RECAP: Knicks 89, Pistons 85

Detroit Pistons 85 Final

Recap | Box Score

89 New York Knicks
Kenyon Martin, PF 30 MIN | 2-4 FG | 2-2 FT | 7 REB | 5 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | +3Kenyon played the Tyson role well, while also continuing to display an excellent passing ability which has lately made for a valuable offensive weapon — and a new angle to our team’s center spot. That, combined with his strong work on the boards — which included the game-saving tip out to Carmelo Anthony off a missed free throw — means another solid mark for K-Mart.

Andrea Bargnani, PF 32 MIN | 6-13 FG | 0-0 FT | 11 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 13 PTS | +17Andrea was cooking in the first quarter, scoring nine points on 4-6 from the floor. His shooting eventually regressed, but throughout the game he displayed tons of effort, particularly on the boards. ‘Drea didn’t get a chance to play in the fourth and was victimized by having to play alongside Melo & STAT at the same time for a lengthy stretch, yet finished a team-high +17 and looked quite spry. It was fun to watch.

Carmelo Anthony, SF 39 MIN | 13-24 FG | 2-4 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 4 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 34 PTS | +10Melo was ablaze tonight, jacking up catch-and-shoot threes that brought along flashbacks from that 2013 season where the Knicks were, like, good and stuff. Ah, the 2013 season. I remember it as if it were a year ago.

Anyway. More impressively, Anthony did WORK on the defensive end, finishing with four steals and a bunch of deflections as well. Wonderful game all around.

Raymond Felton, PG 31 MIN | 4-9 FG | 3-4 FT | 2 REB | 6 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 12 PTS | +10Okay, there WERE some positives. He looked as quick and agile as pre-injury Raymond Felton, not sluggish at all really. He also shot decently, you could say. There was that.

On the other hand, he committed two BIG turnovers in the final minutes. Did Woodson HAVE to play him? Did the inbounder/rebounder HAVE to pass him the ball? Context, people.

Iman Shumpert, SG 29 MIN | 2-8 FG | 1-1 FT | 6 REB | 5 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | +16Shump’s shooting was bound to regress — it’s simple math. How he responded, however, was going to be an interesting storyline to follow tonight. Especially after he picked up a couple of fouls early in the first and sat out the rest of the quarter. He ended up making big defensive plays and crashing the glass seemingly by the minute.

Amar’e Stoudemire, PF 24 MIN | 3-9 FG | 3-6 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 9 PTS | -4He had one nice spin baseline for a reverse dunk. Pretty much everything else was awful.

Beno Udrih, PG 8 MIN | 0-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -5Beno had an off shooting night, but was able to create a good amount out of the pick and roll. Aaaaaaaaand he still can’t defend. If only the Knicks had a point guard who could do tha-

Toure’ Murry, SG 4 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | -5OH HEY, TOURE’! Glad you could join u- 4 minutes?!?! AHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Tim Hardaway Jr., SG 13 MIN | 0-4 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -12He’s really of no use if he can’t shoot and isn’t leaking out in transition. Luckily, these circumstances have become pretty rare. Because, you know, he’s barely playing. Because, you know, J.R. Smith.

J.R. Smith, SG 30 MIN | 2-6 FG | 1-1 FT | 0 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | -10He threw away two passes in the early stages of the fourth and shot pretty poorly, even though his overall shot selection wasn’t bad. What really made this a terrible game from J.R., though, was the lack of rebounds on a night where the Knicks needed all five guys hitting the glass.

Jeremy Tyler, PF DNP COACH’S DECISION MIN | FG | FT | REB | AST | STL | BLK | TO | PTS | Are we going to see this guy, ever?

Tyson Chandler, C DNP UPPER RESPIRATORY INFECTION MIN | FG | FT | REB | AST | STL | BLK | TO | PTS | Missed the game due to an upper respiratory infection. Which means he either missed the game due to a cold or Ebola. It’s probably Ebola.

Mike Woodson
The Pros:
1. Put Shump on the opposing point guard for stretches.
2. Played JR Smith for less then 30 minutes (by a second).
The Cons:
1. FOUR F*CKING MINUTES FOR TOURE’ MURRY? YOU HAD FELTON BACK, WHICH MEANS YOU COULD’VE AT LEAST TRIED A TWO-POINT GUARD LINEUP WITH BENO.
2. THE MELO-BARGS-STAT LINEUP WAS PLAYED FOR 13 MINUTES TONIGHT. THAT’S OVER A QUARTER. WHAT THE SH*T.
3. WOODY WENT NO-POINT GUARD FOR LIKE A COUPLE OF MINUTES AT THE END OF THE THIRD. WUT.
The I Really Don’t Know:
Bargnani was benched for the entire fourth quarter (basically). He’s been a net negative as a player for the Knicks all year round, even when shooting well. With him on the pine Melo was at the four — which is usually great. It wasn’t tonight. Bargnani had 11 rebounds through three quarters, and the Knicks allowed 7 offensive boards in the final period. In hindsight, it seems as if benching Andrea was a bad move, especially since JR played in his place. But, I would have probably done the same thing.

