Game Recap: Knicks 92, Bucks 99

For the fourth time in five games, the Knicks’ future played a more pivotal role in its present than its present played, portending that its present may belong in the past. Know what I’m saying? I made it sound complicated and confusing because I guess that’s how it ends up after it’s filtered through Derek Fisher’s earholes and formulated into thoughts in his brain. How else do you explain trotting out Sasha Vujacic, Lance Thomas, Calderon, and yeah, Carmelo Anthony when he’s having an off night and mentally checks out towards the end?

You fear for your job, Derek? You fear for the judgment that comes when you make changes and they don’t pan out? Or maybe you just remember being the washed up guy, so there’s some pent up frustration that you’re expressing by playing this assortment of wash-ups and never-weres.

I don’t think benching Calderon, Thomas and Vujacic is going to be some panacea. But like Clyde put it as the game clock wound down: “If you’re losing, you might as well lose with rookies.” When you’re raising kids, you don’t assume they’ll fail and so limit their responsibilities. You give them a chance to fail, and when they do, you give them the support they need to look at their mistakes as learning experiences rather than failures. Fisher is doing the opposite.

As far as this specific game goes, it was a close one. When the aforementioned Lance Thomas, who played fine last night and does look like a better player than last year, put in that long two to tie the game in the early 4th, it felt like the game was the Knicks’ to win. But then John Henson went bananas, and Fisher benched Grant, and the game slipped away.

One subplot of the game was Carmelo, who played a competent first half that felt like a continuation of the Cleveland game. He registered four assists (all to Robin Lopez, who seemed extra motivated after Monroe started hot against him) in that half. He wasn’t scoring well, so he tried to do other things. Then, the fourth quarter came along, and he seemed to lose interest. Carmelo didn’t check in until there was 6:39 left in the game and immediately missed a midrange jumper, then got blocked by the rampaging Henson (11 4th quarter points). He added two turnovers, a couple rebounds, and a couple more misses before the night was through.

Melo’s behavior made me think of the Herring article about how Melo always takes techs, even when Calderon is in. I understand and largely agree with the people who say, “The difference is negligible.” But I also see the other side. A player who demands that he take all techs because, as Derek Fisher explained, “Some guys, points are very important to them,” is revealing a character trait that potentially could hurt the team in other much more dramatic ways. If you see a connection between Melo shooting techs instead of Calderon and Melo demanding the ball in isolation every other fourth quarter play, then I can understand why you’d be upset.

The main point of interest for the Knicks once again was Porzingis, who continued to display superstar potential. The play where he recovered to the perimeter to block Copeland was yet another illustration of the crazy things his combination length and quickness allow for. Similar to Antetokounpo’s block on Derrick Williams earlier in the night, Porzingis made an open shot into a block in the time it took Copeland to complete his release. Then there were two more put back dunks, each accompanied by a Russell Westbrook style scream towards the baseline. There was a three. There were tons of huge offensive rebounds. And yes, there was a turnover in traffic and a couple misses late in the 4th. Altogether though, it was another night’s evidence that he has the chance to make James Dolan a lot of money for a long time. Quick, Jamie boy, trade him for Dwyane Wade.

Beyond Giannis, the Bucks didn’t look like anything special, at least not yet. All the fears about their poor three point shooting and Monroe’s need for space looked real last night. If Antetokounmpo doesn’t continue to play at an All-Star level, I could see them slipping out of the playoff race. Monroe is an interesting player because of his ability to pass, but his inability to defend anyone (even Robin Lopez!) and his lack of range and ability to do anything interesting while facing the basket make it tough for him to be impactful as a role guy. He has to be central to your offense or he’ll give up more points than he adds, and it’s tough these days with all the swarming defenses to run your offense through the post.

Whelp. Sunday it’s the Lakers, our first chance to see if this team can sustain its effort against a bad team. If you’re thinking of building a house, you might stop by MSG to collect the bricks that Kobe leaves behind. Will it be Bryant’s last game at The Garden?

Game Notes: Knicks 92, Bucks 99

After getting stuck late at work, I turn the game on with 9 minutes left in the 1st. Breen welcomes me with one of his classic euphemisms: “Calderon and Vujacic haven’t gotten into rhythm.” That’s his way of saying they suck.

Giannis recovers to the perimeter to block a Derrick Williams three. These long wings are the future of the league; their length allows them to shrink the court — a great counter to the three point shooting that widens it.

Breen has brought up the Knicks’ great team free throw shooting the last few games. He just did it again. The 2010/11 team was the last Knicks team to shoot over 80% from the charity stripe and they played a lot of small ball. Interesting they’ve been able to do it here with mostly bigger lineups.

