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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Knicks Slide Due to (Lack of) Interior Defense

The 2009 Knicks have been tough to watch. After a promising early start and a couple of trades, the team has been on a losing streak. New York has dropped their last 6 games and are a Jets-eque 3-10 in December. Although I’ve said many times that I don’t care how many games the Knicks win this year, it’s clear what’s causing New York’s woes: interior defense.

When you think of the Knicks in a historical context, you tend to think of good defense. Stalwart centers like Ewing and Reed first come to mind, followed by Clyde, Debusschere, Oakley, Harper, and Camby. But watching the modern day version, there are few good defensive players on the roster. It’s hard to pinpoint which is the Knicks best defensive player. Chandler? Jeffries? Duhon? Jerome James? The list of candidates is short and laughable.

It really doesn’t matter what lineup the Knicks put on the floor, because there aren’t many capable defenders on the team. New York only has one player in their rotation that averages at least one block every 36 minutes: Wilson Chandler (1.0 blk/36). Their second best rotation player is Tim Thomas (0.5 blk/36), and that speaks volumes of how bad the Knicks are in this department.

And it seems the Knicks opponents have noticed this as well. Looking over yesterday’s play-by-play, Denver was 24-32 on shots labeled “layup” or “dunk”. The Nuggets made 45 shots, which means nearly half were in the paint. That’s a staggering amount, and to make matters worse, D’Antoni decided to use a bigger starting lineup of Duhon, Chandler, Jeffries, Thomas, and Lee. Obviously that had no effect.

Unfortunately the Knicks don’t have a lot of options. The team might turn to Eddy Curry, who might be ready to play in January. Even though Curry is a weak shot blocker for a center (1.1 blk/36 career), he’d be an improvement over David Lee (0.3 blk/36 this year). They could play Jerome James, but his weaknesses in the other areas of the floor would offset any gain from the shots he would turn back. (Although for Knick fans hoping for a better draft pick this might be a win-win situation). New York could look to sign a player to a 10 day contract, which they could do starting January 5th. A player like Courtney Sims (6’11, 2.2 blk/36), Richard Hendrix (6’9, 1.7 blk/36), or Chris Hunter (6’11, 1.9 blk/36), might be able to provide some immediate help with possible upside.

Other than inserting Curry into the rotation, it’s not likely that the Knicks will improve much in this department. I don’t see D’Antoni using James on a consistent basis. Isiah tried using James as a starter next to Curry, and that experiment didn’t last long. And it’s unlikely that New York will turn to a developmental league player to solve one of their problems. So Knick fans are going to have to live with a few more months of other teams exploiting this glaring weakness.

19 comments on “Knicks Slide Due to (Lack of) Interior Defense

  1. Thomas B.

    Yeah a 10-day to a DL player would at least give us something to talk about. What about a few of the Euro teams? Can we find a defensive player overseas?

    Anyone with free time feel free to find a center here.

    Here is an example of what you might find:


    MOHAMMED CAMARA
    6’11 255
    Outlook:
    An impressive physical specimen at 255 pounds; he’s very powerful, can bench press more than 300 pounds and do 15 reps of 275 pounds; wears a size 17 shoe and runs well; he still has boyish features and likely will have one more growth spurt; now, he is strongest at the defensive end, and coaches are working on improving his explosiveness on offense; for sure, hovewevr, has NBA upside.

    Wow. When the first thing they say about a player is his bench press and shoe size you know he has to be a great ball player!!

  2. Nick C.

    This roster stagnation is annoying. I’m not sure what exactly they are holding out on or why there are handcuffs with resepct to the roster, but it’s an insult to each and every person who pays to see them play. I know they are banking on the LBJ 2010 sweepstakes or a better draft position, but could they at least try between now and then, because as far as I’m concerned this is effectively tanking. Could they at least try or give the impression of doing so instead of giving idiotic explantions as if the next Jordan or Wilt is out there hiding if Walsh just is patient enough.

  3. David Crockett

    I suspect, as has been suggested in other threads, that Walsh is likely going to make a 10-day move when the option comes open in January. I think he’s less inclined to look overseas at a player that commands a full-season or even multi-year deal. I’d be surprised anyway.

