Welcome to the KnickerBlogger First Quarterly review! We are basically done with the first quarter of this
futility-of-existence-confirming monstrosity season, and the Phil Jackson era is off to a bit of a rough start. The Knicks stand at 4-16, and are struggling mightily on both ends.
Simultaneously horrified and unable to look away at this car crash that is the Knicks’ beginning of the season, we Knickerbloggers got together for a 6-on-5 to discuss the Triangle, Coach Derek Fisher’s lineups, and any positive developments (stop laughing!) from the past 20 games Knicks fans can cling to.
1. So, this team … yikes. To start, give the KB faithful at home one or two silver linings/positive developments from the first quarter of this season — and actually having a 2015 first-rounder doesn’t count.
Mike Kurylo: The world is a cold dark place. Earth is, if nothing else, a murderous laboratory. Nearly everything has to kill something else to survive. There is no hope for any living creature. Accept this, and you can begin to enjoy life.
Robert Silverman: But the ‘Bockers DO have a first round pick. And look at all the glorious tall people that one might gobble up like so many truffle-coated cherries! You can’t make me not dream my dreamy dreams, Jonathan. What else… let’s see… um…
Calderon’s a smart, sweet shooting floor general. His contract may look icky, but it’s eminently tradeable moving forward. And Thanasis looks awesome!
Brian Cronin: Travis Wear does not look like he is nearly ready for primetime yet, but he has at least picked up the Triangle well, which bodes well for him in the future if he can develop his game some more. Plus, Pablo Prigioni has been his normal excellent self. And Jose Calderon sure has a sweet-looking shot. That’s about it, and the Wear thing is admittedly a reach.
Bryan Gibberman: I see we started with a trick question. Since positives and negatives attract you don’t actually mean positive correct? I’m going to go the the D-League. Thanasis Antetokounmpo has put together some really cool highlight packages of blocks that have been more entertaining than any Knicks game I’ve watched this season. Hopefully he can help at the NBA level next season.
Kevin Udwary: The most positive, and surprising, development to me has to be STAT being pretty damn good. At 32 years old, on busted knees and a bad back, he is putting up his career best rebounding numbers with his TS% back up to around 60%. Of course with Amar’e it’s always a case of when he is going to break down, but if his minutes stay in the low to mid 20s per game, then maybe, just maybe, he will survive the season. Everyone loves a comeback story, right?
Jonathan Topaz: The wheels are starting to come off his hot start quickly, but as I’ve written, Iman Shumpert has been gratifying to watch. He is still shooting 37 percent from three and the Triangle offense has helped boost his assist rate. José Calderón has been a pleasure in his few games — just a great shooter with wonderful court sense, as we already knew. A healthy Amar’e Stoudemire is always nice to see, and he has looked particularly spry on the offensive end, posting 18/11 per-36 numbers thus far. 25 MPG is on the high end for him, but not outrageous, particularly given his discomfort with minutes limits. And while Fisher has inexplicably played Melo more than 40 minutes in two of his games back from injury, he did a nice job restricting Anthony’s playing time at the beginning of the season. His 35 MPG is way down from his league-leading totals last year.
2. Coach Fisher is clearly experimenting a ton with lineups and rotations. What is this team’s best five at this point in the season? Do you expect it to change as the season progresses?
Kurylo: Best 5? I don’t think such a thing exists. They don’t have 5 good players total. Let’s see Carmelo, Calderon, ummm… Aldrich?, Shumpert? Amar’e? Prigioni? See the problem? Although looking at it, I’d probably just run with those 6 for now, and hope Timmay or J.R. comes around. Also a sprinkling of Dalembert, because fouls.
Silverman: Experimenting? That’s what we’re calling it? It’s wrong-headed, borderline schizophrenic dithering, is what it is. I stand by this bit of non-investigative journalism as to the process by which Fish Head selects the starting five/rotation.
