Phil Jackson destroyed the stability he created with Knicks

The attraction of Phil Jackson running the New York Knicks was he would bring a sensibility to the organization that often didn’t exist.

Whether you agreed or disagreed with the moves Jackson made through the pre-firing Derek Fisher portion of his tenure, his presence became easier to accept because of a level of stability.

The team owned by James Dolan was going along in a rational manner.

They didn’t return much value for Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith, but you could see a level of logic behind both trades. Despite it taking longer than it should have – Carmelo Anthony did eventually shut it down for the season due to a knee injury. The dead weight on the team was sent away with Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani being bought out.

First-year head coach Derek Fisher spent about half the season experimenting with a more pick and roll based offense rather than the triangle and giving different players an opportunity to prove themselves.

Yea, they screwed up winning a couple games at the end of the season, but it’s not fair to expect players to not go out and try. It was just unfortunate results.

Drafting Kristaps Porzingis and Jerian Grant brought along hope of Jackson being more open to adjusting New York’s playing style due to their skills sets in a good start to his second full offseason on the job.

Free agency should have been the first sign of slight concern when it came to Jackson’s view of what he wanted the team to be. He went after too many bigs and not enough attention to players who could break down a defense off the dribble.

Nothing Jackson did was overly harmful, but he gave insight into what he was looking for with how he constructed the roster. Individually, none of the contracts he gave out were bad, yet in totality they didn’t make all that much sense.

All that said, it wasn’t the end of the world. Rebuilding the Knicks roster from the tear down was more than a one-offseason process. Jackson needed to be given more time to flesh out what he was trying to accomplish.

The season started and the Knicks overachieved. Fisher implemented a smarter defensive scheme that tried to force teams into mid-range shots and the offense was a decent balance of using triangle principles and modern concepts. It wasn’t perfect, but it was something you could live with.

Fisher worked on developing Porzingis and Grant, maximized Thomas’ versatility on the defensive end, had Anthony playing brilliant all-around basketball and managed minutes in a decent fashion.

Once they hit 22-22, one of the healthiest teams in the league at that point in the season, started getting banged up. The nine-man rotation Fisher settled on could no longer be used and the Knicks lack of quality depth shined through. They played a bunch of close games and battled hard, but couldn’t close anything out.

Thinking back on it, in Fisher’s last games it was almost like he was trying to prove a point. In first halves he Knicks would run mainly triangle based offensive sets leading to them falling behind. In second halves they’d run a ton of spread PnR storming back into the game.

This pattern happened quite frequently.

Was it Fisher trying to prove a point to Jackson?

If he was should have Fisher tried to communicate better with his boss instead of being standoffish? Yep.

Should have Jackson been smart enough to see what was happening and not be stubborn about the type of offense that was being implemented? Yep.

The basketball reasons to fire Fisher didn’t make much sense. If it was other dealings that were more involved with off the court shenanigans so be it. Whatever the case, when Jackson made the decision to fire Fisher he tore down what he had worked so hard to build up – an appearance of stability.

Teams that are stable don’t fire coaches less than two years into a job with a group that was on track to be one of the most improved in the NBA.

Jackson made his buddy Kurt Rambis interim head coach and ever since they’ve gone back to their old clusterfuck ways.

Rambis trying to “win now” (poorly by the way, he’s not even good at that) has led to potential bad consequences. Melo is getting overplayed, they’ve swung towards increased base triangle action, the protect the paint screw threes defense is back, Sasha Vujacic’s role has increased while Grant’s has decreased and Porzingis is being used incorrectly.

The scary part of all of this is Rambis and Jackson openly discuss how improved the communication between the two of them is compared to Fisher and Jackson.

Simply put………that’s terrifying.

Even while only winning 17 games what made Jackson’s first year a success was an understanding of where the team was and what needed to be accomplished.

The same hasn’t happened this season – it feels like Jackson has become short sighted.

Outside of unrealistic trade rumors involving Jeff Teague – there’s been no attempt to address their slow, plodding, lack of dribble penetration backcourt.

Lower level guards such as Mario Chalmers, D.J. Augustin, Shelvin Mack and Ish Smith were all traded during the regular season. Maybe getting one of them wasn’t realistic, but a move of that elk could have been made.

They’ve had two players come on 10-day contracts in Thanasis Antetokounmpo and Jimmer Fredette and neither was given a chance to contribute in a meaningful way.

And the Fredette circus should have never been at MSG in the first place.

Jackson been content allowing Lou Amundson, Cleanthony Early and Vujacic eat up roster spots and not contribute in a positive way.

Jackson’s managing of the Knicks roster this season has lacked ingenuity and creativity.

Once the playoffs became unrealistic a smartly run team would have preserved Melo, experimented with an offense revolving around Porzingis and Grant’s skills, and used two or three roster spots to try to find cheap talent to add to the team gong forward.

