At the start of the season, it was expected that the Knicks would improve on their 32-50 record from the prior year. However the team is under performing and is on pace to win 28 games. With the team failing to meet even their own low standards, it’d be nice to pinpoint exactly what’s going wrong. A good starting place would be to compare this team to last year’s using four factor statistics.
Year EFF eFG% TO% REB% FTFG 2009 Off 108.1 50.3 14.7 24.4 21.0 2010 Off 106.4 50.5 14.9 23.2 19.3 Year EFF eFG% TO% REB% FTFG 2009 Def 110.8 52.0 14.9 27.3 21.5 2010 Def 109.8 51.7 15.6 27.7 21.2
Oddly New York is a little better defensively than they were last year. The change is due to an uptick in turnovers, and perhaps a minor improvement in shooting percentage allowed. On the other hand the offense has clearly regressed, with more than a point and a half decline per 100 possessions. While the shooting percentage and turnovers are just about the same, rebounding and free throws have fallen considerably.
Grabbing rebounds and drawing fouls are two specialties of David Lee. Compared to last year, Lee’s oreb/36 has slid from 3.3 to a mediocre 2.6 and his fta/36 has gone from 4.2 to 3.8. Perhaps his role in this year’s offense is one of the reasons for the decline, because D’Antoni tends to start the half court offense with Lee on the perimeter orchestrating. This has increased David’s assist numbers (from 2.2 to 3.4 ast/36) but it seems to come at the expense of his other strengths. The typical counterargument for this is that having the Knicks keep the opposing center on the perimeter opens up the middle for the rest of the team. However the team stats contradict such an assertion, with the shooting percentage staying level and the number of fouls in the paint decreasing.
Lee isn’t the only offender in recovering his team’s misses. Gallinari has been inserted into the starting lineup, and he’s only pulling 0.8 oreb/36 which is feeble for a 6-10 player. And one of last year’s New York’s best glass cleaners, Nate Robinson (1.6 oreb/36) was benched earlier in the season and now has been traded away. Even Jeffries’ 3.5 oreb/36 was marginalized to 2.4 oreb/36, a sign that it was a fundamental change in the team’s philosophy that contributed to this decline.
But it’s New York’s free throws that might be hurting them the most. One culprit is Chris Duhon whose production has dipped from 2.6 fta/36 to a pitiful 1.7 fta/36. Duhon has been benched in favor of Rodriguez, however this problem might not have been addressed as Sergio is no threat in the paint either (2.2 fta/36). And again Nate Robinson was a big help here, but his numbers saw a huge decline in 2010 (4.8 to 2.7 fta/36).
If I had to build a narrative based on this data, I’d say that the fault lies in a combination of the roster and plan put together by the coaching staff. Perhaps David Lee has become more of a complete player this year, but looking at the results from a team level you have to question the cost. His game has been slowly been pulled away from the basket (his offensive rebounding per minute numbers have dropped every year since 2007) and perhaps in the course of rounding his game out the pendulum has swung too far in that direction. Similarly Nate Robinson was marginalized in an attempt to transform him from a shooting guard into a point guard.
One perspective on the team was that Lee’s unidimensional game and Nate’s out of control play as attributes holding the team back. Well those problems were addressed, and the team has only gotten worse. In D’Antoni’s defense the Knick roster isn’t exactly brimming with talent, but a good coach find his player’s strengths and his strategy adheres to those attributes. New York’s coach appears to be too unbending in his philosophy, and looking at the history of the team’s guards in his tenure shows a mismanagement of talent. Marbury, Richardson, Hughes, and Robinson have all been run out of town. Meanwhile Duhon has stuck around much longer than he should have, and Toney Douglas is still on the fringe of the rotation. D’Antoni is known as being a great offensive point guard in his career, but he’s failed to turn that into anything tangible so far.