    I think at this point all we can say is that we were never going to have much interior defense with this roster. The next quality interior defender to play for NY is probably playing college ball right now. Frankly, even if we had a 6’11″ shotblocker he’d be stapled to the bench in constant foul trouble due to at-will penetration from the perimeter.

    As much of a Nate Robinson supporter as I have been from day 1, he’s still an indifferent defender; his effort varies, and even when he’s giving effort he freelances too much. He should be a superb position defender, but he’s not even average. People should fear putting the ball on the floor anywhere near him, but he doesn’t get steals. He goes way underneath screens. He frequently leaves his man wide open behind the three point line to half-assed double team *any* post player. I am hesitant to be overly critical of Duhon, given reasonable expectations of what he could provide and the minutes he’s playing. But, much like Jared Jeffries, Duhon’s defensive reputation has been enhanced a bit by good fortune. He’s better than what we had, but he benefited from playing with other good defenders. Balkman and Collins were both better, imo.

    I bring this up because these are things for which Isiah was rightfully pilloried. D’Antoni has to take some blame too. He turned the offense around overnight. I read in the paper that he said words to the effect of “We’re gonna score no matter who I put on the floor. These guys have to play better D.” Well how did he turn a middle-of-the-pack or lower offensive team into an elite one overnight while they’re still making the same fundamental mistakes on defense they made under Isiah?

  4. Caleb

    As much of a Nate Robinson supporter as I have been from day 1, he’s still an indifferent defender; his effort varies, and even when he’s giving effort he freelances too much. He should be a superb position defender, but he’s not even average. People should fear putting the ball on the floor anywhere near him, but he doesn’t get steals

    I would have agreed 100% last year, but IMO Nate’s defense has come a long way. His rate of steals has almost doubled — it’s actually third in the league among PGs. He still gambles way too much and is probably still below average on D, but he’s vastly better than in the past.

    And I like Duhon’s defense a lot, especially the way he goes through screens. I agree it would probably be better, if he played fewer minutes.

    Overall, the defense is a bit better — we’re ranked 25th instead of 29th! Probably the PG position accounts for every bit of the improvement.

    Amazingly, when I think about it, Curry might actually improve the defense. I am probably insane to consider this, since overall he might be the worst defender on the roster… certainly worse than Jeffries or Lee….

    And yet… when it comes to defending other centers – big guys – he might actually be better. He takes up a ton of space. He can hold his ground. And as bad as he is at blocking shots, he blocks more than anyone else on the team. I’m definitely intrigued by how he might look in the D’Antoni system.

  5. Mike K. (KnickerBlogger) Post author

    re Nate:

    I’m a bit down on his defense as well. His increase in steals means he’s playing the lanes better, but David’s right – his overall defense is disappointing. For a former college football player, you’d think he’d be able to go over screens more.

    re Curry:

    One of the things that I believe (but have never had the time nor data to prove) is that undersized PFs that move to center have their stats decreased in some areas. Blocked shots and personal fouls come to mind. It seemed this way with our old buddy Sweetney (who seemingly defended more centers than PF next to Kurt, Othella, etc). That’s why I’m looking forward to Eddy’s return. A legitimate center might free up Lee at PF to have his blocked shots return to a normal rate, and even Eddy might turn back a few.

    A Curry/Lee front court would be just as good defensively or better than any frontcourt pair the Knicks could reasonably assemble (Lee/Harrington, Lee/Thomas, Lee/Jeffries, Lee/Chandler).

    Overall I’m fine with the defensive job the Knicks have done. I think with the roster they have it’s reasonable to expect them in the lower quadrant. Yes some players could be doing more, but in the end they need some better defenders, plain and simple.

  6. jon abbey

    “it’s clear what’s causing New York’s woes: interior defense.”

    with all due respect, this isn’t true. they were winning earlier in the year with the same nonexistent interior D.

    the main problem, as I’ve said numerous times already, is D’Antoni’s decision to use such short rotations so often. NY didn’t make a FG for the final 5+ minutes yesterday, that’s exhaustion, not interior defense.

  7. Z

    “it’s clear what’s causing New York’s woes: interior defense.”

    With all due respect this isn’t true. They were winning earlier in the year with the same nonexistent interior D.

