The Knicks have started the 2013-2014 season with 3 wins and 5 losses, completely different from their amazing 2012 start which included 6 wins and 0 losses, including wins over both the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs. Surely we couldn’t realistically expect the same hot start, could we? After all the Knicks lost Tyson Chandler in game 4 of this season, albeit the injury should only be 4-6 weeks, last season Chandler didn’t start ailing until mid-season. J.R. Smith was suspended the first 5 games of the season and coming off knee surgery, so he needs time to get back in rhythm. Aside from these obvious reasons for a slow start this year the Knicks have a few deeper issues that need to be addressed if they want to make a deep playoff run this season.
Raymond Felton’s struggles early on:
It’s so difficult to discuss the struggles early from Raymond Felton, because of the respect I have for him from his first stint with the Knicks with Amare Stoudemire. He has a lot of great qualities you want in your point guard. He’s scrappy, hard working and has a ton of heart, but unfortunately he’s not up to par with today’s point guards. He’s a step or two slower and not nearly as big or athletic as most of these guys. He struggles to defend the quick point guards who aren’t quite superstars like Jeff Teague, Ricky Rubio, Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lin, and seriously struggles against the superstars like Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams and Chris Paul.
By the numbers Felton is having a rough start to the season. He’s averaging 11.6 points, 5.3 assists, 2.4 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game. All of those are below career average except for steals, which is right at his career average. Felton’s PER (Player Efficiency Rating) is at a 12.03. Considering the league average is 15.00, it’s clear Felton isn’t getting it done on either end of the floor.
Part of the poor defensive output is Felton’s inability on defense and not much can be done about that, but certain parts of his defensive effort can change. Felton never fights under screens, which allows for either open shooters or easy drives into the lane. If Felton were even a mediocre defender the Knicks would be a better team, but he’s simply not, he’s a poor one-on-one defender and at this stage of his career he isn’t going to be able to change that. Another key part of Felton’s struggles are incidentally not even his fault, but rather poor coaching, of course I’m talking about the switching defense of had coach Mike Woodson.
Mike Woodson’s defensive philosophy:
Mike Woodson was brought onto Mike D’Antoni’s coaching staff in 2011 as a defensive “mastermind” to bring balance to D’Antoni’s offensive prowess. Neither of those came to fruition for the Knicks as D’Antoni was fired and Woodson’s defensive coaching is terrible. In the 2012-2013 season, Mike Woodson’s first full season without the interim label, the Knicks were 17th is defensive efficiency. Through 8 games this season the Knicks are currently ranked 21st in defensive efficiency.
The problem is Woodson’s philosophy with this Knicks roster. If Mike Woodson were coaching the Indiana Pacers or the Chicago Bulls his defense would be effective because it requires a tremendous amount of switching which leaves mismatches like Centers defending Point Guards and vice versa. Woodson doesn’t have the personnel for this defense to be close to effective. The Knicks are comprised of jump shooters who consider defense an afterthought and would rather outscore you, that notion of course doesn’t include Tyson Chander, Metta Word Peace, Iman Shumpert and Kenyon Martin of course.
The biggest issue is that Mike Woodson is a stubborn coach who has a “my way or the highway” style of coaching. Therefor the Knicks will continue to struggle on the defensive side of the ball when the fix is as simple as saying saying no more switching it’s straight man-to-man defense with fighting over screens. The Knicks will now continue to allow wide open three point looks thanks to all the switching and easy drives and dunks with big men defending quick point guards.
Losing your defensive centerpiece in Tyson Chandler certainly doesn’t help anything, but the defense should be prided by all five players not just one in the paint. That in and of itself is a major issue which may not be easily corrected with this roster. The defense certainly has to change soon.
A balanced offensive unit:
The Knicks offensively have been hot and cold this year as expected. When Carmelo Anthony has been on the Knicks look good, when he hasn’t the Knicks get blown out. That’s the type of player Carmelo Anthony is and luckily for the Knicks he’s on more often than not. Surprisingly enough Andrea Bargnani is being featured more in this offense. During the game vs. the Houston Rockets center Andrea Bargnani was being utilized very well in the pick and pop game and shot 9-12 including 3-3 from three to the tune of 24 points, a great sign for the Knicks offense moving forward.
For the Knicks to get maximum efficiency out of their offense it will require a balance of “iso-Melo” ball, pick & roll and pick & pop with the big men. However there still needs to be more balance with the other Knicks players. For instance last night aside from Caremlo Anthony (45), Andrea Bargnani (24) and and inefficient 4-16 shooting night from J.R. Smith (15), no other Knicks player finished in double figures. When Carmelo Anthony is double teamed he needs to kick the ball out and hope for an open three, the problem is he still doesn’t trust these guys to make it and who can blame him? Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert, Pablo Prigioni, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Metta World Peace need to hit open jumpers, simple as that.
Early season trade rumors?
There has also been a ton of chatter about a possible trade of Iman Shumpert. I am a bit biased in this regard as a big time Shumpert fan, but I say there is no way you trade him unless you’re getting a star player or instant impact big man in return. Shumpert has a ton of potential to fulfill yet, but you don’t give up young potential for a veteran presence unless you are really close to championship level. A swap of Shumpert for Kenneth Faried would have been fair compensation, as Faried is a beast on the boards and a high energy player, two qualities the Knicks desperately need in the lineup right now.
In conclusion/on a side note:
Andrea Bargnani is currently starting at center for the Knicks with Tyson Chandler sidelined and Bargs is playing very well creating mismatches on the perimeter forcing center’s to defend him out there which opens a clogged lane for other players. When Chandler returns, what will Mike Woodson do, keep Bargnani playing center in a reserve roll or play him at power forward where more athletic big men will play him tougher? That should be quite the quandary, but a 7-footer that can hit three’s as a 6th man of sorts, seems just crazy enough to work.