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.

J.R. Smith: Once a Knick, Always a Goddamn Knick

As a fan, I’m definitely a member of the Jerry Seinfeld Laundry School. That is, I do tend to root for the team more than getting attached to any individual player. The goal of winning a championship (ha!) remains paramount, even if that can seem somewhat cold when a player to which I formerly wed my widdle heart is sent packing. And yes, sometimes a cold, pragmatic analysis gets bumfuzzled by feels. Sometimes, you just like certain dudes no matter how much your head tells you that that is not. A. Good. Idea.

Which brings us to J.R. Smith. Call me crazy, but he was my favorite Knick since Allan Houston and Chris Childs. Why? Well, a part of it has to do with the fact that like myself, he spent much of his late teenage years and 20s being a serious fuck up. Empathy requires understanding, y’all. I’m also a big fan of people, who let their guard down. In this wholly mediated and branded sporting world we live in, that’s a rare thing. And whether you agreed or disagreed with what Smith said he was always himself. I truly dig that.

J.R.’s time with the Knicks had a slew of good, more-than-we’d-like moats of bad and, most importantly, a shit ton of fun. Over the past 15 years there hasn’t been much of that.

So come with me for a brief stroll down memory lane. This is your J.R. Smith memorial post, Knicker-backers.

2011-2012 

February 9th
J.R. Smith’s Debut in Knicks-Mavericks on ABC. New York won 104-97

Smith scored 15 points in 30 minutes and even helped out defensively getting time defending Dirk Nowitzki.

March 14th
This was Mike Woodson’s first game as head coach after Mike D’Antoni was fired. The Knicks crushed Blazers 121-79 .

The start of arguably the best Knicks tradition during the J.R. Smith era — the Steve Novak-J.R. three-point barrage in blowouts. They combined for 13, seven from Smith and six from Novak, and I believe all seven from J.R. were in the second half.

April 17th
The Knicks beat the Celtics 118-108 in a nationally televised game on TNT. Round two of the Smith and Novak show.

This time they combined for 15.  Novak led the way with eight including a dagger late in the fourth quarter and Smith followed closely with seven.

May 3rd
Game Three of the Knicks-Heat first round playoff series. The outcome of this series from some reason escapes my mind. LALALALALA NOPE NOT ACKNOWLEDGING IT.

What I will choose to recall from my selective memory is this fantastic J.R. Smith dunk. BOOM.

2012-2013

December 5th
The Knicks knocked off the Bobcats 100-98 with Melo having to leave game with some sort of finger injury I believe.

Jason Kidd tries to lick J.R. Smith’s ear. A great moment in Knicks history.

December 26th
The Knicks pulled past the Suns 99-97 in Phoenix with no Carmelo Anthony, Ray Felton or Iman Shumpert.

Everyone remembers the J.R. Smith buzzer beater, but I’m putting in video with full game highlights because the shot he hit to tie the game at 97 might have been even more absurd. I was supposed to go to this game and no one I worked with would switch shifts with me. I hate all of you forever.

January 3rd
The Knicks romped the Spurs 100-83. New York swept San Antonio this season. The Knicks were good enough to win not one, but two games against the Spurs. This was less than three years ago. I’m not mad or anything. I loved this god damn team so much fuck I’m getting sad.

J.R. SMITH AND PABLO PRIGIONI MAKING BEAUTIFUL THINGS HAPPEN

February 1st through February 4th — J.R. Smith takes all of the three pointers

96-86 win against Bucks — 13 of Smith’s 14 shot attempts were threes. He made five of them.

120-81 win against Kings — 14 of Smith’s 16 shot attempts were threes. He made seven of them.

99-85 win against the Pistons — 13 of Smith’s 15 shot attempts were threes. He made five of them.

In a three-game stretch J.R. took 45 shots and 89% of them were three pointers. J.R. Smith is the motherfucking GOAT.

February 21st J.R. Smith and Pipe

You trying to get the pipe?

March 7th
The Knicks fall to the Thunder 95-94 in a valiant effort without Carmelo Anthony

Thabo, how’d it feel to get shook bad by J.R. Smith. You might have won the game, but you lost — you lost so very very badly.

March 9th
J.R. just showing off

That’s an ass. 

JR’s March and April to close the regular season

During the final two months J.R. Smith became a rim attacking maniac. He played some of the best basketball of his entire career. The numbers: 22 points on 45% shooting with 6.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.3 steals. This stretch clinched the the Sixth Man of the Year Award and was Smith’s peak as a Knicks player.

April 23rd
The Knicks dumped Celtics 87-71 in Game Two of their first round playoff series.

