Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Preaching Patience With the Knicks

(Photo courtesy of nypost.com)

Naturally, the Knicks lost in Carmelo Anthony's return last night. To the Nets. At Madison Square Garden. After winning seven of eight games with Jeremy Lin starting and Anthony injured.

As a result, all the questions about whether Anthony would disrupt the team's chemistry are now over. The answer is yes, he did disrupt their chemistry, and their season is obviously lacking promise the rest of the way, right?

Wrong. Anybody that tells you otherwise doesn't understand basketball. Yet all I saw last night on Facebook and Twitter and heard in person or through text and e-mail was that Anthony is the devil and will once again ruin the Knicks' success.

If you read my work consistently, you know I have many issues with Anthony. He's one of the league's most talented players, yet he thrives in isolation which destroys the ball movement that was so prevalent with Lin in and Anthony out.

Anthony shoots too much, he's selfish and he doesn't compete defensively despite having the talent to be an above-average defender, on the perimeter and in the post. The only intangible he seems to possess is the ability to hit shots late in the game because he never has an issue creating a shot he can bury.

So why, if I hate Anthony's game and watched last night's Nets debacle, am I preaching patience with this team? Amar'e Stoudemire returned from a leave of absence and fit right in with the Lin-led Knicks, so why should they get a pass now with Anthony back?

New Faces

Not only have the Knicks found a new point guard in Lin, they signed a new shooting guard in J.R. Smith (who likes to play with the ball and shoot as well) and have recently gotten Anthony and Stoudemire back in the lineup as well as Baron Davis, the original point guard savior. The only position where they don't have any new faces is center.

Even at center, Tyson Chandler is getting banged up playing big minutes and must be grateful for the upcoming All-Star Break. The Knicks will also get backup Josh Harrellson back sometime in March to share backup minutes down low with Jared Jeffries.

There has been a lot of change with the Knicks roster recently and they went from an extremely shallow team a few weeks ago to one that may have a fluctuating rotation, with certain players who can play their way in or out. That's a good problem to have.

Defensive Issues

Everybody knows Anthony and Stoudemire aren't great defenders and their returns will severely squeeze the minutes of Iman Shumpert and Jeffries, two of the team's three best defenders. The Knicks were winning with ball movement and defense, but now the script has changed.

The Knicks couldn't guard Deron Williams last night, and he proceeded to hit eight three-pointers and score 38 points. Iman Shumpert missed the game due to a sprained MCL. Coincidence? No way.

Shumpert wouldn't have completely stopped Williams but his presence in the lineup would have completely changed the complexion of last night's game, especially considering he would have seen all the minutes he could handle to slow down the scorching Williams.

Chandler also got into foul trouble early and has been dealing with wrist and back issues, which hurts the Knicks inside where Stoudemire is nothing more than a shell of the explosive MVP-caliber player we saw at the beginning of last season. And that player still couldn't defend.

When Shumpert returns, Mike D'Antoni will need to figure out which lineups work well together. Three of his four best players (Lin, Anthony, Stoudemire) are not known for their defense; Lin has great hands, but he's average laterally and obviously couldn't keep up with Williams.

Shumpert is the obvious fit at shooting guard with the above three players and Chandler, but Landry Fields has played very well lately and doesn't deserve to lose his starting spot. This is where the Smith signing and Davis' return complicates things.

The Knicks need contributions from all six of these guys. Besides Lin and Anthony, Fields rebounds well for a guard and can score multiple ways while Davis can distribute and give Lin a blow. Smith is the kind of knock-down shooter that thrives in D'Antoni's system while Shumpert is the team's only above-average perimeter defender.

There just aren't enough minutes to go around here, which is going to lead to some decisions for D'Antoni. Those decisions will likely come in the flow of the game and depending on the Knicks' opponent, but he's going to have to get creative here.


This is what everybody has been talking about. The Knicks have lacked chemistry ever since acquiring Anthony on this day last season. I preached patience then as well, considering the Knicks essentially gutted their entire roster to get Anthony from Denver.

I even preached patience as the playoffs came; a team with only a month and a half to learn to play together with limited practice time isn't going to jell quickly. The Knicks were promptly swept by a Celtics team that has been playing together for years.

New York certainly looked good when Lin was leading the way. His ability to lead the offense, move the ball (which was absolutely contagious) and create his own points was the perfect remedy for what was ailing the Knicks at that position.

Lin also had issues turning the ball over but committed just three turnovers last night, his second-lowest total in a start (he had two against the defensively-inept Wizards two weeks ago). He still had 21 points and nine assists, so his ability to be a playmaker wasn't negatively impacted by Anthony's presence.

Anthony returning put less pressure on Lin to handle the ball 100 percent of the time, which led to less turnovers. Once Anthony gets back into rhythm and doesn't miss as many easy layups as he did last night (which is why he was 4-11 rather than 6-11) or turn the ball over six times, these two can make each other better.

Lin will figure out where Anthony likes the ball and get him better shots, which will lead to better than the sub-40 percent shooting we've seen from him so far this year. Anthony, a career 46-percent shooter, can lessen the load on Lin and Davis can give him an occasional breather, increasing his efficiency as well.

Without all the pieces in place, this team was a lot like last year's. Fun to watch, but not a contender. With Stoudemire and Anthony now back in the mix as well as Davis and Smith, this team has the upside to compete with Miami and Chicago if everything falls right. That's a big if, but one that's worth giving some time to come together.

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