The 2012-13 Knicks are no doubt at their lowest point. They’ve lost four straight, all of which have been disappointing: flat performances against the Clippers and Raptors before the All Star break, an abominable effort in Indiana and a second loss to Toronto on Friday night. And it isn’t just that they’ve lost four straight, it’s also that they’re just 12-12 since Christmas. That’s two months of essentially flat play. Their lead in the Atlantic is down to a single game over the Nets (although they are up three in the loss column) and they’re now a game behind Indiana for the second seed. Do the math: that’s just one game out of the four seed and a second round playoff matchup with Miami (if they get out of the first round at all.) They can’t let that happen. And that’s not to mention playoff teams like the Bulls, Celtics and Pacers seem to have the Knicks’ number.
It’s always dangerous to take stock when a team is at its nadir. But it was easy to rationalize the Knicks’ poor play before the break: dog days of the season, ebbs and flows, etc. Now that they had a week off and came back just as uninspired and sloppy as they were before the break something is clearly wrong. Taking stock is in order.
Something needs to change. Mike Woodson needs to change it and show the NBA he is a coach capable of adapting on the fly. In Atlanta, it was iso-Joe, always. In New York, I’m not sure what it is any more. It was pick-and-roll, one-in-four-out offense with a side of Melo when the situation called for it. Now it’s a pro forma run through the pick-and-roll to start possessions that inevitably segues into a forced shot from Melo or JR or someone else. If the Knicks are lucky they throw an ill-considered alley to Tyson Chandler, who seems to be receiving the ball further and further from the rim every game.
A quick run through some of the issues:
- Jason Kidd is in such a slump he’s forgotten that he’s the third most prolific three point shooter in NBA history.
- Iman Shumpert is struggling in his comeback from ACL surgery and doesn’t look comfortable at small forward.
- Raymond Felton is averaging just 2.6 assists over the last six games (the Knicks have lost five of them.)
- The Knicks are averaging fourteen turnovers a game over the last five. Before this stretch they were averaging eleven.
- Carmelo Anthony seems to be wearing down.
- Amar’e Stoudemire’s defense is as bad as it has ever been.
- They switch on everything defensively and have been getting exploited for it lately.
So what can Woodson do? First, they need to recommit to running their offense. Second, they need to adjust the starting lineup by inserting (gasp) JR Smith as the starting small forward. It might sound illogical to fix a lack of offensive discipline by adding a dose of JR Smith, but Smith’s ability to score and to make plays out of the pick and roll has been shown time and again this season. Not only that, he’s a capable and willing shooter, something neither Shumpert or Kidd is at the moment. It’s clear from the numbers that Kidd should remain the starting shooting guard and Shumpert should go to the bench: their offensive efficiency with Kidd on the court is 108.6 (0.6 higher than it is without him.) With Shumpert on the court? 98.6 (more than ten points worse than it is without him.) It’s no coincidence they got killed by Toronto in the first and third quarters on Friday: that’s when they come out with their starting lineup. Smith is no defensive step back from Shumpert at the moment either. It was Smith’s defense that slowed Rudy Gay down the stretch after a seventeen point third. If Shumpert needs time and work to get his athletic ability back, he needs to get it when it works for the Knicks. It isn’t right now.
In addition to adjusting the starting lineup, the Knicks need to play Amar’e Stoudemire less. Or when they do play him, it needs to be with Tyson Chandler on the court and Steve Novak off it. Stoudemire has always been a mess defensively but it’s getting worse. Over the Knicks’ last five games the Knicks’ defensive efficiency rating with Stoudemire on the court is a truly disturbing 122 (and that’s against some questionable offensive teams.) I don’t know about you, but that’s the highest number I’ve ever seen. The Knicks are waiting on the return of Rasheed Wallace and will be seeing what Kenyon Martin can give them this week. Any minutes those two get should be at the expense of Stoudemire first and foremost. Some of their minutes should also come from Carmelo’s stash as he seems to be wearing down under the stress of playing 38 minutes a game, most of them as an undersized power forward.
If Martin is in good shape he’ll be a boon to their defensive gameplan as well: he’s a capable on-ball defender who can stay in front of ballhandlers for the time it takes to get settled after a switch. While we’re on the subject: the Knicks need to switch less and make it harder for teams like Toronto to isolate Amar’e against smaller players and Raymond Felton against bigger ones. Some switching is good, always switching is bad. It’s predictable and easy to exploit. And assuming he ever gets right, Rasheed Wallace’s defense down low and renowned communicative ability will also make the Knicks better on that end. Who knows, Marcus Camby might even play one day too.
Last and certainly not least, the Knicks need to get their mojo back. I don’t know if they need to go bowling or horseback riding or something. I don’t know if they’re suffering from seasonal affective disorder like the rest of us and just need to hold on until daylight savings time on March 10th. What I do know is they need to loosen up, get back to running their offense, make a couple of lineup tweaks and get back to winning some games.
All that can start tonight against Philadelphia.