from derogatory language on Twitter towards Bucks guard Brandon Jennings to untying two different opponents’ shoes during play, and was fined by the Knicks for conduct detrimental to the team, which also resulted in coach Mike Woodson not playing the guard for several games. As a result, Smith disrupted the team’s chemistry tremendously.
Elsewhere on the team, players like Raymond Felton and Kenyon Martin have shown a decrease in level of play, while Iman Shumpert, a player who looked to be on the rise, hasn’t developed. Meta World Peace showed his age by not adding much to the team, which resulted in the team waiving him. They have had two solid recruits this year though in Tim Hardaway Jr., who has averaged 10.2 ppg, and Andreas Bargnani at 13.3 ppg.
If there is one thing that has hurt New York this year, it’s the coaching of Woodson. While there were plenty of lineup changes last year, there have been even more this year. The problem is that it isn’t working, and if the lineups are spelling trouble for the Knicks, their hopes of a playoff run won’t happen. Another problem is that he hasn’t used Stoudemire to his potential, despite having the second-highest field goal percentage on the team.
Woodson’s adjustments have been questionable at best. The best example of this can be found in one infamous game this past December. In a close game with the Wizards, the Knicks had three timeouts. Woodson didn’t use a single one and lost by a measly point. This is where he fails the most. The Knicks do not win many close games as they are sixth from the bottom with a 66% chance of winning in a close game.
Most importantly though, it is that the Knicks have a dysfunctional ball club. There are seven guards, four forwards, and three centers. That is a mismatched roster. Plain and simple, there are too many guards on this team, and for at team that is injury-prone, there is not enough depth with the big men, and as a result, Woodson has many players playing out of position throughout the course of the game.
What can they do? The Knicks sit at a 27-40 record. Typically, this is the type of record for a team destined for the lottery. In actuality, the Knicks have a chance to make the playoffs with both Charlotte (33-35) and Atlanta (31-35) having sub .500 records. The problem though is that Carmelo and company don’t have much time left with only 15 games remaining, and they need to gain at least a four-game swing to make it to eighth.
It may sound simple, but the team has to be consistent. Without counting Carmelo, J.R. Smith has to play up to his standards, Felton, among others, needs to play better and Woodson needs to play Stoudemire. Above all else, they have to play like a team, not a myriad group of players playing one-on-one.
To win the games they need to, the Knicks have to also win those close games. Woodson cannot have coaching flubs at the end of the game, and sporadic shooters like J.R. Smith and Raymond Felton need to not hack up threes when they’re not hitting.
Beyond doing these things, there are some factors in which the Knicks just have to be lucky. First is they need to limit injuries. Currently, their second leading scorer, Andrea Bargnani, is out indefinitely with a torn elbow since January 23 and Kenyon Martin has been out with a sore ankle. Players need to step up in their absence, but for the Knicks to succeed, they cannot afford any more injuries.
Fortunately for the squad, they have been on a seven-game winning streak, which has helped their confidence and potential of entering the playoff mix. At the same time though, this was immediately after their seven game losing streak. In fact. they’ve had more losing streaks than win streaks this season, like their eight-game losing streak early in the season that led to a 3-12 record for their first 15 games.
A second thing to look at with this latest win streak is who they’ve been playing — Detroit, Minnesota, Utah, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Boston, and Milwaukee. Every single one of these teams, with the exception of Minnesota, are sub .500 teams with worse records than the Knicks.
That changes tonight when the Knicks play the conference-leading Pacers. This game will really prove if the Knicks have the determination to get into the playoffs. Aside from tonight’s game, the next four games continue an easy schedule with sub .500 teams, however, them making the playoffs is going to be incredibly difficult towards the end where nine of the last 10 games of the season are against plus .500 teams.
New York is lucky they are in the Eastern Conference, because if they weren’t, they wouldn’t have a chance to make the playoffs. They have been solid lately, but while they’ve won seven games, they haven’t proven themselves as a playoff team until they’ve beaten some of the better teams in the NBA. To keep the Knicks’ hopes up for a playoff run, they need to have a magic turnaround by playing like a team, being consistent, and not getting themselves in trouble by executing dumb plays down the stretch. Regardless of what happens, it should be interesting to see where they end up.
Commentary by Simon Mounsey