Being a general manager for an NBA team must suck balls. I use that phrase literally, since that is the trade they ply in, of course. But the point remains: How do you put together a team of misfits that are magically supposed to get along, unite under a common goal, contribute in very different yet meaningful ways, and cost less than the ever changing salary cap? Oh, and do it more than once.
Knicks General Manager Glen Grunwald has accepted just this type of challenge, and based on the Knicks hot start, he’s managed to pull all this off. However, let’s look closer at this hot start and figure out why this all could be a mirage.
The Knucklehead Factor
There’s a rule that exists in the NBA that goes something like this: You can only have ONE knucklehead on a team. A good example of this is the mid 90’s Chicago Bulls teams. Dennis Rodman’s knuckleheadedness was balanced by the professional drive of Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan. While Dennis was acting the fool (and rebounding the sh*t out of the ball too), Michael kept him in line, and Phil Jackson laughed it off.
This Knicks team has three knuckleheads in Carmelo Anthony, JR Smith, and Rasheed Wallace, plus a third that has slightly less propensity for losing his sh*t in Tyson Chandler. This is a combustible mix to say the least, and when things are going well, the narrative quickly becomes about these guys maturing. But it’s not how you react during the good times that reveals character.
On the road, against a tough Memphis team, Carmelo couldn’t even get out of the first HALF without letting the frustration get to him. It only takes one of these three to get the other two going, and by midway in the third quarter, just about the entire team was preening and carrying on at the refs, the crowd, and anyone else watching on TV. It even affected the coach, as Mike Woodson got T’d up because he wanted a travel called on Zach Randolph. A Travel Call. In the NBA. In Twitter parlance: WTF?
The Out Of Their Mind Shooting Factor
One look at these numbers, and you can easily see how this hot start by the Knicks is simply a mirage. In each of their first six wins, they relied on NBA JAM Style Big Head (“He’s on Fire!”) shooting from three point range. As a team, they’re shooting 41% from 3 point land, led by JR Smith at 64% from downtown. Considering he’s a career 37% three point shooter, it’s safe to say he won’t continue to make that many. Jason Kidd is 57%, and even in his old age, as he’s developed a newfound three point stroke, he’s never been higher than 43% in the last several years. Each of their games was blown open by this impressive display of three pointers, and based on history, those shots will stop falling sooner than later.
Poor Defensive Philoshophy
Mike Woodson has a bit of a defensive reputation, yet in our breakdown, we show how there are some fundamental problems that need to be fixed with their team defense. Too often, the help defense is coming from a player whose own man is one pass away. This is a fundamental flaw that takes time to fix. By helping one pass away, it creates a very easy pass to a wide open shooter. Over time, this simply kills a team.
Looking at their post defense, the Knicks are willing to double to post off the man who’s cutting by the post player. This silliness almost always opens up a quick pass for a layup. If the Knicks can somehow recover enough to take away the layup, there is certainly a wide open shot and offensive rebound to be had by having to rotate so extremely.
And lastly, playing Carmelo Anthony at the power forward may work well on offense, but he gives just about all that advantage right back on defense. There are enough power forwards in this league that can take him down low and get fouls on him, and generally frustrate him with their physicality (see knuckleadedness above). Quite frankly, it’s too much to ask Carmelo to be the focal point of the offense and get beaten down low every possession.
Poor Offensive Philosophy
No other winning team in the league relies on a player as much as the Knicks need Carmelo Anthony. This is crucial considering how much drop happens when he comes out. The Knicks score 9 points less per 48 minutes with Melo off the floor. And the eyeball test fails too, as they drift without much purpose without him out there. The solution has been to play JR Smith during those times, and he’s been getting his share of isolations. His 62nd percentile in isolation proves he’s capable, but as teams prepare more for the Knicks, it will get easier to stop him.
This could all change when Amare Stoudemire returns, but will he come off the bench? Will he accept this role? His physical skills have already diminished considerably, and can he handle the amount of offense expected of him? These are huge questions that give you insight into the kind of pressure on him – the kind of pressure he handled poorly last year when he almost ended his career with a punch to a fire extinguisher.
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Having not broken down too many Knicks games last year, I had forgotten how protective Knicks fans can be of their beloved Knickerbockers. I know many will not agree with what we are showing in crystal clear HD footage. But it’s time to get a hold of reality: The Knicks will not continue to lead the Atlantic Division with a top ten rated defense and offense. As other teams prepare and the Knicks settle back to their normal abilities, they will drift back to the pack where they belong, slotted somewhere around 4th or 5th in the conference. There are too many factors here that are difficult to overcome, and as their age becomes a factor as well, it’ll be interesting to see if some of those old men can actually have a positive effect on the knuckleheads.