If you’ve been disappointed with the Knicks 2-5 start, here are 3 reasons not to sweat out the 2006 season:
1. Larry Brown is a great coach. Brown is not Herb Williams trying to whip a dead mule over the finish line. He isn’t Lenny Wilkens past his glory days. A year before arriving in New York, Wilkens won less than 30% of his games. Last year Larry Brown was a quarter away from winning back to back championships.
Don’t be fooled when Brown says he doesn’t know who to play. He’s not Abe Simpson going through some dementia episode. Larry knows exactly what his players have done in the past. He’s just using the media to publicly ask him players to show him what they can do. The same can be said of his irregular rotation patterns. By not committing minutes to anyone, he’s trying to keep the team anxious to play. Brown has been too successful at the highest levels of basketball to be the doddering old fool who doesn’t know his own team.
2. The defense has improved. Before last night’s Utah game, the Knicks ranked 7th on defense. Then they went out and set a franchise record for the lowest points allowed in a game (62). This kind of talk was unthinkable a year ago. The Knicks top 5 minute getters are: Marbury, Crawford, Davis, Richardson, and Curry, which is not exactly a defensive juggernaut. However, Brown has improved the team using 2 methods. First is his ability to sprinkle defensive specialists in his lineups. Matt Barnes starting the game is one example. Barnes is a swingman who can defend and rebound, but is a black hole on offense. Coach Brown is hoping that the rest of the offensive minded Knicks (Marbury, Curry, etc.) can make up for Barnes’ scoring liability, and reap Matt’s strength on defense. Throughout the game he has at least two defensive minded players to balance out the rest of the team.
Brown’s second ability is get the most out of his defensively challenged players. Curry had 5 blocks against the Jazz, and he looks a little more defensively aware than he did in the preseason. While Marbury isn’t about to turn into Jason Kidd, he looks a bit more interested on that end as well. Overall the team appears to rotate a bit quicker than they did last year.
3. The young-ins are getting time. One of the knocks against Brown was that he didn’t give ample playing time to rookies. With 3 rookies and 2 second year players on the roster, the concern was that coach Brown would stunt their development by riding the veterans. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jerome James and Penny Hardaway could easily be taking time away from the younger players, but Brown has let them rack up DNP-CDs. Instead he has relied on Frye and Ariza. With Richardson splitting time between SG & SF, you could make the argument that Ariza is the Knicks primary small forward. Matt Barnes, a 3rd year player, is the official starter but he’s averaging less than 19 minutes a game.
Meanwhile Channing Frye has settled in as the Knicks 3rd big man and is flourishing. If he qualified, his 21.6 PER would lead the team. Frye is the Knicks best rebounder, a decent shot blockers, and has a nice shooting touch. I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t pick up more minutes as the season progresses, and he might earn a starting role in the Knicks front court before the year is up.
Although Nate, Butler, and Lee aren’t getting as much playing time as the others, it’s not due to a neophyte bias. Lee and Butler are stuck at the end of a deep rotation, because the Knicks have too many power forwards. Robinson has been his own worst enemy. Nate has been too wild, averaging 3.6 TO/40, 8.4 PF/40, and is only shooting a paltry 39.4% eFG. It’s just not reasonable for him to be out there more than the ten minutes Larry is giving him.
Right now the Knicks record might be a letdown for fans that expected big things out of the starting gate due to their aggressive offseason. However, there are bright spots to the early season. Under Brown the defense has made leaps and bounds, and the Knicks young players are seeing ample playing time.