    The main problem is, as jon has said numerous times already, is D’Antoni’s decision to use such short rotations so often.

    Oh yeah– and the 6 players D’Antoni plays also pretty much all suck. That also causes some woe.

    (PS– the Clippers are now suiting up three 2007-2008 Knickerbockers, obviously hoping for different results. Good luck LA)

  8. ess-dog
    As much of a Nate Robinson supporter as I have been from day 1, he’s still an indifferent defender; his effort varies, and even when he’s giving effort he freelances too much. He should be a superb position defender, but he’s not even average. People should fear putting the ball on the floor anywhere near him, but he doesn’t get steals

    I would have agreed 100% last year, but IMO Nate’s defense has come a long way. His rate of steals has almost doubled — it’s actually third in the league among PGs. He still gambles way too much and is probably still below average on D, but he’s vastly better than in the past.
    And I like Duhon’s defense a lot, especially the way he goes through screens. I agree it would probably be better, if he played fewer minutes.
    Overall, the defense is a bit better — we’re ranked 25th instead of 29th! Probably the PG position accounts for every bit of the improvement.
    Amazingly, when I think about it, Curry might actually improve the defense. I am probably insane to consider this, since overall he might be the worst defender on the roster… certainly worse than Jeffries or Lee….
    And yet… when it comes to defending other centers – big guys – he might actually be better. He takes up a ton of space. He can hold his ground. And as bad as he is at blocking shots, he blocks more than anyone else on the team. I’m definitely intrigued by how he might look in the D’Antoni system.

    I agree with all of this, and as for the Curry situation- he is a terrible defender. He will NOT stop guards from entering the lane at will, but… he should be better at manning up on bigger centers i.e. Bogut who ate Lee’s lunch 2 times already. He is someone Curry should perform well against and he’ll have to, in turn, work hard on D against Curry.

    The short rotation (with so many players sitting and doing nothing) is starting to irritate all of us. The *rotation* players all have incomplete games as it stands, so why not fill out the roster with more able bodies? James is obviously an abomination. Rose does nothing. Noone has any faith in Roberson to do anything other than give Duhon a breather. I’m not going to mention Steph. AND then there’s the open roster spot! What a waste. Sims is a beast. He would be a cheap pick up. And it seems like we could trade Jeffries or Rose for a suitable backup pg like Watson… Maybe Walsh DOES need to hire a GM after all? A high draft pick would be nice, but I need some watchable basketball.

    We all know what’s needed. Go out there and get it, Walsh!

  9. 2010

    Mike,

    Can we get a poll about what direction fans want the team to go this season?

    Im wondering if people want to make trades to win now, sign a guy or two to help but no major moves, stand pat and kind of tank or trade anyone with any value looking to the future.

  10. 2010

    Its amazing that the team would be statistically better on d with curry at center instead of lee.

    i dont think this team is good on defense because we dont have good defensive players, but long term i dont ever see this team being built into a contender based on d as long as dantoni is the coach. not that hes bad defensively or we cant be a contender with him, i just think he prefers players who move the ball and shoot well.

  11. italian stallion

    I think small PGs (and I’m going to include Nate in that even though he plays SG) are typically quite disadvantaged defensively. Some of them may be able to overcome some of the disadvatages with quickness and intellectual firepower (if they have it), but I’d be hard pressed to come up with many sub 6 footers that I would consider good defenders. I love Nate because he’s such a freak athlete and partly because I’m also vertically challenged (SHORT!), but long term we should be thinking about him as a limited minutes spark plug off the bench.

  12. italian stallion

    Mike,
    Can we get a poll about what direction fans want the team to go this season?
    Im wondering if people want to make trades to win now, sign a guy or two to help but no major moves, stand pat and kind of tank or trade anyone with any value looking to the future.

    I’m OK with trading everyone except Chandler and Gallinari unless the deal is a steal because I want to see more of them.

    I would be disappointed by a trade that included Lee, Robinson, or Duhon because I can see them being key role players in 2010 and beyond.

    I think we should be as patient as possible if it maximizes our use of any or all of our assets for the long term. I don’t think we should do anything that helps the short term if it hurts in the long term.