Four Things We Saw

  1. The Knicks really sucked in the fourth quarter, and this game just strengthened that fact. The Knicks are 26th in the league in fourth quarter +/- per 100 possessions, the main culprit being boneheaded plays and stagnation that makes Manhattan gridlock look like a NASCAR event. Detroit outscored the Knicks 27-16 in the final period, Detroit being the team (if you didn’t know) that has lost six of their last seven games and lets Josh Smith shoot threes. The Knicks had a slew of isolations down the stretch of this ball game, and also managed to give the ball away 8 times in the fourth alone, compared to six in the three quarters prior. It’s unacceptable to allow a team like the Pistons to stage a late game comeback, but then again the Knicks’ Texas trip might have made me forget that this team does this all the time.
  2. As mentioned before, the Melo-Bargnani-STAT lineup played 13 freakin’ minutes tonight. It really just has to die. Prior to this contest, said lineup has been outscored by 21.6 points per 100 possessions, yet is incredibly still seen on a nightly basis. Play Murry more, go small more, sign Stephen Jackson, whatever. It’s terrible and needs to stop. The spacing is shot and the defense – aided by who other than Beno Udrih, JR Smith or Tim Hardaway Jr. being on the court with them – is one of the worst in the league.
  3. The Pistons gave the Knicks a lot of looks in the second quarter that really just weren’t falling, so I was hoping this would be a tiny test for a team that’s seemingly changed thanks to a trip to the Lone-Star state that would be resolved by playing tough defense and getting easy scores in transition to combat the rough shooting. And I was right! For a bit. The Knicks had a major 15-0 run in the third, taking a commanding 17-point lead and then… The fourth quarter. But a win is a win right? I don’t know. It’s the PISTONS. Perhaps that three-game swing raised my standards for this Knicks squad too high, but I didn’t shut my TV off too thrilled tonight. But it could have been much worse, and the team was energetic for the majority of the night. So now we wait and see.
  4. I found this today and… um… wow: http://t.co/a1jSMxqusU

Game Thread: Knicks at Celtics–We’ve Seen This Movie Before

Before we get to tonight’s game, because these are the Knicks, another internal struggle has seeped through the crevices of Madison Square Garden into the eyes and ears of the public. As you’re probably all aware, recent talks between the Knicks and Toronto Raptors have been confirmed by members of the media, revolving the trading for one Kyle Lowry. In return, it’s been reported that Toronto would receive Raymond Felton, Metta World Peace and one of three assets from the Knicks: A first round pick, Iman Shumpert or Tim Hardaway Jr.

In an unlikely turn of events, both Frank Isola and Adrian Wojnarowski have written that talks stalled due to James Dolan’s reluctance to be perceived as getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop in a deal with Masai Ujiri. Any trade including Metta World Peace cannot technically be made until Sunday, so let’s take a look at the arguments for and against this trade (if it does occur. As of this writing, there are conflicting reports that the deal is ‘dead,’ or if there’s a chance it could be revived. Some are saying that the Knicks thought they’d come to an agreement, but those dastardly Canadians got greedy.)

DO IT, NOW, NOW. NOW!

Despite sharing what might be characterized as a bulldog mentality, Lowry is a definite upgrade over Raymond Felton. Unlike Felton, Lowry is a net positive on the defensive end, +.8 points per 100 possessions last year and +8 point swing on/off the court this season. Last year Felton’s presence on the court surrendered 3.9 points per 100 possessions, and it’s no secret Raymond’s futility on that end has played a huge part in allowing opposing point guards to burn the Knicks on a nightly basis.

On the offensive end, Lowry’s efficiency trumps Felton’s with relative ease. Not once has Felton’s TS% of an individual season been higher than Lowry’s, with this year’s disparity being just short of 10% in favor of Lowry. Lowry employs similar tactics to Felton on offense, but is far more accurate. Lowry would feel right at home in pick-and-rolls with Tyson Chandler and pops with Andrea Bargnani, even if  his three-point shot is as inconsistent as Felton’s.

But, at his best, Lowry’s capable of producing gonzo numbers that stuff the stat sheet like so much… er… stuffing, much like the similarly-sized Eric Bledsoe (no, that’s not a one-to-one comparison, to be clear). Lowry is one of only 34 guards (point and two since 1986) to accumulate three or more triple doubles,. His passing is a nudge better than Felton’s, but his rebounding – albeit this year’s numbers lacking – is at another level. Lowry has already totaled 8 games with 10+ rebounds. In comparison, Felton has a mere 3 in 171 more games played.