“Lance Thomas is a good defender.” – Mike Breen. That’s code for “I’m not sure why this guy is on an NBA roster.”

Technical free throw on Plumlee. If only we had Calderon in to get us an additional .05 points (as long as Melo wasn’t in.)

Vujacic back in to play with the bench. Short leash for Grant… (Vujacic would go on to play 27 minutes, second only to Galloway among guards. He wouldn’t score until the final seconds.)

The absence of Carter-Williams is probably a plus for the Bucks. He can’t shoot and doesn’t have the quickness to abuse the Knicks’ slow guards, and most of the Knick guards don’t need real defensive attention, which is MCW’s only plus skill at the moment.

Late 2nd quarter, and the Knicks cut it to four. Is this the biggest Knick run with both Vujacic and Calderon on the floor?

Carmelo taking the technical free throw with Calderon in the game! Derek Fisher, you lied to Chris Herring.

Porzingis hits a wide open three to cut the lead to three!

Porzingis is the best Knick in this game so far. Rebounding, drawing fouls, making plays on defense…

Wow, MSG using per-36 stats to hype up Porzingis.

Could they have fit every Kobe made field goal this season into the promo for the Laker game?

Another miss from Monroe and another layup for Lopez — still happy we didn’t get him.

Late 2nd quarter, and Vujacic and Calderon are still scoreless. (They would remain scoreless for the first 47 minutes of the game and finish a combined 1-8 and -24.)

There’s a New York Lotto ad with a guy taking a wine bath for its health effects. I wonder if this was inspired by Amar’e.

Greg Monroe misses consecutive point blank layups. Still happy we didn’t get him.

After Porzingis’ second slam put-back, Monroe thinking, “so that’s what being able to jump gets you.”

Porzingis playing center! Is this the first time this season? This will be his position. I’m sure of it. Usually, you play the biggest position that you can defend, and Porzingis can be a plus defender at the 5.

Melo has shot okay so far but it seems like all his points are coming from the offense. He’s really struggling to create space in isolation. We’ll see if Fisher recognizes this and doesn’t go ISO Melo late in the game (assuming it stays close).

Knicks finally tie the game on a long two from Lance Thomas early in the 4th.

Bucks score 4 straight. Knicks answer with 4 of their own. Will Fisher bring back the starters?

Shot clock violation because the Knicks have to get it to Melo down the stretch :-(.  6:30 remaining.

Never grab John Henson’s jersey repeatedly. He’ll swat your comeback away with his awkward offense.

Box score tells me Porzingis has 9 offensive rebounds. Good job, KPZ.

Robin Lopez FINALLY comes back in with 1:40 left. for Porzingis? Come on. So he missed a couple shots. He’s your best player. Still, noteworthy that Fisher is bending rotations dramatically based on who’s playing well unless the player who isn’t playing well is Vujacic.

Fisher brings Grant back in, and Breen insinuates that he shouldn’t have taken Grant out. Immediately after, Grant draws a foul on a semi-transition drive.

I really thought the Knicks were going to win this game.

“If you’re losing, you might as well lose with rookies.” -Clyde

That’s why I love you, Clyde. You don’t sanitize the truth.

 

What If… The Knicks Manage to Trade Up in the 2015 Draft and Select: Karl-Anthony Towns

With the order of the draft being settled, the writers of KnickerBlogger thought we’d go over the possible outcomes. But since we were whipping out the ol’ Crystal Ball, we decided to go a little past June & see what fate possibly has to offer…

A stopped clock…

2015 Draft Order
1 MIN Jahlil Okafor
2 LAL Karl-Anthony Towns (traded to the Knicks)
3 PHI D’Angelo Russell
4 NYK Emmanuel Mudiay (traded to the Lakers)

Subtle, I know.
Subtle, I know.

What happened leading up to and on Draft Day 2015
The story that inspired Bill Simmons to break his post-ESPN near-silence was that of Karl-Anthony Towns’ comments preceding the draft:

The quotes Simmons refers to come from both Towns and his agent, Leon Rose:

On where he hopes he’ll be drafted, Towns said, “I’ll go anywhere but isn’t it always really late on the West Coast? I’d probably be tired for all the games.”

On Philadelphia: “On the one hand, I love cheesesteaks, but on the other hand, so did Embiid, and you know, Philadelphia’s front office wasn’t too happy about the consequences of that. I mean I can just feel myself turning into Mike Sweetney when I think about Pat’s and Geno’s and – there’s other good cheesesteak place’s too – Jim’s on South Street, John’s down by IKEA and Home Depot and all that…”

On Towns’ comments, Rose explained that “Those are just statements of fact. It is later in Los Angeles than in, for example, New York. They do have good cheesesteaks in Philadelphia, and yeah, you can get a Cheesesteak in New York, but it’s not the same. Do you deny that? I feel like these are things that most Americans know to be true, and you asked the kid, and he just stated the obvious. You guys are making a story out of nothing.”

