This was supposed to be a stretch of schedule that would allow the Knicks to rack up a few wins against lesser opponents. But the real “lesser opponent” has been Mike D’Antoni’s club; his Knicks have dropped consecutive games to the Raptors and Bobcats.
The Charlotte loss was particularly ugly. With Amar’e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert back in the lineup, the Knicks were closer to full strength than they’ve been since opening night (when Shumpert sprained his knee). The frontcourt many described as the NBA’s best – with Tyson Chandler centering Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony – was in place. And yet, the Knicks were absolutely torched by Boris Diaw (27 points, 12-15 from the floor, 3-3 from three), Byron Mullens (16 points, 6-8 from the floor) and Gerald Henderson (24 points, 10-13) and allowed Charlotte, as a team, to score 118 points – 17 more than their previous season high.
- I don’t know if Amar’e Stoudemire is struggling with the Knicks’ defense, or if he’s still getting over that sprained ankle, or if he’s just a bad defender – probably a combination of all three – but he’s a big part of the problem at this point. Stoudemire was routinely caught switching to smaller players, which left Charlotte’s jump-shooting bigs with wide-open looks.
- Landry Fields looks just as lost now as he did in the playoff series against Boston. My take? Fields is a smart guy (Stanford grad and all that), he seems the team is in disarray, and he’s desperately trying to find ways to help, maybe trying to do too much. I like the fact that he’s trying to create off the dribble and set Chandler up for easy baskets, but his feeds into the paint are ending up in photographer’s row more often than not. (My esteemed colleague Tommy Dee of TheKnicksBlog thinks Fields is playing out of position and would be better suited to coming off the bench at the three. I’m not sure he’s wrong – and if Iman Shumpert continues to play well, we may see Fields with the second unit before long.)
- Tyson Chandler hasn’t had much of an impact on the defense to this point. The fact that he’s being asked to cover for poor defenders at both forward spots could be part of the problem – in Dallas, he really only needed to clean up after Dirk Nowitzki. But the Knicks’ defensive scheme – if it can be called that – seems to call for players to switch on every screen and every pick-and-roll. Chandler can’t protect the paint if he’s constantly getting caught defending the likes of DJ Augustin one-on-one.
- The offense wasn’t as big a problem as in recent games – 110 points should be more than enough to beat Charlotte, after all – but big issues remain. In theory, Toney Douglas and Carmelo Anthony are primarily responsible for initiating the offense. Well, those two combined for ten assists in the game… and eight turnovers. A 5:4 assist-to-turnover ratio probably isn’t ideal.
Here’s my biggest concern: you’ll see a lot of reporters and bloggers mention these issues and then throw in a caveat like, “they haven’t had much time to learn Mike Woodson’s defensive schemes” or “they need time to jell.” And I don’t buy that excuse. Last year’s Miami Heat – especially early in the season, when they couldn’t figure out how to get LeBron James and Dwyane Wade going simultaneously – needed time. This team needs something else. More practice time won’t help the fact that they continue to come out flat against weaker opponents.
Or that they seem to feel the same way about playing defense that many men feel about changing poopie diapers.
Put it another way… Dwayne Casey just took over the Raptors – a team led by defensively-inept Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon. And through six games, his Raptors are holding opponents to .398 shooting from the floor – best number in the NBA. Why don’t the Raptors need more time to jell and learn a new defense? Maybe Bargnani and company are playing bettter D because they’ve actually committed to it, a commitment not in evidence among most Knicks last night.
On the Bright Side:
Iman Shumpert continues to impress. Shump chipped in 19 points (6-10 from the floor, 4-6 from three) with five boards, three assists and two steals in the game. He was one of just two Knicks to finish the game in plus territory (Bill Walker was the other) and is already a big enough fan favorite to inspire his own chants at MSG.
He made a few mistakes on both ends of the floor, but at least he’s making mistakes of aggression. And though he limped off the floor in the fourth quarter after getting tangled up with Charlotte’s Gerald Henderson, the report is he was just suffering from a cramp; he should be good to go for Friday’s game against the Wizards.
How to Fix Things:
To me, the two biggest problems are the Knicks’ impossibly slow starts and the defense. To fix the former, I’d try Shumpert in the starting lineup in place of Fields. The rookie’s energy is infectious on both ends of the floor, and Fields’ “let the game come to me” style might be better suited to adapting to the flow of the game as it progresses.
If you’d rather move Fields to small forward in the second unit… maybe try a second-quarter grouping with Fields at the three, Stoudemire at the four and Harrellson in the middle… I wouldn’t argue. Jorts’ three-point shooting could create more space for STAT to operate and maybe allow Fields to get back to attacking the basket, like he did in the first half of last season.
On defense… this crazy “switch 14 times on every possession” might work when you’ve got someone like Jared Jeffries – capable of defending multiple positions – on the floor. But using Chandler in that role is a big mistake.
In the fourth quarter – when the Knicks actually slowed Charlotte down enough to make the final score respectable – it appeared they were in a sort-of matchup zone. To me, a zone – even a basic rec-league 2-3 – would make a lot more sense given this team’s current personnel, as it would allow Chandler to stay home and protect the rim more.