Now Lowry’s had consistency issues (and a Feltonian problem with keeping in game shape), but even Lowry’s lesser outings would be an improvement on what the ‘Bockers have gotten from the position this season.

Long term, the deal would allow the Knicks to rid themselves of the 3 million or so that would be on the cap for the 2015-16 season. The majority of the Knicks’ current contracts expire in or by the summer of 2015, Felton’s contract extends through 2016 (with a player option that he will probably exercise). Shedding $3.9 million from the books could go towards the free agent hunt in 2015. If the Knicks want to reboot or restart in 2015, having one less contract weighing them down beyond that point helps. This assumes that the Knicks would not re-sign Lowry at the conclusion of this season.. We’ll discuss this further in a sec. Speaking of which…

DON’T DO IT. NO, NO, NO… NOT AGAIN, NOOOOOOOOOOO!

Although Kyle Lowry makes the Knicks better now, it’s worth noting the improvement won’t get New York over Indiana or Miami and will only last a few months (again, depending on whether or not they  re-sig him). As big of an upgrade as Lowry is, the Knicks problems are not going to be completely solved by installing a new floor general. This isn’t a jab at Lowry as much as it is the makeup of this Knicks roster and the befuddling performance of their head coach during the 2013 Playoffs/first 21 games.

With Lowry’s contract expiring this season, there’s little chance he accepts a one-year offer or less money than he is currently making. Meaning, the Knicks can either trade away an asset for less than a season of Kyle Lowry or they get Lowry long-term but likely find themselves hindered in their pursuit of a second star to pair with Melo. Yes, I’m assuming he’ll re-sign. Whether it’s for the full max or not, is yet to be determined, but I’d be shocked if he was anywhere but New York next year at this time.

But Felton’s contract and play is an issue, no matter what direction the organization plans on taking their team. However, this doesn’t mean he must be traded now or in a package that must include a future asset. Felton may not have appeal as a starting point guard, but as one off the bench? Based purely off conjecture, teams could show some interest and wouldn’t require Shump, Hardaway or a pick. Even in a deal more similar to the Lowry one, there’s no need to pull the trigger immediately. Felton’s contract is arguably the bigger concern at this point and it can be dealt later this season or even next season. This isn’t a realistic possibility however, given Dolan’s history with patience (or the lack thereof).

Furthermore, why does this package have to be earmarked for Kyle Lowry? WhatH about Goran Dragic of the Phoenix Suns, the subject of trade rumors earlier in the season and whose prior front office was said to covet Iman Shumpert? Whether they are still looking to deal or not is unknown, but perhaps the Knicks don’t need to settle for Lowry if they really are bent on trading more future assets.

That’s what’s at the core of all this. Save for the brief period when Walsh was jettisoning contracts to free up room for a run at LeBron,  “Sacrificing the future for a shaky present” might as well be the MSG corporate motto. Kevin McElroy‘s take on the Bargnani trade is as timely as ever:

That’s where the identity part comes in. That’s where a trade isn’t just a trade but a statement on what kind of a franchise you want to be… It’s about whether the Knicks are pivoting back towards an approach that made them a laughingstock and brought us a decade of atrocious basketball. It’s about whether lessons that should have been learned fell on deaf ears.

Even if Shumpert isn’t slated for a long and glorious career as a Knick, or if Tim Hardaway Jr. doesn’t blossom into much more than he is now, and even if that 2018 first-round draft pick turns into a bust, this would be yet another transaction piled onto the list of similar moves that tied this franchise to a cinderblock and tossed it in the Hudson River. At some point, the pin has to be reinserted into the grenade. I’m hoping today is that day.

Your move, Jim. (Dolan, not Cavan). Go Knicks!

Game Preview & Thread: Knicks vs. Pacers

The Knicks, who lost their third straight to the worst defensive team in the NBA last night, will be facing off against the league’s best — and the team that knocked them out of last year’s postseason — when the Indiana Pacers roll into town tonight.

In anticipation of this match-up, I asked Pacers-loyal, outstanding statistician and writer Ian Levy about Indiana’s team this season and the approaching matchup. Ian runs the NBA site Hickory High, and you can find his writing at Bleacher Report, Hardwood Paroxysm, Indy Cornrows and HoopChalk.

