Although the NBA preseason games are officially meaningless, they contain indicators that may reveal what the regular season will be like. With the Knicks’ first game coming soon (October 8th), the good folks here at KnickerBlogger have put together a guide for the keys to watch for.
In part 1, I spoke about Derek Fisher’s importance to the 2015 season. And in part 2, I looked at Shumpert & Hardaway. In part 3, I want to explore the next big key to 2015: the defense.
I’m sure most Knicks fans will be interested how in the team’s offense fares. With Jackson pulling the strings, New York will run the inscrutable triangle offense. The media won’t be able to stop themselves from publishing every possible article they can which contain the words “triangle” especially if they can stuff the word “‘Melo” in there as well. Readers will hungrily lap up every word of it, fueling the cycle more-so. And while how Carmelo Anthony fits into the complex and share-happy system makes for a better soap opera than opposing points allowed per possession, the latter is far more important to the Knicks success in 2015.
Last year the Knicks finished 11th on offense and the year before the team was 3rd. On the other hand they finished 24th and 18th on defense. Had the ‘Bockers generated moderate results on defense, the Knicks would have been much more successful over the last 2 seasons. Woodson’s Knicks, with the except of the half-season where he relieved D’Antoni, appeared clueless on defense. Players switched assignments far too often, free throws were handed out like t-shirts during whistle breaks, and needlessly aggressive play led to easy baskets near the hoop. Woodson’s defensive schemes were so poor, that even Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler often looked like a shell of his former self*.
Coach Fisher spent the entirety of day one of training camp on defense. But a single day won’t be enough of a commitment to make this squad defensively competent. One positive is that at center, the Knicks have Samuel Dalembert, a player who could in theory fill Chandler’s shoes. Or at least the Chandler that most recently roamed the Knicks’ sidelines. With Dalembert, Knick fans will have to get used to more whistles, as Sam gets tagged with about 50% more fouls (4.7 pf/36 to 3.1 pf/36). Otherwise the blocks, steals, and rebounds are nearly the same.
At power forward, Fisher will likely have to choose between the toothless Amar’e Stoudemire, the clueless Andrea Bargnani, and the limited Travis Outlaw. At small forward will be Carmelo Anthony (pass). As for the Knicks’ new point guard I’ll let W. Scott Davis sum up Jose Calderon:
Calderon, for all his benefits on offense, is statistically on par with Felton on defense. His career defensive rating of 112 (to Felton’s 109) means he’s largely a hole on the other end of the court. This past season, the Mavericks ranked 22nd in the NBA in defensive rating, allowing opponents to post 105.9 points per 100 possessions. With Calderon on the floor, the Mavericks’ defensive rating fell to 108.2, and it jumped to 102.2 with him off the floor. Comparatively, the Knicks’ 106.5 defensive rating fell to 106.9 with Felton on the floor and was 106.1 with him off the floor.
On paper, the Knicks have little to no defensive ability at two positions, and an average defender (at best) at another. It will be an uphill fight for Fisher to make something with so little to work with. But there is a silver lining to this stormy cloud. The Knicks coach has at his disposal a potentially good defender in shooting guard Iman Shumpert. The athletic guard has all but laid blame for his (and the team’s) defensive struggles at the feet of ex-coach Mike Woodson. There’s no doubt that Shumpert could be a very good defender, and if his claims of management incompetency is what has held him back, then Iman’s play under Fisher might be a good litmus test of the Knicks coach’s defensive qualifications.
While getting the most out of Shumpert would be ideal, that’s just one part of Fisher’s job. Building a strong defense often requires all players to act in unison. Something as simple as one player failing to communicate, can result in an easy score. On the other hand, achieving an improvement on defense might be as simple as getting players to speak to each other.
This preseason, I’m looking at a number of indicators. What is the overall defensive scheme? Do the Knicks funnel penetrators to their center? Or are they guarding the paint and 3 point land, while giving up the mid-range shot? How do they handle picks? Can this team communicate and rotate? How do they balance between offensive rebounding and transition defense? How are they rebounding, especially at the smaller positions? Do they commit lots of fouls, and are they purposeful or irresponsible? Finally, how many easy shots are the Knicks giving up?
There’s little chance that the Knicks will have a good defense, but if they can eek out an average mark, that might be indicative of future success under Fisher.
* While some might attribute Chandler’s less than stellar play to injury or age, it’s also likely that Tyson looked less than celestial because of ALWAYSSWITCH!