Before getting into the big-picture stuff, some assorted notes from last night’s game, in no particular order:
1. The Knicks underused and misused Iman Shumpert.
In the first seven minutes of the game, Shumpert scored four points on one shot, had three assists, two steals, and a rebound. He held his counterpart Bradley Beal to one basket. John Wall and he were by far the most athletic guys on the floor to start the game. Mike Woodson rewarded that efficient performance by sitting Shumpert for 12 straight minutes. Upon his return, Shump promptly hit another jumper and grabbed another steal.
Wall simply abused Beno Udrih and Pablo Prigioni all night, and started the game 7-7 with 15 points in 15 minutes. Hard to believe Woodson refused to let Shumpert, his best defender, guard him at any point.
On a related note, here’s a question: How many plus defenders do the Knicks have on their roster right now? I’d say Shumpert, Kenyon Martin, Metta World Peace and maybe Prigioni (you wouldn’t know it from last night) are the team’s only above-average defenders with Chandler out. I’ve vowed not to pre-judge any Shumpert deals, but trading him means trading away the team’s best two-way player, a 23-year-old with tremendous hands who is big and quick enough to defend three positions. OK, he gambles on defense too much. But this league has an abundance of fast and skilled and awesome point guards and wings and it’s clear that Shumpert is the only Knick who has a chance to defend them consistently. It’s very hard to see them getting fair value for Shump, and they will almost certainly suffer tremendously on the defensive side of the ball if he leaves.
Speaking of perimeter players …
2. Why is the leash so long with JR and so short with Shumpert?
His line might suggest otherwise, but JR Smith was truly awful last night. Missed free throws, bad shooting (some of those missed shots were wide open), lazy on-and-off-ball defense. Despite the loss, the Knicks actually had some nice ball movement at points, but boy does Smith slow down the offense with his ill-advised isolation plays and forced 20-footers.
I know JR is streaky, and taking the good (to a certain degree) means enduring the bad. His offensive success is important to that of the team’s. And I appreciate that playing for a looser coach has made him more comfortable.
But there’s a fine line between making someone comfortable and not holding that person accountable, and it’s obvious that Woodson and JR are on the wrong side of that line. There are far better ways to indicate one’s trust in a player than rewarding ill-advised shots and do-nothing defense. And it is particularly unfair when a very good two-way player (one that, you know, has been a part of trade rumors for 12 months and could probably use a vote of confidence from anyone in this organization) has to sit to indulge this. Last night, JR played 30 minutes and Shumpert played 27. That’s hard to justify.
3. It’s time to give Cole Aldrich a try.
The Knicks made Marcin Gortat look like a vintage Dwight Howard last night. The Washington center finished with 16 points and 17 rebounds, including 7 offensive boards. Four of those offensive rebounds came in the third quarter alone.
As Kevin so eloquently put it a few days ago, this isn’t Andrea Bargnani’s fault. He shouldn’t have to play 33 minutes at center. But four rebounds (Bargnani’s total from last night) just won’t cut it. Gortat destroyed the Knicks on the boards last night, and now the team sits 29th out of 30 teams in rebounding rate.
Aldrich averaged 11 rebounds per 36 minutes last year, and his 17.7 rebounding rate and 26.7 defensive rebounding rates last year would rank him as the best rebounder on the Knicks. This team desperately needs a rim protector and needs major rebounding help, and Aldrich is a good rim protector and rebounder. It’s that simple.
4. Silver Linings!
Amar’e: 22 minutes (!), 12 points on 5-5 from the field (!!), including a nice jumper and a transition dunk (!!!). Really pulling for you, STAT … Carmelo: Added another 12 rebounds, and is posting career-high offensive, defensive, and total rebounding rates … the Knicks again won the turnover battle. Despite a really sloppy start, the team is second in the league turnover rate.
But just to be clear: Last night was the latest indication that the Knicks are not a few more Carmelo Anthony drawn fouls away from being a good team, or even a mediocre team. This team, right now, is bad. Plainly, and at its core.
The Knicks rank 28th (out of 30 NBA teams) in defensive efficiency. They rank 23rd in offensive efficiency. They rank 27th in true shooting percentage. They rank 28th in free throw attempts per game. They are tied for 22nd in 3-point shooting percentage, down nearly five percentage points from last year. As mentioned above, they are 29th in rebounding rate. They are 25th in assist percentage.
They struggled all night (and have struggled all season) to defend basic pick-and-rolls. They can’t stay in front of point guards. They are shooting an unfathomable 21% on corner 3s. They don’t rebound and struggle tremendously on transition defense.
Last night’s dispiriting loss was neither unlucky nor unsurprising. This is who the Knicks are right now.