  13. Nick C.

    Caleb – I think Nate’s steals may be a bit of a fraud and by the end of the year he will be closer to his career norm, whatever that may be. Of his 34 steals exactly half came in the first 6 games when D’Antoni was saying Nate should be getting 2-3 per game. You don’t hear that any more.

    But he still does a lot of the same stupid things he was doing as a rookie, especially late in games. If his shot isn’t falling he’s a liability which isn’t saying much now that he is in his 4th season.

  14. Caleb

    Caleb – I think Nate’s steals may be a bit of a fraud and by the end of the year he will be closer to his career norm, whatever that may be. Of his 34 steals exactly half came in the first 6 games when D’Antoni was saying Nate should be getting 2-3 per game. You don’t hear that any more.

    He might regress to the mean, but even if you take out the first 6 games, his steals rate would still be in the top 10 among PGs…

    I would agree that he is overall still a below-average defender, but he’s gotten much better at hounding dribblers and playing the lanes – exactly what he should have been doing the past three years.

    If his shot isn’t falling he’s a liability…

    I think it’s time to give Nate some props. For one thing, it’s pretty rare that his shot isn’t falling. Among all NBA point guards, he’s 4th in scoring per-minute, and 12th in TS% (57.5). He’s also 4th in rebounds per-minute (at 5’7!) and 9th in rebound rate. He’s a solid passer and even his turnover rate is better than average. His defense is improving.

    he still does a lot of the same stupid things he was doing as a rookie, especially late in games.

    IMO this is more reputation than reality. People remember the stupid things he does, but if you look at the big picture (those inconvenient numbers) he’s actually been terrific.

  15. italian stallion

    he still does a lot of the same stupid things he was doing as a rookie, especially late in games.

    IMO this is more reputation than reality. People remember the stupid things he does, but if you look at the big picture (those inconvenient numbers) he’s actually been terrific.

    I think the timing of the stupid things (or great things) you do impacts people’s perceptions.

    If you make a boneheaded pass when the team is up or down by 25 points, some people notice it, but many of those don’t even care.

    If you make a boneheaded pass when the team is down by 1 with 20 seconds to play, then foul the guy because you are pissed off at yourself, which in turn gives the other team a 3 point play, it gets burned in the fan’s memory forever because it occurred with the game on the line and potentially cost the team the win.

    I have no idea if there is a “boneheaded mistake stat” that measures the “impact” of a players mistakes, whether it would be different than the “overall boneheaded mistake stat”, or even how Robinson would rank, but IMO that’s the kind of thing that impacts the perceptions of a player.

    People really notice what you do in critical situations (especially late in the game) and hardly notice much of the stuff that occurs during blowouts or when the teams are jockeying back and forth in a close game that everyone already knows will be decided in the 4th quarter.

  16. David Crockett

    he still does a lot of the same stupid things he was doing as a rookie, especially late in games.

    IMO this is more reputation than reality. People remember the stupid things he does, but if you look at the big picture (those inconvenient numbers) he’s actually been terrific.

    This I agree with wholeheartedly. I’m a Nate guy without reservation, but much like with my 12-yr old stepson, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to kill him every now and then.

    I do not have a problem with Nate’s offense generally speaking. Much of the criticism aimed at him is WAY overstated, if legitimate at all (paging Mr. Breen, Mr. Mike Breen). Nate’s been a good percentage shooter since day 1. He takes good shots (i.e., shots he can hit), occasional “heat-check” aside. He’s also never been particularly turnover prone.

    Having watched a good bit of him in the Pac 10, I knew he’d make a good pro. But I honestly expected Nate to be a very good defensive player by this point in his career. So part of my frustration is my own disappointment. He has all the tools but not the want to (all the time). But to be fair, I was surprised to hear about his steals being up. I’ll acknowledge some growth in playing the lanes. He still should be a much better position defender though.

    I’ll say this. I don’t think defense is something he won’t master. When he puts his mind to it he gets better. He was criticized for his ball handling and he got better. He was criticized for not being a “true” PG. That’s often a matter of taste more than anything, but he’s undeniably improved his passing. He’s got the athleticism to be a very good defender. I just want him to put his mind to that too.

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