Simmons was not wrong: No major media outlet had the balls to point out the absurdity of Rose and Towns’ comments.

With Minnesota committed to Okafor, the Knicks were able to convince the Lakers to swap picks with Tim Hardaway Jr. and Cleanthony Early heading to the place where it’s always late.

In an interview shortly after the draft, Phil Jackson finally addressed Towns’ comments: “I think he would have played anywhere, but this is his home, and that’s something the value of which you really can’t overstate. His roots are here, and those roots will help him grow and have a long and what we expect will be a hall of fame career. I think also, and he’s told me this, or at least I expect him to tell me this when I talk to him later: He’s a great fit for the triangle offense, so it wasn’t just about the city of New York. It was about me and my offense.”

What will be written on draft day in 2018

Now 22 years old and a three-year veteran entering a contract year, Towns has received most of the attention and blame for the Knicks’ mediocrity. The major media outlets have focused in on all the once-rumored trade offers the Knicks received for Towns over the years.

The unspoken truth though behind all these articles is that Melo is now in decline. He’s missed 30% of his games since the Towns draft and is set to have another surgery on his ever-balky left knee. His numbers for the 17-18 season showed steeper drops than the previous season, and for the first time since 2009, he missed the All-Star game.

It’s not that Towns has been bad. In fact, he’s been the second best performer from his class after Okafor and has largely lived up to expectations – a stronger Serge Ibaka. He just “hasn’t made the leap”, and because Melo is quickly transforming into the new albatross contract for the Knicks. All these articles about Towns are secretly early post-mortems for the Carmelo Anthony era. Could trading Towns for veteran talent have gotten Melo the title he deserved?

For their parts, Jackson and ever-beleaguered coach Derek Fisher have stood firmly behind Towns, but as Jackson admitted in his press conference wherein he announced that he would be leaving following the 2018 free agency period, he didn’t take enough risks. “We had good luck and bad luck during my time here, and when free agency proved to not be as fruitful as I hoped, I knew that we had a big challenge ahead of us. Rather than breaking everything up and starting over, I decided to hope that some best cases played out. They didn’t. Melo’s been hurt. Karl-Anthony isn’t at a point in his career where he can be the lead guy on a great team. We think he can get there, but he’s not there yet.”

That story was too boring to report on though. Most coverage of Jackson’s press conference instead involved base speculation about the state of Jackson’s health with Frank Isola going so far as to insinuate that Jackson may have been suffering from mild dementia throughout his tenure with the Knicks.

As the draft approached, rumors swirled about Towns’ future in New York, and the day before the draft, Towns, the Knicks’ 2018 and 2020 pick in addition to the contracts of Greg Monroe, Aron Afflalo and Reggie Jackson were sent out in a three team trade that brought back 32 year old Dwight Howard and 33 year old Chris Paul.

Jackson retired citing health reasons a few days later with Allan Houston taking over for Fisher as head coach. “James Dolan is a fine man and didn’t interfere in any way. He’s also a transcendent musician,” Jackson explained before lifting a boom box from behind the podium and blasting Little White Lies, from JD & the Straight Shot’s fourth album.

Bill Simmons presciently tweeted the following twelve minutes after the trade was announced: “Bet anyone 0.10 Bitcoin that Towns is better than any player on the Knicks’ roster by 2019/20 season.”

Reading the Teague Leaves

With James Dolan’s proclaimation that the organization doesn’t plan on making any changes to the roster or coaching staff this season less than two months old, the Knick rumor mill is stirring up again, this time with Jeff Teague reportedly the new apple of the Knicks’ eye.

Acquiring Teague is more feasible than Lowry given how much Teague has fallen off this season and how well Lowry has played. Teague’s contract runs through the 2016-17 season at $8 million per year, and his decline is mostly a result of a poor perimeter shooting. His true shooting percentage hovered just below the league average in his previous two seasons, but with his new contract in tow, he’s dropped down to 50.7%.

At twenty-five years old, Teague probably won’t get much better, and with Danny Ferry seemingly following the Daryl Morey strategy of staying flexible with short term value contracts while going whatever direction — rebuild or win now — in which the market offers the best value, it makes sense that Atlanta would be open to losing Teague for a flyer on Iman Shumpert and the opportunity in summer 2015 to look for a better way to spend $8 million.