The reason to be worried about Jackson has nothing to do with what his record is since being in charge of the Knicks. It’s quite the opposite – the bad record shows he understood what needed to be done in his first full year on the job. The roster is in a healthier place than where it was when Jackson took it over.

The question is with the decision-making and vision Jackson has demonstrated this season can he be trusted to be in charge of the Knicks going forward?

If Jackson isn’t able to set aside his ego in regards to the next coach and how the Knicks on court product should be shaped – what needs to happen is so painful I don’t have the will to even spell it out.

How The Knicks Can Effectively Use Amar’e Stoudemire

It’s impossible to avoid the positivity regarding the potential resurgence of Amar’e Stoudemire these days as the New York Knicks get set for the 2014-2015 season.Before their fifth preseason game against the Milwaukee Bucks Monday night — one in which Stoudemire got his first start of the preseason at center — studio analyst Wally Szczerbiak, filling in for Walt Frazier as MSG’s color commentator, opened up the broadcast discussing what STAT can bring to the team this year.

On October 7th, Amar’e talked about getting back to his “dominant self.” A few weeks, later, on October 20th, he upped the ante, saying, “I feel like I’m 19 again.” He’s talked about playing better defense and how much he can help the roster, and the bulk of the sporting press has gobbled up these tasty, sound bite-ready quotes, typically buttressing them with his at times still-impressive offensive box score numbers.

But it’s not just columnists needing to fill space; the idea that Amar’e is heading for a resurgent year is also coming from the organization itself. Head coach Derek Fisher has indicated (and this is a reminder that it’s not always wise to take pre- and post-game coach-speak as the gospel truth) that STAT will have a big role on the team, and president of basketball operations Phil Jackson had this to stay in a player-by-player scouting report for ESPN.com:

“One of the keys to the season will be the play of Amar’e Stoudemire. Although his tender knee will require his playing time and practice time to be carefully monitored, we hope he’ll be able to play four rotations of eight minutes per game.”

I’m no math wiz(ard), but eight times four is (checks abacus) 32, which is just way too many minutes for this year’s model of Amar’e Stoudemire, sad to say. This is his fifth and most likely final year with the team, but let’s take a gander at his on/off court numbers through the first four:

Snip20141022_12

Soooooo…yeah. That’s what we call “Slightly not good to awful.”

This next chart might be the most damaging to the idea/fantasy that Stoudemire can be an integral cog to this year’s geometric machine. He was barely even a positive during the 54 game, pre-Melo portion of the 10-11 season that has become arguably the most romanticized 28-26 stretch in Knick history.

Snip20141022_13

Yep, you read that correctly. During those 54 games the Knicks were only .1 points better with STAT playing when chants of “MVP, MVP!” were echoing through the upper levels of Madison Square Garden. (As a side note, can we please come up with a better chant? It’s tired and old, even if the receiver of said exhortation is a legit candidate. We can? Thanks.)

Anyway, the reason for this icky data isn’t because Stoudemire isn’t a talented individual offensive player; he is. it’s because he’s extremely hard to construct a quality five-man groups around his particular skill-set.

Take a look at these two man groups from last year:

Snip20141024_15

The way the Knicks are constructed they don’t have enough good defensive players to hide Amar’e especially when Anthony will be on the court for 34 to 36 minutes and the starting point guard is Jose Calderon. That’s two negative defenders you have to cover up for. Adding Stoudemire to the mix is too much bad defense to make it all work.

This is why Stoudemire can’t start and he needs to be limited to 18 to 20 minutes a night at most and truthfully that’s probably even too much. It’s a tough quandary, but here is how I would handle it. He can’t be on the court when Bargs or Hardaway Jr. are playing — that’s completely, 100% off limits if the goal is to win basketball games. Playing Stoudemire at center is a no go. We saw the destruction when he played center with Quincy Acy at power forward during the preseason game against the Bucks, and again last night against the Raptors. The evidence goes back longer than a preseason game or two. Via 82games.com:

Snip20141024_16

Since 2010-2011, lineups involving Stoudemire have been better with him at center versus power forward. In the last three years the Knicks had more success when he was playing PF. This leaves you with three choices of who to play Stoudemire with – Aldrich, Samuel Dalembert and Jason Smith. I don’t see Dalembert working. He gets flashy blocks, but he’s an inconsistent, poor positional defender. He’s not going to be able to cover up for STAT’s flaws. You have to play him with either Aldrich or Smith and I learn towards more with Cole because of his rebounding.

No matter whom you play at PG between Calderon, Prigioni or Shane Larkin, you’re not getting strong defense from that position. Since we’re talking about the second unit it will most likely be Prigs and Larkin getting the run with STAT. Shumpert has to be on the court and it makes the most sense to play him with J.R. Smith. In 213 minutes Stoudemire, Shump and J.R. played together last season the Knicks were a +18.4 net rating.