Can you give an outside perspective on the Knicks struggles? Anything you’ve noticed, could be a brief overview or a specific thing you’ve noticed that perhaps Knicks-nation has overlooked. 
As long as I’ve been watching them, the Knicks have been the picture of organizational volatility. Sometimes chaos, fire and brimstone coalesce into a destructive force. But sometimes you burn down your own kitchen.
Paul George is sporting a career-high PER of 23.7, averaging 23 points per game on 59% true-shooting. Has he risen to the next level or is a regression on it’s way?
Some regression is on it’s way, particularly with regards to his mid-range shooting. But he’s already leaps and bounds ahead of where he was to begin last season. The next barriers for him are maintaining consistency and finding ways to balance the inside and outside parts of his offensive game. He’s been incredible to start the season but if he can’t find a way to work his to the interior more often the Pacers are going to have a hard time creating a consistently efficient offense with him as the centerpiece.
The Knicks have started 5 different starting lineups in just 10 games, while the Pacers have just started two. Are consistency and a locked-in identity the Pacers’ best attributes?
The Pacers best attribute is their #BlueCollarGoldSwagger. But after that, the consistency in their rotations would probably come next. Being able to run the same starting five out nearly every night (for two seasons) let’s let everyone settle into their scaffolded roles, offensively and defensively. No one has questions about when they’ll play or what they’ll be asked to do.
The Knicks can potentially run a five-out lineup against Indiana with Bargnani at the C and Melo at the PF, meaning Hibbert and West should leave the painted area on defense. How effective do you think this look could be against the Pacers? Should it start? Do the defensive issues outweigh the offensive boost?
In the playoffs last season the Pacers often let George guard Melo switching West onto a less threatening back court player. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them do something similar again. To be honest I think the Pacers would be fine with Bargnani shooting jump shots and I don’t think the threat of him on the outside will do much to move Hibbert. If the Knicks win this game I don’t think it’s going to be tinkering with rotations and match ups that create the opportunity.
Indiana’s biggest weakness last year was their bench, how big of an impact have their new additions made in that aspect?
They haven’t been world beaters, but honestly all the Pacers needed last season was competency. So far they have more than sufficed in that regard.
Can we have Chris Copeland back? Pretty please?
I hear Shumpert might be available…?
How about Donnie Walsh?
No deal.

Finally, who takes tonight’s game and why?

The Pacers. They’re a much better team and play a variance-stomping style of basketball.

Monday Musings: Should Prigs Start Over Felton?

Tyson Chandler’s injury was a major blow to the Knicks. That’s to be expected when your team’s best defender, rebounder and most consistent player goes down. But Chandler’s absence has a more far-reaching effect than the team merely missing his presence — certain players on the roster are heavily reliant on his game. One such player is Raymond Felton, who with Tyson Chandler out shouldn’t be in the starting lineup and shouldn’t be playing starter’s minutes. Here’s why I think so.

Felton’s a skilled player, without a doubt. However, his single greatest contribution to this team — one that no other point guards on the roster can bring — is his prowess in the pick-and-roll. Felton’s scoring ability from mid-range pull-ups and takes to the basket, combined with Chandler’s dominant rolling off the screen, has created a tandem that is tough to stop. So much so that it was a huge key in getting Carmelo Anthony catch-and-shoot looks last season and helped the Knicks finish with the third best offensive efficiency in the league.

Problem is, outside of this very specific attack, Felton doesn’t have a real edge over the Knicks’ next-best one guard: Pablo Prigioni. In fact, Felton’s game has a major hole that Prigioni doesn’t. I’m, talking of course, about the defensive end.

The Knicks surrendered a third-worst league ranking in opposing points and field goal percentage from the point guard position last year, per 82games.com. Felton was scorched time and time again — too slow to be effective in the pick and roll, too short to contest shots and too lacking in concentration or IQ (who knows) to make the right rotations and help out defensively. As soon as Prigioni took the floor, the Knicks played their best basketball.

The Knicks’ NetRTG was highest with Pablo Prigioni on the court over any other player last year other than Kenyon Martin (who played in 60 fewer games and totaled 800 fewer minutes than Pablo) and Earl Barron (who played 36 minutes all season.) In the Playoffs, a similar picture appears: Prigioni once again was the largest positive influence for New York (behind James White, who played 9 minutes) with a 21.1 (!) points per 100 possessions increase when on floor.

Of course, this doesn’t all have to do with Prigioni’s pesky steals and timely help on defense, neither of which Felton brings to the degree that Prigs does. It’s also his shooting.

Prigs has been cooking so far this season, making 8-15 threes (53%) after shooting a solid 39.6% from long range last year. For an offense that is at it’s peak launching as many threes as possible, Felton’s 36% and 20% shooting marks from downtown in 2013 and 2014 aren’t exactly a great help.

In the remaining areas, both Felton and Prigioni have their own advantages, though none are too significant. Prigioni’s turnovers have always been a source of skepticism surrounding his game, but it’s to be expected from a player who’s put up .07 shots per touch this season. Where Felton is ahead in that regard, Prigs evens it out with his work on the boards: He was tied for 7th last year in offensive rebound rate among point guards per ESPN, whereas Felton just barely topped Prigioni in RPG despite the minutes gap.