Fisher generates a lineup and subsequent substitution patterns by writing out every Knick’s name on an index card and plops them down on the plush shag carpeting, cranks the heat in his office up to 100 degrees, puts on three heavy nylon tracksuits, does calisthenics till he’s sweating like a…like a…like an Ira, immediately shucks off all his clothes and drops to to the floor, rolling around like he’s having a petit mal seizure. Whichever five cards stick to his perspiration-drenched, gleaming, naked body, that’s who starts.
Anyhoo, before the season started, I endorsed rolling with a Calderon-Shump-J.R.-Melo-Cole quintet. I still stand that statement. Sadly, both Jackson and Fisher seem to be committed to playing Melo at small forward, for reasons unknown to man or beast. It hasn’t made a lick of sense for two-plus years and it doesn’t make any now, but so it goes.
I have a feeling there will be a trade or two that will further jostle the rotation, but we should all be buying loin-girding material in bulk, because Bargs is going to be installed at power forward as soon as he’s healthy. (Yes, that may take some time.)
Cronin: I think the Knicks’ best five-man lineup right now is Calderon/Prigs/Shump/Melo/Dalembert. And that is not a good five-man lineup.
Gibberman: The Knicks no longer have lineups I trust. Their lack of a defensive-minded, rebounding center makes playing small hard. Their lack of a two-way power forward makes it difficult to play Carmelo Anthony at the three. I still think if given the opportunity Calderon, Shump, JR, Melo and Aldrich would be the Knicks best five, but I don’t think they’ve played one minute together this season.
Udwary: I had to glance at the lineup stats for this one and, wow, Fisher has tried a whole lot of lineups! It looks like we do best when we play small, so I like Melo at the 4. We would probably want Calderon and Prigs in the backcourt, for an international flair. I’d probably then put Shump at the 3 for defensive purposes. At center, I’m flexible with Stat to go all out offensive onslaught, or Dalambert for defense, or Cole Aldrich for sheer awesomeness. It doesn’t look like we’ve tried any of those lineups. Get on it, Fisher!
Topaz: Tyson Chandler’s otherworldly abilities made playing small far more palatable from a defensive perspective, and while I still think that Melo should play at the 4 (it’s his far more natural position at the offensive and defensive end, at this point in his career), it’s a dicier proposition with Dalembert, STAT or Aldrich at the back. I also like the Calderon-J.R.-Shumpert-Melo-Aldrich lineup. The Triangle system negates a lot of the benefits of a two-point guard lineup, making Prigioni less valuable in that role.
3. Most people before the season were anticipating the defensive futility, but some around these parts were predicting the team would have a fairly strong offense. The Knicks rank in the bottom-third in offensive efficiency. Break it down by percentages: How much of the team’s offensive struggles are because of the Triangle, how much are because of a dearth of talent, and how much because of injuries (namely Calderon and Melo)?
Kurylo: 0%, 99%, 1%. Look the triangle can work, and I think pretty much any system in the NBA can with the proper amount of talent and players that fit the system. The Knicks just don’t have very good players. Two main role players, Acy & Larkin, have not seen much NBA time on their previous teams for a reason. They stink. Shumpert is inconsistent on offense. J.R Smith is inconsistent in life. There’s nothing to really work with.
Silverman: 5/94/1. Right now, the roster doesn’t contain many good fits for the triangle, so it’s pretty much impossible to judge how effective it may or may not be long-term. It’d be like trying to cram D’Antoniball onto a team without a competent point guard and boffo shooters. For some reason, the name “Toney Douglas” is popping into my noggin. Having Calderon around for the first 13 games might have resulted in an additional win or two, but not enough to dramatically alter this team’s predestined landing spot.
Cronin: I think the first sort of ties in with the second. For instance, yes, poor talent is a major problem with the team, but part of it is that this team is especially poorly designed to work with the Triangle. In addition, I do think Calderon could have clearly helped earlier in the season, so I think it’s fair to give him some credit. So I go 10/80/10. The biggest difference between this year and last year might very well be the loss of Tyson Chandler on offense. His absence is helping to show the impact he had.