The big question though is, “Why are the Knicks back in the trade market?” With the Bobcats heading towards thirty-seven wins and currently owning the tiebreaker, the Knicks would likely need to close the season on an 18-12 tear to overtake them. Considering nineteen of the Knicks’ final thirty games are on the road, even adding Teague for free likely wouldn’t punch the Knicks into the playoffs.

Any trade, therefore, is not about this season, in which case they’d be better off waiting to see what Melo does in the summer before making commitments, so this front office mood swing likely relates some news relating to Melo’s thought process for the summer. The question is how might they relate?

Let’s start with three assumptions:

  1. The Knicks’ interest in Teague is real and not just clickbait.
  2. As Stephen A. Smith said, “[The Knicks are] hellbent on holding onto [Melo] and doing everything they can short of James Dolan getting on his knees as a billionaire and begging the guy…”
  3. Carmelo Anthony understands the Knicks’ situation and has been properly prepped PR-wise on how to best achieve his desire. His vague statements about wanting to stay in New York and wanting to win could mean anything, just as Lebron’s statement in June of 2010 — “[Cleveland] does have an edge [in re-signing me]” — turned out to be gobbledygook.

If these are all true, then I only see two possible ways to interpret a trade for Teague.

If the Knicks top priority is retaining Anthony, then they undoubtedly will pass any trade through Melo and his people, so if this trade is really in the works, there’s a good chance Melo has endorsed it. If that is the case then Melo is likely leaning towards staying and is only looking for the team to improve enough to justify that decision.

Why? Well, think about it from a PR standpoint. If Melo was leaning towards or had already decided to bolt, his best option would be to request that the Knicks don’t make any moves, a request that a team desperate to keep Melo would have to fulfill. If the Knicks trade youth and picks for so-so contracts like Teague’s and Melo still leaves, it would be viewed as a betrayal as KB commenter Hubert so eloquently expressed. Not only would he have forsaken the team to which he requested a trade, but he would be leaving behind a team that most likely at his request had just sacrificed its future to make a roster that makes no sense without foundational player like Anthony.

Approving a trade for a player like Teague is a lose-lose proposition for Melo if he plans to leave.

Furthermore, you don’t transform a thirty win team into a title contender by trading for players like Teague. If you’re near broke and need to become a millionaire in a year — a pretty accurate description of the Knicks’ position and Melo’s purported championship dreams — you make high risk, high reward investments and hope they pan out. Jeff Teague is a savings account; he is guaranteed competence. The Knicks need volatile assets or as Daryl Morey says, “smart risk”, and the value you can get from max salary slots is far more volatile.

Therefore, if the Knicks do trade for Teague, it strongly suggests that Melo’s desire to contend for a title is tertiary, behind his desire to stay in New York and to play on a guaranteed playoff team.

If this is the case, Knick fans can look forward to wearing their Melo jerseys for years to come. They can also expect more trades for more players like Teague — think Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans and OJ Mayo. More playoff wins in the near future are in store too if Melo stays healthy given the tragicomedy that is the Eastern Conference. However, Knick fans can also cross out any chance at a title for probably the next decade.

The other possibility is that Melo is being as vague with the Knick front office as he is with the press, and the front office is freaking out. Whereas a decade ago you mostly only saw stars take pay cuts for title chances late in their careers, in recent times stars firmly in their primes have sacrificed guaranteed dollars, even leaving glamorous cities, in search of a chance to win it all. If Melo is playing coy, the Knick front office may well be panicking, just like the Magic were towards the end of Dwight Howard’s tenure when they reacquired Hedo Turkoglu, traded for Gilbert Arenas and overpaid Glen Davis and Jason Richardson. We all know how that worked out.

In any case, Knick fans who want more than just competitive basketball should dread the possibility of a trade for Teague. The rebuild-on-the-fly strategy has been the core reason for the Knicks’ struggles over the last dozen years. Atlanta and Toronto are younger, have more cap flexibility and future picks, and have a ton more wins than the Knicks. If any of these teams should be sacrificing present talent for future potential, it’s New York. Here’s hoping it’s just a baseless rumor…

MONEY MONEY MONEY!

Remember when the Knicks were like, “We didn’t match Lin’s offer sheet because of all that luxury tax!” and fans were all like, “Shah, you paid $124 million for a 23 win team!” Well, the Knicks may not have been lying. With each passing day it’s looking more and more like there is one factor to the Knicks’ thinking (if you can call it that) that is even more important than retaining Carmelo Anthony: the new luxury tax structure.

Consider Carmelo Anthony’s choice to announce he intends to opt out this summer and the interesting choice he made by publicly broadcasting his intentions.