A lot of the numbers here are small sample sizes, yet despite the extremes, there’s a basic logic at play that makes sense. Giving Amar’e a strong wing defender to help cut off dribble penetration and a basket protector to cover up his poor team defense is what’s needed to help minimize the damage.

So, Stoudemire’s time on the court should always Aldrich/Smith at center, STAT at PF, J.R. and Shump at the wings and Larkin or Prigs at point guard. Now, that’s a very limited scope, probably not more than 15-20 mpg. But honestly, that’s fine. There’s enough evidence to suggest that the team didn’t need a “second scorer” i.e., someone that’s not Melo in order to succeed. What they needed was a balanced lineup, and when they had one, the points somehow, someway managed to arrive. Shocker, right?

It’s all fine and good for Fisher to talk about putting an emphasis on defense, but if his rotations and lineup choices don’t reflect those words… well, then it’s just talk. Amar’e is going to be the biggest early test of Fisher’s stated credo. Because if he is playing center surrounded by equally poor defenders for long stretches, then Fish’s blather doesn’t really have much value than when Woodson said it, or every other coach in the NBA says it. Not to throw STAT under the bus/kick him to the curb, but if he is going to be a big part of what we do/a piece of the puzzle, at the end of the day, less is more.

A Review of ‘Amare Stoudemire: In The Moment’

If you’re a normal person, you’re probably unaware that Amar’e Stoudemire had an hour long documentary, In the Moment, released on Epix back in April. I stumbled upon the documentary on Netflix the other night and decided to check it out, the thought being, “It’s the offseason, and besides, I really want to rediscover the Amar’e love of 2010-2011. So what the hell?”

The documentary begins with a mix of STAT highlights and a monologue about winning a championship. It’s pretty clear Amar’e is not the most comfortable guy with one-on-one interviews — or the most realistic — but as the film goes on, he gets better.

What he does do is go into some startling specifics about his childhood. His mother was in-and-out of jail for the majority of Amare’s formative years, and it is revealed that she actually tried to abort Amare at one point during her pregnancy. STAT then talks a little bit about the passing of his father, and how much of an emotional wall Amare built as a kid because he never really found it in him to cry.

We then get to see some of STAT’s old high school tapes — footage that makes Amare look like Dwight Howard amongst boys. He was just so much bigger and stronger then everyone on the court, and it showed. At one point, Amare’s mother talks about trying to persuade Amare not go to college, and declare instead for the NBA Draft.

The best part of the documentary, to my mind, is the look-in at Amare’s current family, and how good he is not only with his own kids, but all the kids and fans he encounters. For what it’s worth, Amar’e always seems to have a smile on face when meeting fans — a look vastly different from the one we normally see, particularly in interviews where his injuries and disappointing last few seasons are discussed.

Footage of STAT’s workouts with Hakeem are short, but the one thing I took away from the highlights was that Hakeem, even at 50 years old, could still beat Amar’e — along with a lot of NBA players — one-on-one. It should also be noted that Hakeem’s spectacular ranch has been added to my bucket list of places to visit.

One other positive aspect of the documentary is the insight into Amare’s children’s book, and the tour he’s undertaken to encourage kids to take up reading. Yes, a lot of professional athletes do this, but Amar’e definitely exudes that this is a very important pillar in his life.

The greatest — and worst — moment of the documentary came when one of Amare’s young fans was talking about Amar’e and commented, “He’s always going to log out those minutes you want him to.” I don’t think the camera guy had the heart to pull him aside and give him the bad news.

In the Moment isn’t exactly groundbreaking, and a lot of the information is stuff most fans already know, but there are definitely some cool tidbits in the film that make it worth watching — particularly if your view of Amare has shifted more towards the negative. It’s not going to win any Oscars, but this film will definitely help many fans rediscover why they liked Amar’e in the first place.

 

Roundtable: Return of the Stoudemire

With reports that Amare Stoudemire is returning to play in tonight’s game having completed their transformation from conjecture to rumor to consensus to confirmed reality, we here at KnickerBlogger decided to get together and collect some of our thoughts on the impact of STAT’s 2012-13 debut as well as our hopes and concerns for the weeks and months to follow. Here’s where we landed:

1) If you’re the coach, how do you use Amare in his first few games back (minutes, role, lineups, etc.)? How would you expect that to evolve throughout the remainder of the season?

Mike Kurylo: Coaches don’t like to lose games, and they’d sell their soul to end the night with another W. They are about as short sighted as a starving dog, with seemingly zero understanding of long term ramifications.

With ‘Sheed out, Amar’e is likely to see more minutes than he otherwise would have. Hey, if the game is on the line and you have the choice between Amar’e, Kurt, Copeland or Camby, that’s an easy call to make.