GUITAR DANCE CELEBRATION GUITAR DANCE CELEBRATION GUITAR DANCE CELEBRATION

April 31st
I want to ride my bike. I want to ride my bicycle. I want to ride it where I like.

How do you not love this man?

Not exactly sure which Pistons game this was at, but it was awesome. 

J.R. Smith played with kids at halftime. It was adorable.

2013-2014

November 14th
J.R. Smith defends Chris Smith

Watch your damn mouth Brandon Jennings

March 26th
The Knicks knocked off the Kings 107-99 behind a franchise-record tying nine three pointers from J.R. Smith

April 6th
The Knicks lost to the Heat 102-91, but J.R. Smith broke an NBA record attempting 22 threes and the franchise record he co-owned with 10 three pointers.

For context in this you have to go back to the previous two games. Coming in Smith had made 14-28 threes — so in a three-game stretch he made 24-50 threes. 24 of 50 threes in THREE GAMES. Bow down to J.R. Smith tha god.

The horror of untying sneakers

God forbid you have fun while playing basketball. J.R. Smith got destroyed for untying players’ sneakers. I laughed a lot.

Thanks for the memories J.R. You will be missed.

J.R. Smith Has “Basketball” Explained to Him

Ace ESPN New York scribe Ohm Youngmisuk has a new article out on ESPN.com, wherein he transcribes various discussions he’s had with various Knicks’ personnel that suggest that one Earl Joseph Smith — presumably some 20+ years into the organized-basketball-playing portion of his mortal life — has come to understand some nuances of the sport that had previously escaped him.  Like “your team gets points when other people wearing the same color shirt as you put the orange thingy through that netty job” and “try to defend someone sometimes.”  We’ll take this one FJM style:

The adjustment to the triangle offense has been “a struggle” for J.R. Smith, and it isn’t just because the system is foreign to him.

Is it because he’s a crazy person?  I bet it’s because he’s a crazy person.  Let’s find out.

A candid Smith admitted that he must alter his shooter mentality and wrap his mind around the team-first concept being preached by Knicks coach Derek Fisher and president Phil Jackson.

“…and every other coach he’s ever had but whose lectures about team basketball he missed because he was imagining what it would be like if halfcourt shots were worth 40 points.”

And it hasn’t been the smoothest transition for the former Sixth Man of the Year, who has been trying not to force shots.

J.R. Smith last season: 14.2 FGA/36; .415 FG%; .514 eFG%; 3.3 Assists/36

J.R. Smith this preseason: 14.9 FGA/36; .392 FG%; .490 eFG%; 3.5 Assists/36

Go on…

“Yeah, absolutely,” Smith said when asked if he has had to make a conscious effort to play differently. “I mean, believe it or not, being the type of player I’ve been, it’s a struggle. I’m not going to lie.”

I believe that you are not lying about this.

“Trying to think about the rest of the team over myself or my scoring is something that I never really had to do before,” Smith continued.

I do not believe that you are not lying about this because I have seen Knicks’ games before and the result is not determined by comparing “JR Smith points” to “Opposing team points.”

“I’ve always been in a situation to score, [now I’m] in position to take my time and let the game come and let my teammates succeed more than myself, I think that’s the ultimate win.”

It’s not actually the “ultimate” win.  It’s just “winning.”  That’s what you call it when your team outscores the other team.  Also, this is not unique to the triangle and, thus, not germane to a discussion of what is new this season.

The Knicks’ adjustment to the triangle, not just physically but mentally, will take time.

JR Smith somehow not knowing that “team offense is important” is basically agnostic as to any particular offensive system but, OK, I’m with you.

It has not been easy so far in the preseason for the Knicks,

Accurate as to effect.

who also have had to deal with injuries to Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon.

Inaccurate as to cause.

Smith admitted his struggles after scoring five points in 23 minutes in a 103-100 win over the Wizards on Wednesday night.

A game in which he actually did take fewer shots and had a passable .500 eFG% AND the Knicks beat a good team.  So, if this is an example of his “struggles” then he (or someone else) fundamentally misunderstands the thing that the first 2/3 of the article says he’s been spending the preseason learning.

This preseason, Smith is averaging 8.5 points and shooting 39 percent from the field in six preseason games. Smith said Fisher has explained why the team-first mentality that comes with the triangle works.

This is admirable, despite how odd it seems to me that he actually needs to be told this.

Fisher says the project of installing the triangle and the overhaul in mentality will not happen overnight.

“You know J.R. like many players, this is difficult to do,” Fisher said at practice Thursday. “Last night, we talked about we’re not just installing new software to the computer. We’re building a computer from scratch, and that’s not easy to do.”