Gibberman: I’m going to go with a mix of all three. Here’s what someone way smarter than me thinks about Fisher’s offense:
WELP. I’ve never gone that extreme, but I’m on record saying I can’t stand the Knicks scheme. The lane is constantly clogged, they run offense through bigs that have no business touching the ball and they far too often have three guys spaced so they can be defended by one opposing player. Fisher and Jackson seem to wear it as a badge of pride that they don’t run as much pick and roll as the rest of the league, but I hate to break it to them: PnR is an extremely effective vehicle for an offense.
New York’s offensive scheme has made the Knicks best offensive player less efficient. They’ve turned Melo back into Denver Melo and I prefer three-point chucking NY Melo.
There’s no doubt the Knicks need more talent, but Fisher needs to adjust his offense to comply with a more modern NBA game.
Udwary: It’s so hard to tell. I’d say 40% triangle, 50% talent and 10% injuries. As a team we shoot 3’s pretty well (8th in the league in 3pt%), but don’t shoot them often (21st in 3PA). We take a lot of long 2’s, so our FTA are low (29th) and our 2pt% is also poor (24th). Is that the triangle or the people playing it? Not sure how to separate the two out.
Topaz: 25/60/15. It’s funny — I actually think this team, when fully healthy, could make for an interesting small-ball offense in a different system. Is Felton-Prigioni-Shumpert-Anthony-Chandler (Earl 6th man) all that different from Calderon-Prigioni-Shumpert-Anthony-Aldrich (Earl 6th man)? The latter lineup is at least a poor-man’s version of the lineup that succeeded in the league’s 3rd-most efficient offense two years ago, right? Now, there are major differences in bench quality and the like, but I do think that the Triangle and the decision not to go small is hurting the Knicks offensively. That doesn’t mean the Triangle can’t work in modern-day basketball, but it will require dramatically different personnel. Also, forgive the Calderon fan-boy tendencies, but I think he’s a major key to this team’s offensive success. His excellent three-point shooting and decision-making can really help a team that struggles with turnovers and suffers from awful spacing.
4. Name one player who is receiving too much playing time and one player who should be receiving more burn. (Immediately regrets his question and readies himself for essay-length rants about Cole Aldrich.)
Kurylo: I’ll spare you from my Aldri-lich-ous ravings. How about replace Larkin with Prigioni? Larkin is 4th on the team in minutes and is sporting a 9-ish PER and a sub-50 ts%. Pablo is happiness in point guard form. This is a no-brainer.
Silverman: I loathe Jason Smith. He’s a terrible defender, makes Bargs look good on the glass, and that fadeaway low post atrocity of his should come with a parental guidance label. In sum, I do not like Jason Smith and would like it very much if he never took the court again. (As a Knick, to be clear. If he were a Bull or Spur I’d be ecstatic. Then again, if he got shipped to San Antonio, Pop would use his dark magicks to turn him into Matt freaking Bonner somehow.)
Since you’ve put the kibosh on Cole-stanning–#FREECOLE–I’m going to say Timmy Jr. He’s been pretty awful so far, but if this is a rebuilding year, it’s definitely worth giving him playing time and seeing what they have. By the same rationale, I’d say the same for Larkin over Prigs (sorry, Mike!) and y’all know how much I loves me some Pablo.
Cronin: Jason Smith plays way too much. Cole does play too little, but part of that is his own fault for his poor conditioning. He still should play more, though.
Gibberman: Dalembert, Quincy Acy and Jason Smith all play way too much. Acy I could deal with as an eight to 10 minute guy off the bench, but outside of that no thank you. Amar’e Stoudemire is the Knicks best big man. I actually just typed that sentence. Can this season end? I hate this season…it’s horrifying. Just play Cole Aldrich. The Knicks have the worst defensive rebounding rate as a team in the NBA. Cole rebounds so I’d try that.
Udwary: I would not be disappointed if Jason Smith never played another minute for the Knicks. Shumpert and Calderon have been better defensive rebounders than Jason Smith, so far this season. It’s just pitiful. Cole should get more time, but he really does look to be out of shape out there. It’d be nice to get Early some minutes, to see what we actually have there.