If he was willing to wait until 2015 for the Knicks to build with cap space, his best option would have been to simply opt in, make more money in 14/15 than he could get with a new contract, and see what free agents were available and willing to come to NYC. He could then fly away if the best free agents went elsewhere. So Melo most likely isn’t interested in the summer 2015 plan, and based on his play, (confusingly worded) statements from LaLa and his own public comments, it seems like he would prefer to play in New York what gives?

The likely logic is like Kobe said (and did back in 2007), Melo is trying to send a message to the front office: “I’m not going to wait around. I want to play here but I want a championship even more, so you have to upgrade the roster now if you want to keep me.”

Well, what is stopping the Knicks from trading Shumpert, Hardaway Jr. and their 2018 pick for upgrades? Every game that goes by increases the risk of a first round matchup and almost guaranteed loss to Miami or Indiana, which could result in Anthony bailing no matter how well the team closes the season. There is no time to waste, and more than any time in the recent past, the Knicks actually have a sensible reason to believe that adding talent could push them into contention: They won 54 games last year, their most since the 96/97 season.

One problem is matching salaries. The Knicks lack expiring contracts, so that means trades for higher salaried players require a team willing to take on Stoudemire or Bargnani’s contracts, forcing the Knicks to sweeten the pot and making it unlikely for the them to come out much ahead from a talent standpoint.

The other sort of player who often becomes available midseason is the expiring cheap or rookie scale contract. Teams that don’t plan to re-sign these players will often sell them for a bargain. One such player is All-Star snub Kyle Lowry for whom the Knicks reportedly could have given two of Hardaway Jr., Shumpert and a pick. What held the Knicks back from making this trade?

The most likely explanation is that Dolan fears the incremental tax. The Lin decision and the Lowry decision really may have come down to money. To illustrate, say the Knicks were able to trade for probably the two best available, cheap expiring players: Gordon Hayward and Kyle Lowry (with Toronto getting the 2018 pick).

Everything goes about as well as could be hoped, and the Knicks make a run up to the sixth seed and even manage to beat the Heat before losing to the Pacers in the conference finals. Now it’s free agent time, and Hayward and Lowry get maybe $23 million/year combined. The Knicks, having fallen just short of making the finals, are obligated as well to use their mini MLE money to get some help for the increasingly unreliable front court.

Well, they just added $16 million in salary, putting their total salary up to about $107 million, which doesn’t sound so bad compared to the $124 million team that won only twenty-three games… until you look at the tax situation, which could get pretty outrageous with the Knicks entering repeater territory in 14/15. Take a look:

2005-06: $124 million in salary, $62 million in tax, $186 million total
2013-14: $88 million in salary, $32 million in tax, $119 million total
2014-15 with no changes: $91 million in salary, ~$45 million in tax, $136 million total
2014-15 with Hayward, Lowry, mini MLE: $107 million in salary, ~$114 million in tax, ~$221 million total
2014-15 with $20 million in salary cuts (the “blow it up!” hypothetical): $71 million in salary, no tax, $71 million total

That’s $150 million that Dolan could save just next season if he committed to a rebuild, and that doesn’t even take into account the risk of losing Anthony were the Knicks to disappoint even after those trades. What do you do with Lowry and Hayward if Melo leaves? Re-sign them and give up on having significant cap space for another four years or so, or trade them for pennies after giving up dollars (or at least half-dollars) just months earlier? Furthermore, Dolan just added Bargnani, quite possible in an attempt to placate Anthony. His $12 million salary added $7.5 million in 14/15 salary compared Novak’s salary and Camby’s $1 million of guaranteed money, which will cost the Knicks $30 million next season (tax and salary combined) assuming the Knicks stay at $91 million in salary. Bargnani’s failure to contribute as well as Novak did last year has to have left the typically trigger happy Dolan a wee bit gun shy.

Maybe it’s a fool’s errand to speculate about the thinking of an owner who rarely makes logical choices, but Dolan seems a bit more rational when it comes to money. If the price of keeping Anthony is maintaining annual tax/salary costs that are higher than even the worst of the mid 2000s and three or four times those of four of the top five NBA teams this season — illustrating more clearly than ever the weak relationship between spending and success — Dolan may blow the team up or at least call Anthony’s bluff. Whether Dolan’s mood shifts again or Anthony chooses New York City over joining a team that is ready to contend right now we’ll have to wait and see.

Knicks at Pacers: Game Four Preview and Game Thread with Pick and Roll Stats

With Tyson Chandler’s recent comments about sharing the ball, the storyline that has resurfaced pretty much every time the Knicks have struggled is with us once again: Are the Knicks deferring to Anthony too often and easily? Shouldn’t they run the pick and roll more consistently, especially with Anthony as the ball handler given his great success there?