Felton’s lone upside over Prigioni is his being a threat scoring the ball on the pick-and-roll. With Chandler out, there’s no reason to be playing Felton 34.4 minutes per game to Prigioni’s 19.9. Pablo has even developed a deadly pick-and-pop game with Andrea Bargnani, certainly not the weapon the Felton-Chandler P&R was, but a respectable placeholder:

The Knicks aren’t the same team without Tyson Chandler — not just for what he brought as an individual, but for the effect he has on his teammates as well. Although the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, Chandler’s injury has silenced Felton’s biggest weapon for this team: the P&R. If Mike Woodson is so indulged in the idea of this team making adjustments when called upon, perhaps he should give Prigioni the starting point guard slot for the time being. It couldn’t possibly be worse, right?

Knicks 101, Bobcats 91

New York Knicks 101 Final

Recap | Box Score

91 Charlotte Bobcats
Andrea Bargnani, PF 35 MIN | 11-25 FG | 0-0 FT | 8 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 5 BLK | 1 TO | 25 PTS | +14

Bargnani was very competent in his role as a starting center tonight. But let’s apply context before we jump to any major conclusions. It was the Bobcats — 8 boards and 5 blocks aren’t exactly shocking. 25 points on 25 shots somehow amounting to a “breakout performance” is not a good sign.

But hey, he was okay! The defense was still not a thing — beyond the few times he was caught having to defend a guard on a switch and forced a long two. If anything, Bargs’ game tonight proved he’s best at the center.

Carmelo Anthony, SF 39 MIN | 12-22 FG | 3-5 FT | 8 REB | 6 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 28 PTS | +16

Anthony reminded me, at times, of a child on offense: MKG hurt his wittle feelings by pwaing good defense on him and blocking his shot so he decided he needed to get back at that mean ol’ kitty and iso him at every opportunity. His shot is lookin’ better though, and the improved spacing helped bump up his efficiency and shot selection. On defense, he was pretty blech all night long. So why the high-ish grade? His work on the boards. That’s just flat out effort and he brought it.

Raymond Felton, PG 38 MIN | 6-17 FG | 1-1 FT | 4 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 15 PTS | +17

We’re really going to need Felton to make a good amount of open shots this season. Or you know, at least more than a small fraction of them.

Pablo Prigioni, PG 22 MIN | 3-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 9 PTS | +4

Timely pick-and-roll-bred threes, sweet dishing, a pesky steal. Oh oh oh, and ran a MASTERFUL pick and pop with Bargs all night long. What I love about Prigs is that I can copy and paste his section from former recaps and it’ll probably still apply.

Iman Shumpert, SG 39 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | +3

Shump couldn’t really find open looks tonight, and thankfully he didn’t try to look for many of his own. He was very team-oriented, and worked his ass off on the boards. One issue: He didn’t quit gambling on the defensive end. With Chandler out, that play is riskier than ever and the fact that he went for those home-run steals so many times wasn’t exactly encouraging.

Kenyon Martin, PF 10 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +8

Did Kenyon things.

Amar’e Stoudemire, PF 8 MIN | 2-2 FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | -7

Anything would’ve been better than that last game. I wanted to cry. We wanted to cry. STAT drew two charges, post-move’d his way to a nifty layup, and — more poignant still — threw down a one-handed slam. I loved every minute of it.

Oh, he was sort of kind of possibly horrible on defense.

Metta World Peace, SF 29 MIN | 4-9 FG | 0-1 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 9 PTS | +4

Metta was pretty awesome tonight. He was a spark off the bench, quickly grabbing an offensive rebound and finishing it with a tough and-one. He took fewer iso-Metta shots — which was lovely to see — and did the right things defensively.

Cole Aldrich, C 1 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -3

/tumbleweed slowly rolls across empty western road

Beno Udrih, PG 4 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -2

Just handled the ball and was terrible on defense.

Toure’ Murry, SG 1 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -3

Checks in, drops a simple pass from Shumpert, gets scored on by Kemba Walker, gets rejected brutally by MKG. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Tim Hardaway Jr., SG 14 MIN | 2-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 5 PTS | -1

Splashed a couple of catch-and-shoot jumpers, at times was solid — and other times dreadful — on defense. Traveled on two consecutive possessions. He may be a JR Smith clone, but he also has a few years to figure out the better parts.