If it were me, I’d do it real slow, seeing which players he meshed best with and seeing how the other players have to change their game to accommodate him. But then again I don’t have to field questions from Berman & Isola.

Jim Cavan: Before the season began I remember saying that the one thing that could give Woodson good cover for bringing Amar’e off the bench was if the team went gangbusters out the gate. Which — to the amazement of all, I think it’s safe to say — is exactly what’s happened. The ‘Bockers being 21-8 basically gives Woody license to tell Stat, “look, I don’t care if you make $20 million a year or $20 an hour, we have something good going here, and we’re not going to let egos — any ego — fuck it up.”

I see Amar’e coming off to the tune of 20 or so minutes a game to start, with a gradual uptick thereafter. Sooner or later, that’s going to mean extended minutes on the floor with Melo and Chandler. But given a combination of improved roster familiarity, cohesiveness, and the kind of practice time that a lockout-shortened season simply didn’t allow, there’s no reason to think Woodson — who I think we can all agree has shown heretofore flashes of unseen creativity and flexibility — can’t figure out a way to get those guys to play together.

Robert Silverman: I’m coach? See guys, I knew that open letter to Dolan thingy would net me the gig sooner or later! Anyhoo, before the Knicks’ most recent spate of crippling day-to-day injuries (and of course, in Knickville, “Day-to-day” is a frightfully Orwellian turn of phrase that means anything and everything including: “Ceasing to be a sentient life form.”),I was prepared to concur wholeheartedly with Messrs. Kurylo, McElroy and Cavan; bring STAT off the bench, let him serve as the focal point of the second unit/play the Chandler role setting high screens with a spate of three point shooters to open the floor. Stoudemire has more talent than any “3 and D” player one might start ahead of him, but the pieces just fit better coming off the pine. It’s a big oversimplification, but think of it like Pizza and Ice Cream. They’re both great, but you wouldn’t want to put ice cream on your pizza. You would want Ice Cream after you’d had your pizza with some fudge and maybe some whipped cream. and some Jimmies and stuff. And now I feel fat.

But now? Gah. Assuming that Melo’s knee doesn’t resemble guacamole, I think Amar’e’ll be starting sooner rather than later. Brewer’s atrocious shooting this month has gummed up the offensive works already so there’s less potential downside of going with a more “traditional” STAT-Melo-Tyson-Kidd-Brew lineup. For now, I’d assume he gets something like 20 minutes a night, expanding to close to 30 by the time the roster has returned en masse from Lourdes.

Kevin McElroy: There are few things in the NBA that bother me more than a focus on labels over utility. I don’t really care who starts games and I only care marginally more who finishes them. What really matters is 1) maximizing the time your best players’ spend on the court and, even more than that, 2) maximizing the time your best lineups spend on the court. That second point is what makes the Amare issue complicated — Carmelo has been able to create high volume offense at a level of efficiency that should make the Knicks remiss to cut down on his shot attempts.

So the Knicks, as I see it, have three options 1) Play Amare and Carmelo together for a lot of minutes and give a big chunk of Carmelo’s shots to Amare. 2) Play Amare and Carmelo together for a lot of minutes and run a limited amount of plays for Amare or 3) Play Amare as much as possible when Carmelo is not on the court and let him be the first option when he’s out there. To me, 3 is easily the correct answer and if you figure Melo plays 35 minutes a game, then we’ve already found 13 where Amare can be top dog. Other than that, i probably look to have them playing together 10-12 minutes; I do this largely when Chandler is on the bench and let Amare play the 5. I understand this is defensively, er, non-ideal but it could work if Woodson tries to use it mostly when the opposition has limited offensive personnel on the floor. That way you preserve Melo’s role as a small ball four and have a dynamic, diverse offensive attack on the court when Chandler goes to the pine.


2) When and if Amare, Chandler, Melo, Camby, Kurt, Sheed, Copeland, Novak are all healthy, how do the frontcourt minutes shake out?

Mike Kurylo: HAHAHA all healthy. Using excel, I calculated the average age of these players as “Error #43: number too large.” There’s little chance that all will be healthy at once.

You don’t have to worry about ‘Melo or Chandler’s minutes, and Novak has a unique role to fill. Kurt, Copeland, and Camby already have end of the bench roles. Pretty much the two fighting for minutes will be Amar’e and ‘Sheed. If Stoudemire loses that battle, that could be a serious blow to his career in New York. Or America.

Jim Cavan: Assuming full health (While I’m at it, I’ll also assume waking up to a trillion dollars in my bank account tomorrow morning), I think it’s pretty clear that Camby and Sheed will be the odd ducks out. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; they both give you different looks, with Sheed providing outside shooting, floor spacing, decent on-the-block D, serviceable rebounding, and a perpetual state of being three seconds from whipping a Bowie knife out of his sock, and Camby wielding better help defense and rebounding at both ends of the floor. Both have expressed their eagerness to fill whatever role needs filling, and to that end I see this less as a minutes drama waiting to happen than an embarrassment of riches — the good kind.

