|Carmelo Anthony, SF 31 MIN | 9-22 FG | 7-8 FT | 9 REB | 0 AST | 26 PTS | +18
Carmelo continues to provide daily evidence that FG% and efficient offense are not the same thing. 26 points on 22 FGA’s, 8 FTA’s and zero turnovers? Sign for it with a smile. On a day when neither team’s shots were falling, the Knicks won this game with offensive rebounds (Melo had 4) and a +11 turnover margin (Melo had 2 steals and committed 0 turnovers in 25 possessions used). If you don’t bring help he goes to the rim, if you bring help he looks to pass. His defensive effort was there all game, a happening that has become so routine as to barely warrant mention. He has fitted his play to the character of each game this season and ,despite shooting that hasn’t met his normal standard, is the biggest reason this team is 7-1. The biggest reason that they haven’t really been tested in any of the 7 wins. Whether he can be the best player on a legitimate contender is no longer a compelling hypothetical. It’s happening before our eyes.
|Ronnie Brewer, SF 23 MIN | 4-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 2 AST | 8 PTS | +17
The Knicks’ starting lineup includes 3 players with great handles, vision, and decision-making (Kidd, Felton, and (knock me over with a feather) Carmelo). It also includes two players with a preternatural sense of offensive spacing and when to do what off of the ball (Brewer, Chandler). Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out why lineups work well together. This is not one of those times. Ronnie Brewer was +17 in 23 minutes today. Sometimes single-game +/- stats can be misleading. This is not one of those times.
|Tyson Chandler, C 28 MIN | 3-7 FG | 1-2 FT | 9 REB | 1 AST | 7 PTS | +8
Throw the stats out, this was his best game of the young season. Start with his incredibly active screening that created lanes for dribble penetration and forced defensive collapses when he rolled to the rim. Next, take Roy Hibbert’s line (a putrid 6/8/1 with 6 turnovers on 3/10 shooting) and stack Ian Mahinmi’s 0-for-6 on top of it for good measure. Finally, get a load of the Pacers overall 2 point shooting (20 for 51, or 39.2%), a reflection of their utter inability to finish in the paint and resulting willingness to settle for a lot of long 2’s, even early in the shot clock. Basketball is about movement above all else — player movement, ball movement, and the ability to prevent free-flowing movement by your opponent. If you’re wondering how Tyson Chandler could possibly be such a valuable NBA player without a jumper or any discernible post moves, that is your answer.
|Jason Kidd, PG 23 MIN | 0-3 FG | 3-3 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 3 PTS | +12
A quiet outing after intentionally-drawn contact on a long jumper (a Kidd specialty) drew blood and birthed a new Twitter account. He was +12 in 23 minutes but didn’t touch the ball much.
|Raymond Felton, PG 29 MIN | 5-15 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 8 AST | 11 PTS | +11
Uneven but ultimately effective outing from Ray. Still a few too many shots but since none of them were really forced I don’t think that’s really on him. Teams are looking to make sure that Felton jumpers are the best looks the Knicks get; it’s the coach’s job to make adjustments that get him more help. Sub-par shooting aside, 8 assists without a turnover is great and he did a nice job contesting looks from a very confused Indiana backcourt. Good but not great.
|Rasheed Wallace, PF 17 MIN | 3-7 FG | 2-2 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 9 PTS | +7
Has thus far provided the steadiest (!) alternative to Carmelo when he needs a rest. Today’s effort was particularly encouraging because it was effective for a bunch of boring, sustainable reasons (7 boards and a block in 17 minutes) instead of dream-sequence-three-point-montage-romantic-puppy-surprise! reasons. Will be interesting to see what happens when Amar’e comes back (he would seem to be in the most danger of losing minutes) but if the playoffs started now and the rotation had to be shortened to 8 or 9 players, he would be safely in it.
|Steve Novak, SF 24 MIN | 3-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 9 PTS | -2
It really says a whole lot about Novak’s Super-Mario-with-a-Star 2011-12 season that people have actually been stupefied at the demise of his 3-point shooting so far this year. He was 3 for 8 today (37.5%) and is now shooting 37.8% on the season. Reggie Miller shot 39.5% for his career (with a shorter line). Calm down. His defense has, however, regressed from “surprisingly passable” to “I wish this was baseball so we could DH him.”
|Chris Copeland, SF 4 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | -7
I think our official victory cigar this year should be Chris Copeland coming into a blowout, getting one clean path to the bucket, dunking, and hanging on the rim long enough to draw a technical foul (Joey Crawford stunningly declined to call it today but, make no mistake, it was there). That way if he hits the 16-tech suspension threshold it will be more a mark of the Knicks’ dominance than anything else. I’m not telling you how to do your job, Woody, just something to think about.
|Marcus Camby, C 13 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | -3
Apparently still on the team. Seriously, he has a uniform and everything. If you didn’t get teary-eyed seeing him hit the Garden floorboards for a rebound against the Pacers in a 28-24 game in the middle of the 2nd quarter, then I don’t even want to know you. If Woodson plays him in this role (basically the help-defending, rebounding yin to ‘Sheed’s chuck-and-grind yang) our frontcourt rotation starts to look pretty darn adaptable.
