What a difference a day makes. Yesterday the Knicks looked like the ’92 Dream Team at home against the Hawks. A day later they more resembled the Angolans staggering after a Charles Barkley elbow. The Toronto Raptors beat the Knicks yesterday by 23 points. Although both teams are now one game under .500, the Raptors have the slight edge in their win %, taking first place in the Atlantic.
Hawks 88 Knicks 104
New York should have expected a good offensive explosion. Using conventional statistics, the Hawks defense merely looks bad, because they rank 24th in points allowed per game. However they are actually the worse defensive team in the league, giving up 106 points for every 100 possessions. It’s Atlanta’s slow pace (93 possessions per game, 22nd) that masks how futile they are in protecting their basket. Being ranked last in shooting percentage (51.4% eFG%), is a main contributor to their pitiful defense.
The Knicks-Hawks game looked over in the first quarter. Early on, Stephon Marbury was breaking down the defense, and finding the open man time and time again. Atlanta had no inside help, as Nazr Mohammed and Kurt Thomas got off to fast starts. By my eye their interior defense looked awful and the stats confirm this 82games.com shows the Hawks to give up a 22.1 PER to opposing centers. (PER is John Hollinger’s stat, and does a great job rating a player’s offensive ability.) Last year a 22.1 would have been somewhere between Dirk Nowitzki and Yao Ming. In other words, the Hawks long for the day when Theo Ratliff or Dekembe Mutombo roamed their paint.
Even though the game was a laugher, the bench guys didn’t get a lot of minutes. Sweetney only played 17 minutes, and Ariza only 10. There was a Bruno sighting, but Sundov only played 2 minutes and missed both of his attempts. The question I have to ask is when you’re up by 15 to start the 4th quarter, why not give the bench guys some burn? Some point in the season guys like Sweetney, Ariza, and possibly Sundov will have to step up due to injury or circumstance. Could there be a better team to build up their confidence, than the worst ranked defense in the league?
The one guy that did make a name for himself is Jamison Brewer. The backup PG came in for Marbury and had a fantastic jam in the 4th quarter. He came up a bit lame from the thunderous score, but shook off the injury to finish the game. A while back a poster on the RealGM.com board suggested that Brewer might be the Knicks’ answer to a perimeter defender. He certainly has the athleticism, but defense is largely based on fundamentals. Watching him for 12 minutes in a blowout isn’t enough to judge whether or not he can shut down opposing players.
Knicks 91 Raptors 114
The next night, Brewer would see some action as well, but this time in mop up duty against Toronto. Scott sent his condolences, but I didn’t suffer much because this is the first Knicks game of the year that I did not watch. The 23 point loss was New York’s second worst of the year. For every Knicks game, I keep track of each of the four main factors: shooting, turnovers, rebounding, and getting to the foul line. This way I can quickly see how New York won, or in this case lost. Last night’s game against the Raptors looks very similar to the 34 point beating they took from the Celtics.
TEAM eFG% TO% REB% FTM%
BOS -16% -8% -11% -2%
TOR -15% -6% +8% -2%
Except for rebounding, the numbers are identical. I’ve noted since the season began that the Knicks would have trouble if they didn’t increase their defensive intensity. It’s no coincidence that their worst defensive shooting games of the year (59.7% & 57.1%) were also their two biggest losses. Although the Knicks finally held another team under the league shooting average (Atlanta 47%), accomplishing this 1 in every 10 games is a recipe for a tumultuous season. Of their next 4 opponents, only Memphis (16th) is an average shooting team. Against Atlanta (27th), Orlando (26th), and Charlotte (24th) the Knicks can right their woes. It’s time for them to turn the heat on, and make a defensive stand.