Especially when one of the cores in the computer’s processor has spent the last 20 years being programmed to use all system resources to run GIFs of J.R. Smith hitting contested threes.

When Jackson took over as team president of the Knicks, one of his major goals was to develop a new culture and way of thinking in the franchise. Like he did with his previous stops with the Bulls and Lakers, Jackson wants his players to think about the team first, shedding all individualistic tendencies.

W/R/T the Bulls: Who besides Jordan had “individualistic tendencies” before Jackson’s arrival?  Did he really have to convince Craig Hodges to stop being a black hole?

W/R/T the Lakers: Kobe and Shaq destroyed a dynasty that still had legs, largely through those “individualistic tendencies.”

Don’t get me wrong, Jackson does a great job managing egos.  But this is stated a bit too strongly.  Also: all non-Craig Hodges players listed above are top-15 all time NBA players.  J.R. Smith might be a top-15 2014 Eastern Conference wing player.

In an interview with Charley Rosen for ESPN.com, Jackson said Smith has to improve his shot selection and trust the triangle.

“J.R. Smith is easily the best athlete on the team,” Jackson said. “But J.R. has to learn the difference between a good shot and a bad shot. He has to trust that the triangle will create good shots and to avoid searching for his own shot.

“His defense also needs work because he tends to be a ball-watcher, and he’s late in chasing his man around screens when he should be tailgating him,” Jackson added. “Defense is the key to any winning team, so Smith has to really work hard on his deficiencies in training camp.”

100% of these things were also true before this season but if the triangle construct actually helps Phil get through to him on this point then more power to him and all the more reason it’s a great hire.

Carmelo Anthony wants Smith to know he is not alone in this transition or “test” as the Knicks’ franchise star described it.

“I don’t think it’s a struggle for J.R.,” said Anthony, who scored 30 points and beat the Wizards with a shot and the foul for a game-winning, 3-point play with 13.9 seconds on Wednesday. “It’s something new for everybody. It’s a test. It’s a new system. … I can just put my arm around him and tell him be patient.”

“It’s going to work itself out,” Anthony added. “And the more we play, the more we’re going to get used to this system, the more we’re going to find where he can be productive, I can be productive, everybody can be productive.”

Anthony made it clear that he needs Smith this season.

“It’s easy to feel like you’re kind of left out of what’s going on, [but] everybody is going through the same thing,” Anthony said. “He’ll be all right. It’s preseason. We need him. He knows we need him. We know we need him. He’s a big part of what we’re trying to do.”

No snark here: I LOVE this passage.  It’s what we need from Melo.  He just committed the rest of his prime to this franchise and this is perhaps the single best quote I’ve seen in his time here indicating that he plans to embrace his role as the leader of this team from every angle.  Awesome.

Less than a week, everybody!

 

J.R. Smith wins Sixth Man of the Year award

According to the New York Times, J.R Smith will be announced as the 2013 Sixth Man of the Year. The NBA will make the announcement at 2:30 EST from Madison Square Garden’s training center.

Smith averaged 18.1 points per game on 42.2 percent shooting from the field during the regular season. His previous career high in points came in the 2009-10 season when he averaged 15.4 ppg.

For the first time in his career, Smith didn’t start a single game during the regular season, but somehow still found a way to contribute to the Knickerbockers during a stint plagued with injuries.

After a subpar start to the season, Smith exploded in the month of March, tallying 22.1 ppg in 18 games played while grabbing six rebounds and racking up 1.4 steals.

But it didn’t stop there.

Smith’s heroics poured over into the month of April, where in eight games he continued his hot streak, once again tallying 22 points per game for the month.

The 18th overall pick in the 2004 Draft, J.R. has become as known for his aggressive, often brilliant play as for his inconsistency and inefficiency — the kind of player that can break out for thirty points for six games straight, only to go 1-7 and spend his post-game time engaging in Twitter propositions the following night.

Love him or hate him (please tell me you love him, because I certainly do), Smith has been the second scoring option and crucial offensive piece on an aged Knicks squad whose prospects heading into the season varied depending on who you asked.

Smith started the postseason on Saturday going 7-for-19 from the field, 1-for-7 from three, and missed his only free throw attempt, yet still found a way to contribute: 15 points, five rebounds, and a couple memorable highlights, punctuated by a thunderous second quarter driving dunk.

Smith finished the season with seven outings of 30 points or more. He also tallied a PER of 17.6, an increase from 15.2 last season.

Knicks 88, Pacers 76

Indiana Pacers 76 Final

Recap | Box Score

88 New York Knicks
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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

    It’s real.

    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.