Welcome to the new low point of the season Knicks fans! For the first time all season our favorite club is five games under .500 and the panic is starting to set in among fans and beat reporters. I would be lying if I didn’t feel a tinge of that panic. The Celtics loss was particularly galling to me, and I had a hard time not feeling the sort of anger and hatred that lead to the Dark Side. Nothing about this recent skid ought to be a surprise to followers of the Knickerbockers. The guards have been pretty bad overall, led by a guy I’ve started to think of as “lumpy oatmeal” for his inconsistency. A-F-F-L-A-L-O stands for Arron Frequently Feels Like Awfully Lumpy Oatmeal – Inconsistent. You can call him ‘LO for short.
The bigs are being asked to do too much defensively, and guards are starting to wreak havoc around the hoop. Teams have figured out that taking away the top of the key from Porzingis forces him out of the offense until (maybe) someone gives it to him in the post, where he’s less effective. For some reason they still seem unwilling to use him in pick and roll, pick and pop, and curls to the free throw line as much as they should. And so on…
Derek Fisher just mentioned that he’s cool with not making the playoffs, which is probably a way to take the pressure off the team a few games after ‘LO pronounced his belief that the Knicks were a playoff club…promptly sending them into a tailspin. It doesn’t make anxious fans feel great to hear that kind of talk after dropping to a low point in the standings. It’s the sort of thing you can live with if the team was playing well and sitting around .500 because you’re feeling upbeat and cool at that moment. Hearing it at this point is just crappy. Still, I said 35 wins at the start of the year, and I’ve been sticking with that number at our highest and lowest points. I think the Knicks will be hard pressed not to hit 35 wins with 31 games remaining. 12/31 is .387 basketball and that’s easily doable. If I were a betting man, I’d probably figure the Knicks to finish with 37 or 38 games, and miss the playoffs. The team is good enough to make those huge strides from last year (which isn’t saying much), but without a single starting caliber NBA guard on the roster, 37 or 38 wins seems like the ceiling. I hope I’m wrong…and I hope I’m being a bit harsh in judging our guards that way. They all have strengths, but ideally none of them are starting on a competitive Knicks club going forward. Am I wrong?
Tonight the Knicks visit the just-above-.500 Detroit Pistons, who are middle of the road in most NBA team stats. They are the #1 offensive rebounding team in the league, whereas the Knicks are a good, but not great, defensive rebounding club. The Knicks are #1 in team free throw percentage, attempting a league average number of freebies per hame. The Pistons are dead last in team free throw percentage while being sixth in attempts. That’s slightly deceptive given the presence of Andre Drummond, who ranks seventh in the league in free throw attempts per game and worst among all qualifiers in FT% at around 35% shooting. Oof. The three best rebounders in the NBA are also its worst free throw shooters. Interesting.
Because we all know that the story for the Knicks, every game, is which opposing guard is going to give the team fits, it seems pretty clear that the answer is Reggie Jackson. Jackson is 3rd among all qualifying NBA guards in shot attempts from 0-10 feet of the basket. He sits right behind Russell Westbrook and Dwyane Wade in that category. He and Westbrook shoot within 10 feet about 47% of the time, although Jackson’s rate of “makes” is less. He and Westbrook are also near the top of the league in possessions holding the ball 6+ seconds. In fact, Reggie Jackson leads the league in that category. He dribbles. He drives. He makes a fair number of close up baskets. His teammate likes to gobble up his misses and slam them back home. The key to this game is to limit Jackson’s drives, limit his clean looks, and keep a body on Drummond. If the other guys are going to beat you, that’s how it’s gonna be, I guess.
The Pistons are a much better team at home than they are on the road. They win 2/3 of their home games, so the Knicks will have to be focused and ready to go from the start. The bench guys are going to have to outplay Detroit’s bench, which mainly consists of NBA “also-rans,” hobbled Brandon Jennings, and rookie Stanley Johnson. Perhaps a big game is in store for Derrick Williams. That would be nice. Oh….Jose Calderon should be back tonight, sooooooo…..okay.
C’mon fellas…be the good Knicks tonight.