Robert Silverman: A week or so ago, friend-of-the-blog Ian Levy asked a murder of basketball scribes to cobble together an Xmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa/Chrimbus wish list for their respective team(s). I of course asked the gods to grant our noble, pious cagers a big ol’ gift basket filled with good health. Nice right? I could have asked for peace and goodwill towards man, too, but I figured I’d keep it simple. Alas, it seems like our wishes won’t be granted. And I didn’t get a pony or an E-Z Bake Oven either. This holiday season blows chunks.

What was the question again? Oh right, frontcourt minutes. Melo and Chandler get 34-36 a night. Amar’e gets 32 coming off the bench/starting (depending on how Question #1 shakes out), Novak/Cope are deployed when shooters are needed, and Sheed/Camby/Kurt get to roll when faced with a particularly beefy front line, like v. a full complement of T-Wolves or the Jazzmen of Utah or the bearish Grizzlies or the steak-headed Chicagoans–that sort of thing.

Kevin McElroy: 144 minutes for the three frontcourt positions and the Knicks go small frequently enough that plenty of those will go to JR and Brewer (let’s say 24, which is almost certainly low). Figuring that leaves 120 minutes for the 7 players mentioned above, start by knocking out 70 for Chandler and Melo. That leaves 50. I honestly see no role for Cope or Sheed when everyone’s healthy, they go to the end of the bench where they serve as high-end insurance policies. So 50 minutes for Amare, Novak and Sheed. Probably something like 25, 20, and 5 respectively, with Sheed’’s minutes having some upside in matchups where playing Amare at the 5 is especially terrifying.

3) How does Amare’s return affect the distribution of guard minutes and roles? Are there obvious synergies (or a lack thereof) between him and any of the guards that will or should affect the way the Knicks backcourt looks?

Mike Kurylo: I don’t see him affecting the guards, but the tail might wag the dog. One theory for STAT’s decline from Phoenix is a distributor problem. Assuming he’s coming off the bench, Amar’e might play minutes with all three points, and perhaps he makes beautiful music with one of them (Pablo, I’m looking at you). That could certainly affect Stoudemire’s minutes, if coach thinks that he’s more efficient with that one PG. Or better yet, if Amar’e doesn’t mesh well with a certain guard, that could keep him glued to the bench more than otherwise.

Jim Cavan: When the extent of Felton’s injury started cascading its way through the Twitterscape, my first thought — other than wondering what Delonte West was doing at that particular moment (I settled on “spending $50 in quarters trying to get the Celtics basketball out of the Denny’s claw machine”) — was how much Prigioni could benefit from having a dynamic roll-man of Amare’s caliber. Pablo has a clear fondness to the game’s staple set, and has found intermittent success with Chandler and Copeland in the season’s early going. Amar’e basically gives you the best of both P&R worlds; the pop threat of Copeland, and the devastating rolling thunder of Chandler. Obviously the Knicks going out and nabbing Felton had a lot to do with his and Amare’s 2010 chemistry, and to that end Felton’s sidelining couldn’t have been more ill-timed. Still, I think Pablo could provide something of a silver lining on this front.

Robert Silverman: Ideally, you want to make sure that STAT is paired with a good pick and roll point at all times. When Felton returns, that should be a relatively easy task — between Ray-Ray, Prigs, and even J.R, there’s always going to be a guard on the floor capable of playing to Amar’e’s skills. It’ll be interesting to see if his shooting percentage returns to a reasonable approximation of career norms. I’m way too lazy to go look up the splits, but if memory serves, the bulk of his brick-tastic awfulness last season came during the oh-so-horrid “Toney Douglas is a point guard/when’s Baron coming back” pre-Linsanity days.

Kevin McElroy: When Felton and Kidd are healthy their minutes shouldn’t be affected. I do think Prigs becomes a marginally better option with Amare as his roll man — his shooting ability should keep defenders from going under screens as much as they can with Chandler which favors a PG who would rather drive than shoot. I also think that if they use a small-ball lineup with Amare at the 5 for ten minutes a night, we’re likely to see an increase in sets that use Melo as the primary ballhandler and put an emphasis on floor-spacing spot-up shooters at the other positions. This is probably better news for Kidd than anyone else.


4) Assume Amare starts by coming off the bench and at some point a few weeks down the road blows up for a 35 & 10 game on 14/19 shooting. What do the ensuing 24 hours look like? Is this a good or bad thing for the team?

Mike Kurylo: The media will blow this up until everyone in the country knows about it. But as long as Woodson keeps firm with Amar’e is our 6th man, it shouldn’t be an issue. And yes I’m assuming the Knicks will be better with Amar’e not in the starting lineup.