According to Synergy, on the season, 22% of New York’s plays ended as a result of a pick and roll and 16% are isolations. Here are the numbers for games 1-3:

Game 1 –36.9% pick and roll, 13.6% isolation

Game 2 — 28% pick and roll, 9% isolation

Game 3 — 28.2% pick and roll, 14.6% isolation

In every game so far then, NY has utilized the pick and roll more often than in regular season and isolated less. At least according to Synergy. The problem with Synergy is that it only cares about the attempts that result in a shot, foul or turnover. Furthermore, a play is only counted as a pick and roll if the possession is used by either the pick and roll dribbler or the roll man. If the ball rotates out to a shooter who didn’t set the screen, the play is no longer labeled as a pick and roll. Even if the pass leads to a wide open three, that shot is tossed into the category of spot up along with any other perimeter shot that isn’t off the dribble.

Now, one thing you probably have noticed in this series is that the beautiful ball swings around the perimeter that often came off of pick and rolls are all but gone. This is because Indiana is treating New York exactly the same as they treated Miami in last year’s six game series (and, ironically, like teams started to treat Felton back in 10/11 as his shooting fell off  before the Anthony trade). Rather than doubling off a jump shooter, they are having Hibbert split the distance between the dribbler and the roll man while ball-handler’s defender is chasing the ball handler hard, forcing him to rush into a midrange (although open) midrange jumper, drive into Hibbert or reset. That means that the regular season numbers are likely deflated compared to those in this series — NY created a lot more uncounted shots off pick and roll in the regular season than they are in this series.

Here are Synergy’s pick and roll ball handler takes a jump shot numbers from games two and three, after NY stopped trying to drive into the Great Wall of Hibbert, along with numbers for those times pick and roll ball handlers did attack the rim:

GAME 2

pick and roll ball handler FG FGA TOs %scored
Shumpert 0 0 0
Prigioni 2 2 0 0%
Felton 1 3 0 33%
Anthony 2 5 0 40%
Smith 0 3 0 0%
Layup/Floater 3 6 50%

GAME 3

pick and roll ball handler FG FGA TOs %scored
Shumpert 1 5 0 20%
Prigioni 0 3 0 100%
Felton 0 3 3 0%
Anthony 2 2 0 100%
Smith 1 2 0 50%
Layup/Floater 1 4 25%

Synergy shows us already that there have really only been two great options out of the pick and roll in games two and three: Prigioni and Anthony. It also reveals how rare it has been for NY to attack the rim, and how ineffective it has been. Why though don’t these two effective players attack more often? I wondered if the answer lay in the way Synergy tracked the stats, so I decided to re-watch all of NY’s offensive plays in games one and two and count all the pick and rolls, including those that didn’t use a possession. Here are my results:

Game 2

pick and roll results reset Pass – FG make Pass – FG miss Shot – FG make Shot – FG miss Foul TO total successful total attempts %scored
Shumpert 5 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 6 17%
Prigioni 4 1 0 4 0 0 0 5 9 56%
Felton 3 2 3 2 2 1 0 5 13 38%
Anthony 5 3 1 2 4 0 0 5 15 33%
Smith 8 0 0 1 5 1 0 1 15 7%
Kidd 1 1 2 0 0 0 0 1 3 33%
TOTAL 26 8 6 9 11 2 0 18 61 30%
PROPORTION 43% 13% 10% 15% 18% 3% 0%

Game 3

pick and roll results reset Pass – FG make Pass – FG miss Shot – FG make Shot – FG miss Foul TO total successful total attempts %scored
Shumpert 0 1 0 1 5 0 0 2 7 29%
Prigioni 3 2 0 0 3 0 1 2 9 22%
Felton 8 2 0 1 5 0 3 3 19 16%
Anthony 5 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 6 17%
Smith 3 0 1 1 3 1 0 2 9 22%
Kidd 3 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 4 0%
TOTAL 22 5 2 4 16 1 4 10 54 19%
PROPORTION 41% 9% 4% 7% 30% 2% 7%

These numbers suggest that Woodson’s instructions between the two games was for everyone to be more aggressive off of screens. The percent of times ball handlers passed for a shot dropped from 23% to 13%, and the proportion of shots increased from 33% to 37%. This added aggression likely also resulted in the increase in turnover numbers. Felton in particular dribbled himself into traffic numerous times and ended up having a pass batted away by one of the Pacers’ long arms. Then, of course, guys missed shots when Knick dribblers did pass, and Shumpert is just not an effective shooter off the dribble.

