There hasn’t been much of this, but every so often you come across someone on Twitter who says something to the effect of, “Who cares if the Knicks make the playoffs, they’re just going to get blown out!” If you come across one of these people, you should cyber-smack them in the face. Just because I’m aware the Knicks aren’t going anywhere doesn’t mean I don’t want them to steal the 8-seed and get into the playoffs anyway. Why? Outside of the obvious “no draft choice” reasons, it’s as simple as me just enjoying watching the Knicks play playoff basketball. If you think that’s masochistic, I’m not going to fight you on it. We’re allowed to enjoy things that are terrible for us, like Knicks basketball and Doritos.
1. Carmelo Anthony (Last: 1) – If there was any week that came closest to knocking Melo from the summit of the rankings for the first time all year, it was this past one. Saddled with a bum shoulder, Anthony put up a total of 23 points in the final two games of the week, against Washington and at Miami, which is less than he averages for a game. Against Washington he had a ghastly 9 turnovers, but he did average 5.5 assists and 6.5 rebounds in the two losses, so he still found a way to contribute. Without a healthy, firing-on-all-cylinders Melo, the Knicks are toast. (They were toast even with Anthony putting together perhaps the finest season of his career.) But there’s no way an injury-fueled mini slump knocks Melo off this perch.
2. J.R. Smith (Last: 4) – J.R. regains the spot where he spent a lot of last season. We’ve mentioned this before but it bears repeating; for better or worse (and it’s most certainly for worse), the Knicks of these past two seasons are a significantly better team when J.R. plays at a level more deserving of the top spot in these rankings than opposed to the bottom. That speaks to the flaws of the Knicks’ roster construction, but it’s the (yes, perhaps sad) truth. It’s also worth recognizing that Smith came into this season off knee surgery, so it’s more than fair to assume that a month or two ago is when he finally, fully started to feel like himself again. The early-season suspensions had nothing to do with J.R.’s injuries, and they didn’t help the tenor of the team early on, so those are certainly fair criticisms. But on the court, his play has improved vastly as the season has gone on. This past week, he indeed shot a lot. Over the past four games, Smith has taken an absurd SIXTY 3-pointers, including an NBA record 22 attempts on Sunday in Miami. Twenty-seven of them did fall, though, for a 45% clip. During this stretch he’s held an assist-turnover ratio of about 2-to-1, as well.
3. Pablo Prigioni (Last: 5) – Prigioni didn’t really do anything spectacular this past week to launch himself up to this spot, but who cares? He just continued to do Pablo things, as he has basically since the day he put on a Knicks uniform. He has a very outside chance of finishing first in the league in 3-point %, which would require Kyle Korver taking and missing a lot of threes. This could also help the Knicks in their last-ditch pursuit of a playoff spot. So let’s all root for this, yeah?
4. Tyson Chandler (Last: 2) – Tyson produced against Utah and Miami, falling just a rebound shy of a double-double against the Jazz. But, looking at the larger picture, it’s fair to say that Chandler hasn’t exactly had a great season. The Knicks’ awful perimeter defense often puts a lot of onus on him to clean things up, but stats tell us that he doesn’t always exactly do so. Per NBA.com, opponents shoot 52.1% at the rim when Chandler is defending it (within 5 feet of the basket). This is a far higher percentage than some of the other centers and forwards who are considered top-tier defenders, as Chandler often is, and others as well. Chandler lags, understandably, behind guys like Serge Ibaka (44.3%), Roy Hibbert (41.7%) and Anthony Davis (49%), but also behind guys like John Henson (46.8%), Josh Smith (47.1%) and Marcin Gortat (50.5%), who all face similar amounts of shots at the rim as Chandler does. Sometimes I wonder why it seems we don’t hold Chandler to as high a standard as some of the other guys on the team.
5. Amar’e Stoudemire (Last: 3) – Amar’e continues to score efficiently, as he has pretty consistently over the past two months or so. Over his last nine games, he’s shooting 55% from the field and is averaging 15.3 points in about 29 minutes. He was really darn good a few Sundays ago at Golden State, playing 31 hard minutes, so much so that he sat the following night in Utah. But the Knicks will continue to take effort and production from Stoudemire for the remainder of his Knicks career.
6. Iman Shumpert (Last: 6) – So here’s where we are, with Iman Shumpert, offensively. His 10 points in 24 minutes against the Nets last Wednesday was a positive outlier. In his 70 games this season, he’s reached double digits in points in just 16 of them. This is not to say Shumpert isn’t an effective player; lord knows hes one of the only Knicks with some defensive acumen, top-flight athleticism, and room to grow. But how much we’re expecting him to grow, and what his ceiling is, may need to be seriously adjusted. Because if it’s as an elite defensive stopper but not much of an offensive player at all, that’s fine…it just doesn’t seem to be what most expected, especially after last season’s playoffs.
7. Tim Hardaway, Jr. (Last: 7) – Much like Anthony, Timmy’s scoring has taken a nosedive the past two games, as the rookie scored just 5 points on 2-of-13 from the field in the Knicks’ last two losses. Much like Shumpert, Hardaway will be an interesting case over the next year or so. He shows great potential on the offensive end, like Shumpert on the D-end early in his career; he’s raw but flashes signs that tell you he could be really good with some refinement. And the other half of his game is a tremendous work in progress. Here’s hoping the next Knicks coach and staff are able to capitalize on the strengths of both Hardaway’s and Shumpert’s games, and find a way to close the gaps and make them better all-around. Because last I checked, we cannot merge them into one super well rounded shooting guard named Timan Shumpardaway. Technology just isn’t there yet, which is unfortunate because I don’t think there’s anything in the current CBA preventing this.
8. Raymond Felton (Last: 8) – This basically rounds out the Knicks’ real rotation, and Raymond Felton has just about been the team’s worst top-to-bottom rotation guy all season. His season (on the court) has been amazingly consistently mediocre, devoid of many peaks or valleys, it’s sorta just sucked the entire way through, like a Katherine Heigl movie.
9. Cole Aldrich (Last: 9) – The Knicks record in their last four games: 0-2 without Cole Aldrich, 2-0 with Cole Aldrich. I’m just saying, folks.
10-12, pick your order. Toure Murry, Jeremy Tyler, Shannon “Defensive Stopper” Brown (Last: 10-12, respectively)
As the games have now reached must-win status, Mike Woodson has relegated these bros to cameo status.
(Unranked due to long-term injuries: Andrea Bargnani, Kenyon Martin)