Jim Cavan: If Woodson knows what’s good for him, he’d respond to any and all related media questions thusly: “J.R.’s had a few games like that coming off the bench, but I don’t remember all of you clamoring for him to start the next game. Stat played great tonight, no question about it. But until we figure out what roles and units and dynamics are best for our team, we’re going to stick with the game-plan that gives us the best chance to win.”

Just because it’s full of platitudes don’t make it untrue. The Knicks shouldn’t necessarily look at Amar’e averaging 25 and 10 over ten games coming off the bench as a sign he should start; they should look at it as “Holy shit, we have the best sixth and seventh man combo in the NBA.” That doesn’t mean improved synergy and circumstances won’t eventually render Amar’e starting the smart move; just that it shouldn’t happen after one tour de force performance.

Kevin McElroy: I like Jim’s answer here and don’t have a ton to add. Everyone has just kind of always assumed that Amare would maybe have a problem with coming off the bench but the guy has been a pretty steadfast team-first player since he got here (fire extinguisher haymaker notwithstanding) and I think he has earned the benefit of the doubt on this if nothing else.

Robert Silverman: For the first time since Jeff Van Gundy was guzzling Diet Coke in the halls of the Garden, I actually trust a Knick coach to do a good job handling the delicate parsing out of minutes (which is, like many other things, not something I assumed of Coach Son of Wood before the season started). It’ll be a media clusterfudge no matter what — this is New York, people, and since the 4th estate has been waiting like a throng of starved, feral, rabid, frothing jackals to pounce on this story even when Amar’e was de-debridlementing, I can’t imagine that they’ll put away the sharp knives now that he’s (knock on every object even vaguely resembling wood) healthy. The “START STAT, STAT!” headlines are coming (PS – You’re welcome, Tabloid headline writers. That one’s a freebie). Might as well start girding our collective loins now.

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5) The Knicks are cloned and their two manifestations face off tomorrow. One team is forced to play a healthy Amare at least 30 minutes. The other team is not permitted to play him at all. Which team wins?

Mike Kurylo: Not fair. I haven’t seen such a black & white view on something since the NRA’s last public statement. So I have to choose between Amar’e for 30 minutes or none at all to make a statement about him? Look he has the potential to help this team as a scorer off the bench. One of the point guards should be able to bring the best out of him. The Knicks have done well going small, so he can play center as well. Surely he’s better than that handful of ancient big men that are a twisted ankle away from retirement.

So I’ll take 30 minutes a game. But I’m still pissed off that I had to chose just one or the other. I think 20-25 minutes a night would be best for him & the team. You bastich.

Jim Cavan: Can I have Amar’e for 20 minutes and a pretzel with cheese sauce instead? Look, to win a title in this league, you need depth. All this kvetching (and I’m guilty of it just as much as the next person) about what’s going to happen when Amar’e comes back and will the whole show screech to a halt and I think my cat pissed on my Knicks slippers it smells like an ammonia factory in here completely misses the greater point about winning in the NBA: You need depth. And you only have too much depth if the egos become too much.

I for one am genuinely excited for the return of Stat and Shump. There may indeed be early growing pains to traverse, but there’s no question — to my mind, anyway — that we’ll be better off in the long run, particularly as the grit and grind of the schedule inevitably morphs having depth from luxury to borderline necessity.

Robert Silverman: What is wrong with you people? If we clone the Knicks, Melo 1 is going to get into a colossal ego slap fight with Melo 2 over who’s better, J.R. 1 and J.R. 2 are both going to be “Bad J.R.” (if you had said, split J.R. into his good and bad attributes so the evil one doesn’t have a goatee, like in the Star Trek episode/South Park parody, I might have been behind this demented venture into super science), and decide to skip the game entirely and go paint the town red together, Tyson 1 and Tyson 2 would just stand at center court, glowering, frozen with immesaurable levels of red-hot rage/intensity, and on and on. This is evil, pure concentrated evil and I, for one, won’t be a part of it. Good day, Sir. I SAID GOOD DAY.

Kevin McElroy: I wouldn’t have designed the question this way if the answer was easy, gentlemen. I agree that 20-25 minutes is his sweet spot to start out but what I’m really interested in is whether the Knicks are a better team with him on the court or off. And the quantitative evidence suggests “off” and does so fairly resoundingly. Last year the Knicks ran -1.6 per 48 minutes with Amare on the court and +8.2 with him off. There’s a chicken and egg issue that comes with that statistic (Amare was hurt for some of the Knicks best stretches which either 1) biases his number downward or 2) explains why those were their best stretches) but it’s hard to ignore completely.