|Pablo Prigioni, PG 16 MIN | 0-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 4 AST | 0 PTS | +1
I tweeted at the end of the third quarter that it was pretty hard to to play only 6 minutes and look worse than Pridgie had to that point. He then played a somewhat more passable 4th quarter, but against a lineup that would only have looked formidable at a Hansbrough family picnic. His first severe clunker of the year but it’s hard to see him staying in the rotation once Shump comes back (especially given Kidd’s Ponce de Leon act and JR Smith’s startling emergence as an offensive initiator (of which more below)).
|James White, SG 4 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | -7
Only 91 days to get your Slam Dunk Contest shopping done!
|J.R. Smith, SG 30 MIN | 5-10 FG | 2-2 FT | 7 REB | 2 AST | 13 PTS | +5
SHIP CAPTAIN’S LOG: 71 DAYS SINCE THE WRECK
Food supply grows short and fresh water nears utter depletion. If they find this, dear Maisy, know that I have loved you and always shall. I have held out hope long enough that a passing freighter would see the bonfire that still rages on the beach but to no avail. Noises from the brush grow ever louder and stranger, though I fear I must face whatever awaits me therein or starve to death. Hunger and scurvy have driven me to near-delirium, I awake cold and sweaty from fevered dream of J.R. Smith creating efficient offense for himself and his teammates, defending with vigor, emerging as the third most important player on a 7-1 NBA team. The madness shall not claim me — I shall live by this island’s bounty and return to you, Maisy, or I shall die bravely facing its horrors.
|Kurt Thomas, PF DNP COACH’S DECISION MIN | FG | FT | REB | AST | PTS |
Probably has to be either him or Camby unless someone gets injured. Today it was Camby. Maybe they can each play about half the games and stay fresh.
Five Things We Saw
- Thought this was a game that the Knicks needed to put their stamp on to nip any concerns that the Memphis loss may have exposed some fundamental flaw in their team construction. Despite sloppy shooting, I thought they generally succeeded to this end. David West had an efficient game but was confined to a minor role in the offense (10 shots in 34 minutes) thanks to Chandler’s one-man zone defense and Melo’s willingness to front him and ball-deny. Super-sized frontlines like those in Memphis and (to some extent) San Antonio are a bad matchup for the Knicks preferred lineup and probably will be all year. But that doesn’t mean any team with a post threat can exploit them (witness West’s low usage and the ongoing disaster that was Roy Hibbert’s afternoon) and I thought it was important for them to state that resoundingly today. Mission accomplished.
- Corollary to #1: just because Tony Parker and Mike Conley can get into the lane at will doesn’t mean your perimeter defense isn’t good. Paul George, George Hill, and Lance Stephenson were a combined 4/16 on two-point attempts in this game; Hill attempted only one shot in the paint. The early scouting report on the Knicks defense is that their perimeter switching and interior ball denial is good and that the best way to beat them is with a super-quick dribble penetrator and/or a strong, skilled post presence that can receive the ball high and muscle his way toward the basket. To that end, the Spurs/Grizzlies back-to-back might have been the single most difficult test their defense will face all year. And they went 1-1.
- The Knicks most effective offensive weapon last year — especially evident during Linsanity but also one of the bright spots of Douglistlessness — was any set that started with Chandler setting a high screen and diving to the rim. This maneuver had been mostly invisible to start this season, even as the Knicks sprinted to a 6-1 record. It was back today, producing it’s trademark blend of easy finishes, fouls, and shooters abandoned by collapsing defenders. That’s good. If they can implement it effectively with Carmelo or JR Smith as the ball-handler and Novak lurking in the shadows? That’s scary.
- The Knicks had a major offensive lull in the second quarter when they went away from the Felton-Kidd-Brewer-Melo-Chandler lineup in favor of a bigger look. Right now, most iterations of the big lineup only score when ‘Sheed is hot and the opposition’s respect for his outside shot is creating space for Felton/Prigioni/Melo/whoever to penetrate. When he’s cold it gets stilted and ineffective. Through 8 games, this looks like the biggest area that a healthy Amar’e might be able to really help out.
- The final point is the most important. The Knicks’ starting lineup (Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, Ronnie Brewer, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler) was on the court together for 15 minutes today (tip-off until 8:48 of the first quarter; 5:39 of the second quarter until halftime; start of the third quarter until 5:58 of the third quarter). In those 15 minutes, each team had 27 possessions on which the Knicks scored 40 points (1.48 per possession) and the Pacers scored 24 (0.89 per possession). This is astonishingly good but basically an exaggeration of what they’ve done all year so far (1.18 per possession, 0.90 allowed per possession coming into today). That’s not simply great, it’s cartoonish. It’s happened against champions and also-rans, contenders and minnows. It’s happened against big teams and small. It’s happened at home and on the road.
I hope Amar’e and Shumpert come back. I hope they play great and serve to add two more elements to a team whose depth and diversity has been it’s most endearing feature. I couldn’t care less who is on the court when the game starts and I care only marginally more who is on the court when it ends. But if that lineup — those five players who have played against other teams’ starting lineups and absolutely trounced them — does not spend a significant portion of every game in which they are all healthy on the court together, then I simply have no idea what we’re even trying to do here.