Mike Woodson

Woody should be commended for his lineup management this game. For the most part. He did shy away from Melo-at-the-four and two-point-guards at times. BUT, the fact remains that he started both of those things — albeit reluctantly, and sometimes due to injury. BUT IT HAPPENED! Now there were some fundamental flaws in his coaching game tonight — allowing the Knicks to switch so often (shocking), letting Anthony isolate so much (shocking), stuff like that (shocking). Basically: Just because these things happen regularly, doesn’t mean we should just glance over it.

Four Things We Saw

  1. As previously mentioned: boy oh boy boy did the Knicks switch the hell out of the joint tonight. This was a problem a few days ago as well, but tonight they got away with it because of Charlotte’s many unforced giveaways.
  2. The spacing and ball movement on offense were fantastic. Bargnani at center is the best Bargnani-related idea coach Woodson has come up with, and it helped the Knicks resolve their lingering offensive issues — at least for this game. Will it work for extended periods against good teams? Probably not. But we’ll take it tonight. New York also assisted on over half of their field goals, which was a nice touch.
  3. Don’t overreact to this game. Just don’t, please. It was the Bobcats. The Knicks made some of the same mistakes as last game, and their major correction — MELOATTHEFOUR — only went through because Tyson Chandler got hurt. The Bobcats had A LOT of unforced turnovers. Kemba missed A LOT of shots he’s been making his entire career. But the Knicks played well and won. So there’s that.
  4. https://vine.co/v/hItjX3OIiPA

Next-Day Notes and Errata: Knicks @ Bulls

As an experiment, let’s cleft the NBA universe in twain and divide the world of pro hoops into two kinds of teams: singular ones, and dynamic ones.

Singular teams have a specific identify and style of play. They’re good at what they do, even if what they do is relatively inflexible. One example might be the Memphis Grizzles: punishing, slow-it-down, grind-it-out. You can beat them if you get them to deviate from their preferred style of play, but on most nights… good luck with that.

A dynamic squad would be a team like the Spurs. They can go up-tempo, or not. They can beat you with deadly half court precision, or not. They can play defense-first, or not. In short, they’re very hard to beat because they routinely find your weak point and tailor their offense or defense on any given night.

Dynamism, one can argue, is preferred, but achieving it is a lot harder. You need to have a lineup dotted with players possessing a diverse and flexible skill-set. It’s easier to be a singular team, though there are limits on the ceiling of your potential.(That said, a great singular team can certainly win a title. The 90’s Rockets, the ’04 Pistons, the ’08 Celtics, and so on)

The Knicks, for most of last season, were without a doubt a singular team. They spread the floor, held on to the ball, slowed the pace, and managed to keep you enough at bay defensively until you were buried under a torrent of threes. This season, it seems as if Mike Woodson’s goal has shifted to creating a dynamic team, one capable of scoring in the low-post or from mid-range when the threes aren’t falling and with the ability to play helter-skelter defense.

In theory, it’s an admirable goal. In practice, you risk wrecking or losing the singular quality that, say, got you to 54 wins.

Right now, 1-1 record notwithstanding, the Knicks in many ways look as though they’ve gotten away from what worked (and the more tinfoil-hatted amongst us will suggest that this isn’t a reworking of the machine, but rather a directive from the back boardrooms of a shadowy, all-powerful, vowel-centric agency that’s determined to get its clients some burn, whatever the cost). This is most evident in the quintet he chose to start last night’s Knicks-Bulls tilt.

After a more or less successful return to the two-PG look, who should start the game but everyone’s favorite Mediterranean whipping boy, Andrea Bargnani. In theory, he was starting in order to match up with Chicago’s bigs; the idea being that the ‘Bockers somehow needed to play Chi-Town’s game — big, traditional bruise ball — in order to win. Chicago, it should be noted, is also a singular team: they’re going to beat the tar out of you on defense, control the glass and unleash Derrick Rose. When those things are working, they’re very, very, very hard to beat.

Of course, Bargnani isn’t a “big” man as much as he is a tall one. His offensive game lives 17 feet away from the hoop, his defense lives in a hospital bed with life support wires strapped in every crevice imaginable and his rebounding is buried six feet underground. Common basketball sense would have it that making an opponent adjust versus poorly adjusting to your opponent would be ideal. How could the Knicks make Chicago adjust? Let’s examine what lineups worked best for the Knicks during their 54-win season in 2013 and in their first couple of games this season:

2013’s best lineup (at least 100 minutes played): Felton-Kidd-JR-Melo-Chandler (NetRTG: 26.9)

2014’s best lineup (at least 20 minutes played): Felton-Prigioni-Shump-Melo-Chandler (NetRTG: 26.8)

Seems like there’s some sort of trend here. Two point guards and Melo at the four have succeeded because that’s where the strength of this roster lies. It’s at the heart of their singular identity. The Bulls don’t run these kinds of lineups for significant amounts of time because that’s not what they do. New York doesn’t possess a defensively competent traditional four that can also spread the floor for Mel.. Scratch that, they have no defensively competent four, period. They’ve thrived  shooting the lights out of the opposition with small-ball spacing, forcing bigger, prototypical lineups to adjust to their game.