Right now the Knicks are generating 20-25 shots a game for Melo with extremely low turnovers, getting Chandler the right number of pick-and-roll finishes, and filling in the blanks with a blend of spot-up threes and guard penetration (mostly Felton and JR). If we’re getting career-average Amare (.596 TS%) he can replace some of that (mostly the guard penetration, especially with Felton out) with post-ups and face-ups and mid-range jumpers and (most importantly, perhaps) free throws in a way that replaces less efficient shots with more efficient shots and leaves the rest of the gang with less of a burden to carry. However, if we’re getting last year’s Amare (.541 TS%; lower than the Knicks’ team number this year) and forcing the ball to him because his name is Amare Stoudemire, his ability to positively impact the offense becomes a whole lot less clear. And that’s just the offensive side of the ball — anything we’re losing on the defensive end with him in the game over Camby, Kurt, Sheed, etc. still has to be applied as an offset.

Basically I love the idea of having Amare as another option that Woodson can go to if we need scoring punch. I love that the days of Raymond Felton taking 20 shots a night are probably over (even once he’s back). I like having a big that can pull his defender away from the rim and create more space for penetration. But at 30 minutes a night, I’m not sure his incremental value to the Knicks offense will offset the negative effect he’d have on the defensive end. I think the (otherwise health) team with 0 Amare minutes beats the team with 30+ probably 6 out of 10 times.

Knicks 97, Sixers 92

Early in the season, the Knicks and Sixers were in similarly dire straits. Eleven games in, New York was 3-8 and in the midst of a six game losing streak. Meanwhile, the Sixers stumbled even more clumsily out of the gate, starting 3-13.

The difference lay in expectations. While the Knicks were projected to ride the sometimes bumpy learning curve to their first playoff appearance in seven years, most thought the Sixers would be content to leave only Toronto and New Jersey in their middling wake.

Fast-forward 5 months. While the Knicks have largely stuck to their up-and-down program, it’s been the Sixers who have completely re-written theirs, entering Wednesday’s showdown in sole possession of 6th place in the Eastern Conference at 40-38, a half-game ahead of New York.

But it was New York’s narrow 97-92 win that flipped the standings’ script – at least for a night.

Carmelo Anthony continued his recent torrid play, netting 31 with 10 rebounds, including five three pointers. During the Knicks’ five-game winning streak, Anthony has averaged 31.4 points and 8.8 rebounds, including 52% from beyond the arc and a TS% of 64%.

Amare Stoudemire added a belabored 18 on 19 shots, while Toney Douglas again provided a key spark off the bench, scoring 17 — many of them after replacing Chauncey Billups, who left with a minor right thigh contusion late in the third quarter.

Just as their new-found defensive intensity had in their previous four wins, Wednesday’s victory saw the Knicks exorcise yet another demon: that of the second half collapse. While the Bockers’ once again allowed an opponent to storm back – they were up by 13 at the start of the fourth –timely threes from Anthony and Douglas helped New York pull away down the stretch.

While the Sixers managed to start and stay anemic from the perimeter, their interior presence continued to give the Knicks fits, with Elton Brand and Thadeus Young combining for 49 points and 16 rebounds on 22-32 shooting.

The Knicks managed to keep Philly at bay with effective and timely three point shooting, going 11-31 from deep, compared to just 2-18 for their foes.

For a team just ten days removed from feeling both its fortunes and its fan base deteriorating by the New York minute, the Knicks’ recent streak certainly boasts a fortuitous timing. They’ll certainly need the momentum: With rest for many of the starters likely at some point during their final four games, at least the Knicks will have this stretch to look back to when the time comes rev up the playoff engines.

Mavs 127, Knicks 109

If Wednesday night’s Melo-dramatic last-second win was the euphoric party, Thursday’s Knickerblogger exchange was like the hangover: full of grumblings, confusion, and vague regret. Even after Carmelo Anthony’s first defining moment as a Knick helped deliver a gutsy win over the scrappy Grizzlies, skeptics preached patience and tempered expectations for what is – at the end of the day – still just the beginning of a lengthy evaluation process.

Let’s see what they do tomorrow night, against a certifiably elite opponent, they seemed to say.

A fair request, no doubt.

So how did they do?

For anyone who watched the Grizzlies game but couldn’t justify Thursday’s late-nighter, here’s the simplest way to describe what happened, emotionally: take the last two minutes of the Memphis game, multiply it by 24, and you get something approximating what went down at American Airlines Arena (minus a few steals)

Like the Knicks, the Mavericks were coming off a hard-fought slog the night previous – a 2 point loss to New Orleans which prompted Rick Carlisle to label his soldiers “soft”.

Wethinks they got the message.

On a night where  both teams were playing their 4th game in 5 days, the only thing “soft” was the touch of the Dallas jumpers, as the Mavs amassed a crippling TS% of 60%, including 11 of 24 from downtown. The resulting 127-109 thrashing brought the Knicks overall record to 34-30 – and 0-3 in the Melo Era against teams whose names end in “a-v-s”.