As far as an explanation for why New York doesn’t utilize Anthony more in the pick and roll, it seems that Anthony played excessively conservatively out of the pick and roll last game. While he was the one who most needed to take the message of aggression to heart, Anthony reset the ball 83% of the time when he was the pick and roll ball handler in game three compared to only 33% of the time in game two.

The first thing that this all adds up to is that more than anything, New York will live and die by Anthony’s willingness and ability to hit midrange shots. George is a great defender. He fights over screens with gusto and effectively bothers Anthony with his length, even when he’s trailing him.

This is fool’s gold though because Hibbert is shading towards Anthony, and Indiana’s length and quickness makes the interior pass to Chandler nearly impossible. Again, Anthony will have to make plays from eight feet and out, regardless of how aggressively George plays him. His better option will remain playing aggressively off the pick and roll as the ball handler. Prigioni should be able to help as well, but with Woodson’s resistance to playing Prigioni big minutes and Prigioni’s general passivity on offense, Pablo alone will not solve New York’s problems.

Perhaps more important than any of this though is NY’s defense, particularly its ability to force turnovers. NY only had five shots in transition in game three compared to eleven in game two. They also gave up eleven fewer offensive rebounds in game two. However, these are effort stats. With locker room issues spilling over into the press, tonight’s game more than any other will reveal whether this team has the mental strength to respond to adversity.

After the game, you can catch our own Robert Silverman on the Radio Machine at 11:05 to either revel in our glorious triumph or wallow in a sea of misery. The link to listen is here.

When Do We Get Our Title?

In short, if you mean when do the Knicks become a top five favorite to win a title, then the answer is probably not for a while. The main culprit, as my last article went to great lengths to illustrate, is Stoudemire’s contract. The construction of this team and Stoudemire’s own health have relegated him to a player best used for 15-20 MPG, and even as the most super duper sub in the league, he is still overpaid by at least $10 million. That $10 million would go a long way towards repairing New York’s bench.

New York has a lot more to worry about, too, than Stoudemire’s role and health or Shumpert’s compatibility. The team’s deep reliance on Kidd and Smith is dangerous as well, Kidd due to his his age (as our roster has illustrated, old guys can fall apart fast; also, Kidd recently hinted that he may retire at the end of the season), and Smith because the Knicks can only offer him a contract around $6m/year. With the vast improvements he’s shown in the last month especially,  Smith could see offers of $10+ million/year from up and coming teams like Washington or Detroit.

But if the team stays together and relatively healthy, I do think New York has a chance of becoming the sixth or seventh best team, a few spots up from their performance this year and a distinct second best team in the Eastern Conference, the kind of team that every 30 years or so catches a number of breaks and streaks to a championship.

Still, I spent the last two articles discussing concerns such as these. Instead, here are some things New York can do to help their chances in this season and beyond.

 

Start J.R. Smith

Our best lineup (again: Felton, Kidd, Smith, Anthony, Chandler) has played in 35 games but has only played 233 minutes together. That’s about 6.7 minutes in each game in which all five were healthy. Why? Because J.R. Smith, for some mysterious reason, has to be  our sixth man. Considering that just swapping one player out of those starters will almost always severely diminish our returns, this could possibly be the most costly mistake the Knicks have made all season, and when starting James White is on your list of mistakes, that’s quite an achievement.

For comparison, our initial starting lineup, which was never as good as the above lineup, not even when Ronnie Brewer was shooting like Jesus had taken a personal interest in him, played 211 minutes together in 18 games, or 11.7 MPG. Just getting our best lineup to that number would result in us outscoring opponents by about 1.8 more points a game. Free points, Mike Woodson: Do you want them?

 

Move Shumpert to the Bench

This isn’t so much an issue with Shumpert as it is a question of, “Who do you bench when you add Smith to the starting lineup?” As the only other decent wing defender on the roster, it has to be Shumpert. And remember, Shumpert isn’t playing starter minutes anyway. A move to the bench would not have to reduce his time on the floor.

You can also smile knowing that Shumpert has been a lot more effective shooting the ball with Stoudemire (56.1% TS%) than without (45.8% TS%). This difference is even more surprising when you remember that most of the minutes during which Stoudemire shared the floor with Shumpert were earlier in Shumpert’s recovery. Despite his better play of late, Shumpert’s shooting was still superior with STAT.

Shumpert may be benefiting from the fact that with Stoudemire as the offensive centerpiece, the initial attack occurs far closer to the rim, meaning Shump’s more likely to catch the ball with space to immediately shoot. A remarkable 82% of Stoudemire’s shots come within eight feet of the rim (for comparison, Shaq in his prime only took around 85% of his shots in that range). Even excluding Anthony’s threes, Melo takes only 44% of his shots in that same region, and as covered extensively already, the less pressure on Shumpert to replicate Kidd, Felton and Smith’s playmaking, the more he can help the team.