And yet, the voices in or around Woodson’s head seem to be telling him to go in a different direction. New York’s patented strategy had it’s flaws — that’s without a doubt. But the roster isn’t all that different than it was a year ago, so why try and re-make entirely in order to fashion something it’s not? Yes, they don’t have spot-up shooters who we can assume will be as effective as Copeland or Novak, but reasonable facsimiles do exist in World Peace, Hardaway, Prigioni and a healthy Shumpert (and even Bargs, if he gets enough up close and personal time with Dave Hopla).

What they cannot do is completely sacrifice what works before the altar of dynamism. Yes, it’s good that they seem to be looking to push the tempo more off turnovers. Yes, they do have more low post options than last season and should look to exploit that. But they’re never going to become a fast break or a low-post team, and for vast stretches of the Bulls game, that’s what it seemed like they were trying to do. We’re still knee-deep in small sample size theater, but the same held true for big chunks of the opening night contest against the Bucks.

Need more proof? Do you know what lineup spurred New York’s late game comeback? Ding, ding, ding! That’s correct, doughy game show contestant X! It was Melo at the four with Ray, Tyson and two shooters. Know what lineup stunk it up in the Windy City? Literally every one that included Andrea Bargnani, especially the ill-fated super size me squad with Metta at SG. That was dumb. Let’s never speak of or hopefully see that quintet again.

This isn’t a knock on Bargs, though; he’s shown good signs and can potentially fit with this team. But not when he’s being utilized in this fashion. Playing the center as the team’s defensive anchor? Playing a boatload of minutes? Bad moves. Bargnani, like most of the Knickerbockers, is best suited for a precise role he shouldn’t ever wander away from.

It’s safe to say Woodson has the best of intentions in mind, but he seems to have lost sight of what this team is built best for: their singular, transcendent quality. There are four and only four players on the roster that can be considered two-way (as in, good on both ends) players: PRIGS!, Metta World Peace (even this is a stretch), Tyson Chandler and Iman Shumpert. There are precisely two players that can guard three positions on the court – Shump and MWP. There is not a lot of flexibility there.

This team isn’t a box of Legos with which you can just build whatever structure you want. It’s a puzzle. Pieces can only be put together in a certain manner to complete the puzzle, and only then is it worth bragging about. You try and create a picture of a dog when your puzzle pieces form the picture of a cat, you’re going to end up in a snit.

Hopefully this maddening experiment is nearing it’s end. Woodson played with fire against the Bulls and in the end it probably cost the Knicks a victory. Woodson played with fire against the Bucks and it almost frittered away an easy win against a lesser foe. Let’s be smart, kids — don’t play with fire, and let’s think twice about messing with what’s worked in the past.

The Good and Bad of Bargnani’s Preseason

The Andrea Bargnani trade was at the center of the Knicks’ offseason hoopla, dividing the fan base into two armies at war. Basically, like any other Knicks transaction outside the Chris Smith signing. With the 2013-14 NBA season upon us, it’s no longer worth our time to debate the ins and outs of the deal itself. Bargs is here and Mike Woodson and crew have turned to figuring out how to best implement him as the season grinds on. The team’s seven exhibition games might not be the best wellspring for basketball analysis, but — save for last night’s not so sterling regular season debut — it’s all we’ve got at this point. So let’s see what Bargnani has shown he can offer this basketball club.

The Good:

1.) Despite the putrid percentages — 38% from the field and 20% from downtown — Bargnani was weirdly efficient on the offensive end, finishing with 79 points on 63 attempts. Not outstanding by any means, but worth noting in accordance with his unimpressive shooting. The reason for this disparity was his ability to draw fouls; Bargnani’s free throw attempts equaled just about half of his field goal attempts — 31 to 63 — and he stroked it from the charity stripe to the tune of 90%. The Knicks’ efficient offense was their bread and butter last season, but most of that was due to their nightly three-point barrages. Per-48 minutes (and pace adjusted), the Knicks ranked 18th in the NBA last season in free throw attempts, the most efficient basketball shot there is. Even in a 7th or 8th man role Bargnani can boost this ranking and with it the Knicks’ ORTG, even if his troubling shooting percentages transition over to the regular season.

But here’s the kicker: his shooting will almost certainly improve. Bargnani’s 38% clip from the field was a mark he met just once in his career and his 20% shooting from long range was a depth Bargs has yet to slip to for an entire season. Both of these percentages can also be seen as a product of his newness to the Knicks’ offensive system, as well as his conditioning struggles (we’ll get to that in a second).

