The other day I was on the train and overheard two Knick fans talking about the state of the team. The first man asked the other what was wrong with the team to which the second replied: “Isiah has to go. They have a good team on paper.” It seems that there’s the idea floating around Knick-nation that with a coaching change and a few tweaks the Knicks could have a good team. However, watching last Wednesday’s loss to the depleted Kings gave me a clear picture of why the Knicks just can’t win with this current roster. In reality it was just two Kings that helped sort things out: Brad Miller and John Salmons.
One one possession (4:28 1Q) Miller is on the left blocks being fronted by David Lee. Salmons has the ball, lofts it over Lee to Miller, and Brad has an unobstructed path to the hoop for an easy two points. After Lee fronts Miller, someone is supposed to give backside help. On this play Eddy Curry is on the weak side, but he’s oblivious to what’s happening with the ball. Curry is engrossed in covering the ever dangerous Mikki Moore on the weak side. Miller’s layup exposed two weaknesses – Lee’s inability to play better man to man defense and Eddy Curry’s lack of awareness on defense.
In the second quarter at the 5:51 mark, the Kings bring the ball up on offense. Brad Miller is on the far side behind the three point line while Garcia and Moore play the high pick & roll. Lee is defending Moore and helps double on the pick & roll. Garcia passes the ball to Miller who is standing behind the three point line. Even though Miller is able to hit from downtown, Curry gives him space is and is about 2 feet from the paint. Despite Curry playing Miller deep, Miller is able to dribble right past him. Lee, recovering from the high screen, comes over to help, but can only offer token resistance by putting up his arms. Miller scores an easy two points over David Lee. Again Curry and Lee have revealed their weaknesses on defense. This time Curry shows his inability to stay with his man on the perimeter (something I’ve mentioned often here) and Lee is unable to provide assistance in the form of shot blocking.
In this game, John Salmons scored a lifetime high of 32 points. Reading over the play-by-play Salmon had 6 baskets recorded as “Driving Layup”. Watching the game it felt like it was 30 baskets. I could have analyzed any of his layups, but I chose to review his first – 40 seconds into the game. At the top of the key, Miller passes the ball to Salmons who is at the free throw line extended. Miller sets a pick on Salmons’ defender (Jeffries). Miller’s man, Eddy Curry is supposed to help, but again he’s unaware of what’s happening and fails to react to the pick & roll. Salmons goes right past Curry unhindered. Zach Randolph watches the play unfold and moves in front of the restricted area in preparation for Salmons’ approach. Yet Salmons drives right past Randolph for the easy layup. A series of mistakes on this possession lead to an easy bucket: Curry’s inability to read the screen, his failure to slow down Salmons’ drive so that Jeffries can recover, and Randolph’s futile help under the basket.
These plays expose a fundamental flaw with the current Knicks team: the lack of interior defense. It’s no secret that nearly every player on New York is a bad defender, but good defense usually begins from the inside. There’s a reason that bigmen who are offensively limited but can prevent scoring can have long careers. Players like Eddy Curry, Zach Randolph, and David Lee aren’t strong defenders so they need a defensive minded compliment in the frontcourt. In Curry’s only winning season, he was flanked by a few strong defenders: Tyson Chandler, Antonio Davis, and Andres Nocioni. In Randolph’s only winning season, he was coupled with Rasheed Wallace, Arvadys Sabonis, and Dale Davis.
Instead of a frontcourt pairing of an offensive player with a defensive player, the Knicks have two poor defensive big men on the court at nearly all times. And this has been a recipe for disaster. New York is dead last in the league in defensive efficiency, and there isn’t a coach in the world that could make the current rotation average defensively. Without the addition of a defensive frontcourt player to the rotation, New York will remain a bad defensive team. The Knicks aren’t a good team on paper, they’re just plain bad on defense.