 

Take Full Advantage of Prigioni

The Knicks have a total of 144 minutes available at the wing slots. With Felton and Smith at around 36 each, and Shumpert and Kidd (ideally) at an average of 23 each, we get to a grand total of 118 minutes.

Who’s playing those other 26 minutes? Up until recently, the answer from Woodson’s perspective seems to have been, “First, we should run Kidd into the ground with extended minutes, and then let’s give those other minutes to, I don’t know… the shittiest players on our roster?”

Seriously, why when he had Prigioni waiting on the bench did Woodson bother experimenting with Chris Copeland, who seems to experience every defensive possession as though he’s Mike Conley in Chris Paul’s “The Disappearing Act” NBA ad, the generally incompetent James White, or Old Man Thomas?

You don’t have to dig deep to see that he has a positive impact on the team. His +/- per 48 +6.9 is tops on the roster by a significant margin, and if you’re looking for a reason as to why Prigioni has been so effective, you don’t have to look any further than Jason Kidd. Their numbers are remarkably similar.

I imagine Woodson’s fear is (or was — Woodson has started giving Prigioni a little burn) that the Knick defense would collapse with both Kidd and Prigioni on the floor, but, to put it mildly, I don’t see the logic of using Steve Novak instead, which is exactly what Woodson had been doing (quite effectively, in fact) during the bulk of Prigioni’s minutes.

Come on, Woodson, at least give the guy a chance to fail.

 

Outlook

First off, if J.R. Smith leaves this summer, the dream is dead.  The Knicks have been dependent on him all season as, along with Chandler, he’s the only guy who can be a plus on both ends of the floor. It’s already a huge challenge with Smith for the Knicks to put together balanced lineups. Without J.R., I wouldn’t be surprised to see New York earn a losing record next season, so if you’re listening Mr. Dolan — if any of you on the inside are listening — be nice to J.R., and maybe give him a speech about how awful it is to be as rich as — well — as rich as you are.

That said, if we assume Smith, Martin and Prigioni stay, there is the possibility of blue skies ahead. With a starting lineup of Felton, Kidd, Smith, Anthony and Chandler, and with Stoudemire, Prigioni and an improved Shumpert as the main players off the bench, I could see New York coalescing into the 53-55 win team management likely hoped they would be and distinct second best team in the East.

The main reason why is because they won’t have to play terrible players/lineups anymore, and more than anything, it’s been a few terrible lineups that have killed New York this season: The Brewer lineups after he fell apart, the lineups that featured Kurt Thomas or White, and the lineups with Shumpert sharing the floor with Anthony.

To illustrate how big an impact this can have, consider the fact that the Nets will go from 4th worst in the East last year to probably 3rd or 4th best this year. Sure, Joe Johnson is pretty good, but he’s not great, and while Lopez has been great (and healthy), he has done so at the expense of Kris Humphries.

The biggest reason they’re better though is this: Last year, Shelden Williams, an indifferent DeShawn Stevenson, Johan Petro, Jordan Farmar and Sundiata Gaines all played over 750 minutes each. Three of those guys aren’t even in the league this year and rest assured that Petro will be gone as well once his contract is up. This year, those minutes are going to Joe Johnson, C.J. Watson and a somewhat less indifferent Andray Blatche. In other words, they don’t have lineups (as the Knicks have had at times this year) that chronically annihilate leads and grow deficits.

With the atrocious White lineups, late-era Brewer lineups, and  Shumpert’s terrible compatibility issues/struggles for his first eight weeks, New York has played a number of truly awful lineups. Certainly not on the level of the 11/12 Nets but far more than most teams with records similar to theirs.

However, the major issue barring New York from becoming a legitimate part of title discussions (beyond the seemingly unbeatable Miami Heat) will remain Stoudemire’s contract because let’s be real about Stoudemire, shall we? When its best players are in, this team works great without STAT. It has shown signs of working great with him as well, but the bottom line is that it’s rarely greater with him, so who cares? If your car gets you to work, you don’t buy a second car just because it will get you to work too. The same is true for scoring power forwards.

What the Knicks need to truly become the top five team that we all want to believe they can be is a star guard; that guard doesn’t have to be Chris Paul, but he has to be better than any of the detritus New York is likely to haul in by casting Stoudemire out into the trade waters. If dangling Shumpert and our pick along with STAT could haul in a player like Paul Pierce, at that point, I wouldn’t blame you if you invested in some confetti. Otherwise though, your best investment will probably be in Eastern Conference Semifinals Bi-Champion pennants. They make those, right?