2.) The biggest gripe with Bargnani for most, myself included, is his underwhelming defensive presence. Bargs is commonly understood as a defensive liability, but he’ll have to do a not-absolutely-dreadful job in order to justify his spot in the rotation. From what we’ve seen so far, Bargnani’s biggest issue isn’t knowing where to be (except on the pick-and-roll at times), but getting there.

Bargnani’s conditioning is at a low point — he’ll be the first to admit it — because of his recent bout with pneumonia that left him bedridden for a month. Logic has it that, once he gets back to game shape, Bargs won’t be as big of a defensive deficiency as many fear. When he manages to get to his spot in time, Bargs seldom tries to do too much — hands straight up, jump vertically. Is he our best option as a second line of defense? No. But once the bounce in his step inevitably returns, even if it’s not to this extent, it’s safe to say Bargnani shouldn’t be a total turnstile.

Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal hopped on TheKnicksWall’s podcast (which you should definitely listen to, link here) and shared similar views: “[Bargnani’s] not a terrible defender, the way a lot of people make him out to be.” On the podcast Herring also noted the team’s Defensive Rating with Bargnani on the floor with Tyson Chandler being at around 103 in 75 minutes of action, “a little bit better than the middle of the pack.”

The Bad:

1.) In theory, Bargnani should force defenses to collapse, thus playing right into the Knicks’ schemes in opening up looks from downtown. However, Bargnani does one thing in particular that hampers this idea. Worse, I’m not sure it can be remedied: Bargnani has a difficult time seeing the open man once he decides to look for his shot. This is a real thing, and it’s alarming.

Some of those attempts were legit good tries; one led to free throws, and another to a bucket. However, an open corner three is the better shot in most of these situations, and Bargnani hasn’t shown the ability (or interest?) in passing out of a drive. Perhaps it’s a lack of peripheral vision or ability to make quick decisions, but either way it’s probably not a repairable problem unless Bargs begins to recognize it as such.

2.) Speaking of offensive spacing, Bargnani doesn’t actually offer much of that. This is troubling because, well, it was his biggest selling point as soon as the trade went down. “He can pull bigs like Joakim Noah and Roy Hibbert out of the paint!” Etc. Problem is, he hasn’t really done that thus far. Disregard his disappointing three-point percentage — that isn’t the issue. The problem is Bargnani’s positioning on the floor. Without the ball in his hands, Bargnani roams around the mid-range and one-step-inside-the-arc areas.

Where's Andrea?

These are the worst spots for catch-and-shoot jumpers, for the simple reason that they’re the least efficient shots in basketball, period. A couple steps backwards and Bargnani would be dialing up a much better shot, and — more importantly — really be pulling bigs out of the paint. Smart NBA defenses nowadays go out of their way to force long twos, and Bargnani not learning to stay behind the three-point line would be doing more harm to the Knicks than the actual defense. Bargnani attempted more mid-range shots than threes throughout the preseason, which should be a red flag to the coaching staff. The upside is that this is a matter of Bargnani buying in to the offense. You’ll see Bargs start off possessions trying to glue himself to the deep ball but wander off later on, so one could guess the coaching staff has stressed this necessary — and critical — adjustment.

3.) His rebounding has been pretty bad — less than five boards per-36 minutes during the pre-season. No surprise here, really. Iman Shumpert grabbed more total boards in less total minutes. Moving on.

4.) Bargnani’s potential rotation spot is a lose-lose. This is probably the most disheartening conclusion I’ve drawn up watching him during the preseason. The only way the Knicks can pass of playing Bargnani 20+ minutes is if they are spent alongside Tyson Chandler or Kenyon Martin.

Last night notwithstanding for the moment, consider this: Through six preseason games, the Knicks gave up an excruciating 124.6 points per 100 possessions, according to STATS (hat tip to Chris Herring) with Bargnani on the floor without Chandler. That number speaks for itself and is inescapable unless Bargs is playing with a rim protector.

As a starter, Bargnani would spend the majority — if not all — of his minutes with Tyson Chandler, thus resolving the problem. However most would agree this probably isn’t the best direction to go, why with Melo-at-the-four being the Knicks’ backbone. Bargnani is best suited for the bench, but the only way he doesn’t cost the Knicks a tidal wave of easy scores is if he plays alongside Kenyon Martin. Only Martin will likely sit out a good chunk of games, due to a strategy that would involving swapping his minutes with Stoudemire’s every other game:

In Bargnani the Knicks certainly have a talent. But utilizing him correctly and getting him to what’s best for the team will likely remain issues for months — if not longer. There isn’t a lot to work with as far as detailing where he fits in best, but if Mike Woodson can find Bargnani’s niche on this team come postseason time, maybe the guessing and experimentation will have been worth it.