Topaz: Quincy Acy playing more than 20 minutes a game seems like a violation of some sort of international treaty. I understand this team is desperate for rebounding, but it’s brutal on both ends (his offense in particular looks like a performance art display.) As the unofficial Carmelo Anthony Minutes Police Chief, I’d also like to see his playing time come down a tick, as unrealistic as that sounds. This is now about protecting a five-year investment, and it seems wasteful to burn him out in a dead-end year. The frontcourt is just so barren, though, that it’s hard to call for anyone to eat up some of those minute totals, except for a little more from Aldrich. I agree with the general play the youngins sentiment, as well — might as well see what you have in Hardaway and Early, once he comes back.
5. Twenty-odd games in, how much buyer’s remorse (if any) should fans have about Phil’s grand vision of building around the Triangle, a nearly maxed-out Melo and cap space in the next year or two?
Kurylo: To have remorse, one has had to buy into the concept to being with. That being said I think a winning team can be built around ‘Melo. Getting those next players are key to any kind of Renaissance in New York. The Knicks have to hit home runs in the draft and with free agency/trades to get the right main players next to Anthony. Good luck with that.
Silverman: None. It’s way too early in the process to begin getting out our portable soapboxes and screeching that it was doomed to begin with. We all knew they’d struggle out of the gate, but yes, this is probably beyond even the most pessimistic ‘Bocker-backer’s grim, sour-faced grumpery.
Cronin: The idea of signing Melo to a mega-max extension with the intent of rebuilding in the first year of his contract (i.e. likely the best year of his five year deal) was always a bad idea. However, if they get lucky with the draft and free agency this offseason, they’ll have a small window in Years 3-4 of Melo’s deal. Will they get lucky in the draft and free agency this offseason? I wouldn’t expect much from them, no. This being the Knicks, they’ll improve this year just enough to get, say, the #6 pick in the draft and they will miss out on the one difference-making free agent out there, Marc Gasol. Gasol’s tremendous season reminds me of how the Yankees figured that they’d be able to easily re-sign Brandon McCarthy and Chase Headley, as their markets were not large when they were traded to New York. Then both turned it around big time and now they both might have priced themselves off of the Yankees. Gasol was already going to be a tough get for the Knicks, but he’s playing like an MVP right now, which makes it a lot harder to see how he will decide to come to New York when they have little on the court to interest him.
Gibberman: I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned. Derek Fisher sounds like he’s been possessed by Mike Woodson’s spirit in his pregame press conferences. Fisher and Jackson seem to think playing Anthony at the three is a good idea (psssstttttt it’s not).
My biggest worry is they’re trying to win right now and they’re 4-16. I joke about tanking, but this team is very clearly not tanking — they’re just very very very very bad. A team that was tanking would have been playing Cleanthony Early, Shane Larkin and Tim Hardaway Jr. plus 25 minutes a night to get young guys experience. The Knicks are playing veterans and Melo massive amount of minutes in an attempt to win.
The poor performance this season also hurts them in free agency this summer. I’d put the odds of signing Marc Gasol at about negative 250%. The process of building this team is going to take longer than expected because the roster is so bear.
Udwary: No remorse yet. Let’s wait until the summer cap space is filled before we form any strong opinions about the direction of the franchise.
Topaz: Trying to stay level-headed like the uber-rational Robert and Kevin … but it’s hard. For the most part, I agree that little substantive has changed. This was always going to be a rebuilding year. The vast majority of this team will be disassembled in short order. They will have a first-round pick and cap room and a top-12 player in the NBA. There has minimal rumbling of knee-jerk trades. Phil generally seems steady at the wheel.
But there are some warning signs, some larger than others. Hardaway has made little-to-no strides in the non-shooting aspects of his game, and his prospects for becoming a meaningful rotation player on a playoff team look worse than they did two months ago. The non-Gasol free agent crop is uninspiring, and as others have noted, all signs point to him staying with the scary-good Grizzlies. It seems premature to write off the Triangle completely, but the league-leading mid-range jumpers and Melo’s sharp decline in three-point attempts are disconcerting. It’s not panic mode, not by a longshot. The (semblance of a) plan remains in place. But it’s hard not to see some cracks 20 games into the experiment.