January 16, 2019

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.

[table id=14 /]

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.


Coach Nick

Coach Nick is the founder of BballBreakdown, coached the Triangle Offense at the high school level, and counts Tex Winter and Pete Newell as mentors. For more of our conversation, follow him @BBALLBREAKDOWN.

View all posts


  • It’s not your “rule” that you can only have one knucklehead. That’s taken from Bill Simmons, someone who you rip off a LOT. And I guess you’re just ignore all of the positive effects the veterans and Woodson have had on the Knicks. You can see the differences in J.R. and Carmelo’s playing this season. I would watch more Knick games because I have been following you for over two years and you rarely break down their games. You should probably increase your sample size

  • Why do you think I’m saying it’s MY rule? I never took credit for making it up. And what else do I rip off from Bill Simmons? He doesn’t break down games or analyze games like we do.
    What influence do you see from the vets? The first road game against a tough opponent where things don’t go perfectly and they lose their minds? I didn’t see Kurt Thomas or Jason Kidd out there calming anybody down.

  • Ok, at the :27 second mark you say it’s your rule. But I really don’t want to get into an argument with you over this Coach; I really enjoy your breakdowns and have been following you since you got started. I am just voicing my opinion as a Knick fan. I think there are more good things than bad happening at the start of this season for the Knicks, and it seems like the majority of basketball voices I follow would rather explain their success away as a “hot start”, rather than look at how this team has improved over the past three years. Moreover, things didn’t go perfectly against their last road game against the Spurs, yet they managed to turn things around in the 4th quarter, despite a poor shooting performance from Melo’. 

  •  Thank you for proving coach Nick’s point about Knicks fans being protective… Anyways great break down coach, I would really like to know what you think abut Dwyane Wade’s play this season. What are your reasons as to why he isn’t doing so well this season as he has done in the past?

  • Ok, here’s the thing; we have the OLDEST roster in the league (age average) wise and it was a BACK TO BACK. Of course the players were gonna be tired and frustrated. Memphis played well, but you have to think that the travel woulda worn the Knicks down. What about the 4th quarter comeback against the Spurs? We’re for real this season and you’ll see that.

  • iirc; I said we had it on a BACK TO BACK. The Clippers haven’t had that against the level of opponents we did. We had the Spurs like them, but they got the Blazers on the 2nd night and we had the Grizzles. 

  • I want to say that I love your videos and really enjoyed this breakdown, Knicks fans are coming out of the woodwork right now…

    I don’t/didn’t know Tyson Chandler was considered a “knuckledhead” I thought Rasheed was, perhaps that’s who you meant?

    I do agree that, in order of crazy, it goes J.R. Smith, Rasheed, then Melo while Kidd and Chandler serve to keep things more balanced, but that’s an imbalanced equation.

  • Coach Nick! What about Detroit in the late 80’s ~ early 90’s? Wouldn’t you call Dennis Rodman, Bill Laimbeer, and Isiah Thomas knuckleheads? I just want some solid data that can back your theory. Nevertheless, a great breakdown, informative as usual. Thank you for posting!

    – from Germany with respect 😉

  • Just a question, it is not really related to the video though.

    How can shooting 60% from the FT-line lead coaches to think that hacking that player is a good idea? 60% is still better than anybody shoots from the floor, and you will get your team into the penalty etc.

    Obviously it is annoying when player shoot 50-60% on shots that are very easy, but it still does not seem to me that it makes them less efficient than from the floor!?

  • They were instigators and tough guys – but they never lost their cool. Knuckleheads will get technical fouls, drive their teammates crazy, and basically unravel. Those Detroit teams were some of the mentally toughest teams of all time…

  • Anything less than 2 points is worth it, at least to those coaches… and probability is they’ll get out of it with only 1 point given up…

Subscribe on YouTube

The Podcast

Subscribe on YouTube