While the no doubt tired Mavericks used the juice of the home crowd to fuel their twine-tickling effort, the Bockers shot a forgettable 46% eFG%, getting routinely out-hustled for loose balls and long rebounds, and generally showing the predictable malaise of a team playing its 7th game in 10 nights.

Like last month’s equally lopsided affair, the Knicks struggled to keep the Mavs off the glass. And though the actual rebounding disparity – 45 to 37 – looks on its face like Knicks standard-issue, it seemed as if every offensive rebound came at a the most inopportune time. Shawne Marion in particular wreaked havoc in this department, reeling in 6 OREBs on a night when The Matrix seemed to tap into his 2004 Fantasy Monster form, scoring 22 points and generally bewildering the Knicks front line all night long.

For the sixth consecutive game, Toney Douglas started in place of Chauncey Billups, who continues to recover from Dwight Howard’s kneecap shrapnel. Fresh off an efficient (minus the shaky last couple minutes) 18 points and 10 assists the night before, Douglas played admirably opposite the confounding Cerberus of Jason Kidd and J.J. Barea, netting 18 and 8 with a 58% TS%, while committing no turnovers.

During Billips’ absence, TD has averaged 16.5 points and 7 assists with an EFG% of 66%. And though he’s provided his fair share of TDDWTDDs, Douglas seems to have put the woes of midseason squarely in the rear view mirror — at least for now.

Landry Fields continued his recent stellar play, banking 19 with 6 rebounds, 4 steals, and a certifiably Landrarian 82% TS%. Like Douglas, Fields’ last 5 games have been marked by a quietly impressive efficiency, and have seen the precocious neophyte rack up averages of 14.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and a rotund 75% TS%.

Amare Stoudemire had a hologram game (shiny, sparkly, not much there) that was as labored as it was inefficient, scoring 36 on 27 shots with a team low -23 for the night. Stat also managed to pick up his 16th technical foul of the season, which, if it’s not rescinded, means the Knicks will be sans his services for Sunday’s showdown with the Pacers.

Carmelo Anthony, meanwhile, didn’t provide much in the way of an encore to Wednesday’s stellar play, scoring 18 on 15 shots (although he did chip in 10 rebounds and 5 assists), as the omnipresent Marion succeeded in keeping Melo at bay for most of the game.

Down by as many as 26 in the second half, the Knicks staged a heart-felt comeback towards the end of the third, cutting the deficit to 11 early in the fourth. But the Mavs kept them at bay down the stretch, sending the Knicks home with a 1-1 split on their mini road trip.

The truly brutal March schedule in full swing, the Knicks might need to siphon the lingering energy from Saturday’s Big East finale before the Garden half of their home-and-home with the Pacers on Sunday. But with 3 sets of back-to-backs remaining before the month’s end, even these two much-needed days’ rest will probably seem like far too few for this understandably weary bunch.

Game Recap: Knicks 92, Hawks 79

That headline is not a typo. Tonight the Knicks held an opponent to less than 80 points for the first time since a 102-73 win over the Nets on April 15 of last year. The Hawks shot 45% from the field, got to the line only 9 times, and committed a woeful 19 turnovers en route to 79 points on 90 possessions. Considering the Knicks typically allow 109 points per 100 possessions, this was a considerable step up in defensive performance against an above-average offense.

Where did it come from? Hard to say. Turiaf was out, replaced by 27 minutes of Jared Jeffries. Jeffries didn’t strike me as having an exceptional defensive game, but the Hawks did seem to settle for a lot of mid-range jumpers (on which they were generally very unsuccessful), so maybe his presence counted for more than I noticed. The Hawks got 17 from J-Smoove, 15 from Kirk Hinrich, and 14 from our old frenemy Jamal Crawford, but aside from Hinrich everyone got their points at a pretty inefficient clip.

For their part, the Knicks scored a pedestrian 92 points on 90 possessions, including 26 on 20 shots from Amar’e, 15 on 11 shots from Landry Fields, and an UnMelonian 14-7-7 line on a slightly more Melonian 6/18 shooting clip from the Big Volumizer. Extra E made 4 threes and grabbed 6 rebounds. Anthony Carter turned into Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson for a few minutes in the second half.

To my eyes, this one had more to do with the Hawks having an off-game than the Knicks turning into the ’89 Pistons overnight. But no matter the cause, the Knicks got a 13 point win on the road against a good team and they got some late-game rest for a couple key players on the first night of a back-to-back. Ugly as it was, that’s a result you’ll take any day.

So what do you guys think, improved Knicks D or just incompetent Hawks offense? Do we want to see Jeffries take more of Turiaf’s minutes long term (I don’t)? What to do with all of our marginal wing players who are suddenly all demanding more PT with their play (Extra E, Anthony Carter, even Roger Mason’s Son)?