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New York Knicks - Things that worked for them and against

The Knicks are famed for having a legacy of flattering to deceive. A look at the rafters in the Madison Square Garden and one can easily observe the retired jerseys of the likes of Patrick Ewing, Willis Reed and Earl Monroe. Legends, transcendent superstars who re-emphasize the fact that the big-market franchise has had some of the greatest and resplendent assemblage of transcendent players suiting up in the famous orange and blue colours, but the legacy of these glorified superstars looks somewhat obscure, considering the only two Championship banners hanging above.

Well, the players aren’t solely to blame for the questionable performance of the franchise over its entire history. To a particular level, the pressure of playing in New York is also a major factor. The people of New York cherish and love their sports franchises, and with such passion, come colossal expectations for the team.

Achievers, believers and dreamers, the city of New York is marked with a turbulent flow of power and treasures, a stark contrast to the silent waters of Mississippi flowing nearby. Be it the Yankees, the Liberty or the Rangers, if you play for New York, you play to win. Every single night they turn up, the arena would be electric, not so much resembling the doting crowd from Oklahoma, but much rather like the rampant and unremitting assemblage of stock-brokers in the NYSE. The press would be ever prying, and if the Knicks were cherished for their foils, the city was not charitable in castigating them for their follies.

As John Starks aptly summed it up, “I think the media makes it tough to play in New York. There are so many papers, lights and TV Channels covering the Knicks and the expectations are so high.”

In the beginning of this season, the pundits and the savants were quick to disdainfully reject the franchise’s chances as a legitimate Championship contender. The common perception was that the additions to the Knicks roster do not bring much more than creaky knees and a fortuitous hankering to crown the twilight of their career with the spangle and glitter of being NBA Champions; a whim that the likes of Kidd, Camby, Thomas and Wallace would be bearing in their hearts.

The additions might not have matched and met the wishes and fads of many basketball fans in the city, but a look at the Knicks’ performances speaks volumes about the astute management and the great basketball mind of their coach Mike Woodson. The team admonished for bearing an antediluvian congregation of veterans; a random assortment of future hall-of-famers that didn’t have much purpose behind the conglomeration, is suddenly the team that is setting trends in the league.

The dream run might have ended at the ForEx Forum, but not many can dispute the fact that the Knicks have established themselves as prime contenders for the NBA title.

And primal to this resurgence has been the performances of Carmelo Anthony. The triumph of LeBron, Wade and Bosh in the last campaign has definitely been hard to digest for the swingman. The root of all this anguish and disgruntlement can easily be traced to the 2003 NBA Draft. Melo, Wade, Bosh and James made the 4 out of the top 5 picks in the draft. And Melo was selected above Wade and Bosh and seen as a legitimate prodigy from whom the NBA bore a lot of expectations from.

However, in his 9 years in the league, he has failed to accomplish much of notice while the other three stars have dominated the league, won multiple honours and now a Championship.

Melo is 29, and at the top of his game. He realizes that all his excuses and misfortunes can no longer have a binding on his legacy. If he wishes to be a great in this league, something that his talent and ability deserves and commands, he will have to put away all the excuses and cop-outs; work harder than he has ever done. The talent is there for everyone to see, it is all about whether he can muster up the required temperament.

Here is an analysis of what has been working for and against the Knicks so far on the offensive and defensive end.

OFFENSE:

Strength:

High Pick and Roll

The high pick and roll with Felton and Chandler. Felton is going to split the double screen and get into the paint

The Knicks’ offence this year is based on a high pick and roll set, banking on the speed and ability of Felton and Smith to penetrate the other team’s defence. The execution of the high pick and roll causes the opposition team’s best shot-blocker to come up to the perimeter, thus opening up the paint for the guards to exploit. If the defence doesn’t rotate fast enough, the guard has the opportunity to get to the ring. If the defence does converge, he has the option of kicking the ball out to the wings or the corner and set up the spot-up shooter for an open look. In short, the efficiency with which the Knicks run this play allows them a lot of free looks, and open shots.

Felton taking advantage of Battier’s ill-positioning and kicks the ball out to the spot-up shooter in Anthony

For all the stat lovers, the Knicks are averaging a staggering 102.3 points per game, 2nd in the league in three point shooting percentage and 6th highest in the league in terms of FG percentage. They are also leading the league with an Offensive Rtg of 113.2. Mike Woodson’s policy of playing high-tempo team basketball has certainly revamped the offensive threat posed by the Knicks.

Ball-Handling and Rotation

Another major revelation has been the way the Knicks play-makers have been taking care of the ball, giving away a measly 74 turnovers in all their matches so far, the best record in the league. And the whole credit to this would go to the quality of play of their guards. Further, the Knicks have been very quick and decisive with their passing, and thus haven’t been caught up in many traps or double-teams.

Adaptability and Versatility

Maybe the biggest strength in the current Knicks roster is their versatility and adaptability. The roster is filled with players like Kidd, Anthony, Brewer who can play multiple positions and give Woodson the luxury to put out many different sets of players, and manage the team’s offensive rotation wisely and effectively. It also gives him a lot of options on the offensive end, when he can go for an all-out speed line-up with two shooters, or go big with the likes of Chandler and Wallace playing together.

Weakness:

No length inside

The Knicks’ most troubling weakness is most probably their lack of size and length in the paint. The Knicks do not have any player who can post up in the paint or prove to be an effective scorer down low. Yes, they do have a Tyson Chandler who may have led the league in terms of Offensive efficiency last year, but he isn’t a major scoring option and most of his points come off dunks and throw-downs. The Knicks need a player who has the size and the footwork to take on the opposition bigs’, back them into the paint and score or force defensive double-teams, which allows the Knicks to create plays for the perimeter players.

Chandler can’t do that and despite the sessions with Hakeem Olajuwon, Stoudemire can’t be expected to essay the role either. With no post players, the offence of the Knicks might tend to become one-dimensional and solely dependent on the dribble drives to the ring or on their perimeter shooting. And when the team struggles with their shooting, then finding a way back for the Knicks might not be so easy, something that they realized in the match against the Grizzlies.

Offensive Rebounding

Another major deficiency that has hurt the Knicks has been their offensive rebounding and second chance opportunities. In their 7 games so far, they have notched up a meagre 67 offensive rebounds, and are the second lowest in the league in this department. The major reason behind this also comes from the fact that the Knicks lack major depth and length down inside, and with Melo operating at the 4, the sole responsibility of working the offensive board comes down to Chandler who gets easily boxed out and subdued by the opposition. The Knicks surely need to work on their offensive rebounds, try to rebound as a team and ensure that they earn some second chance opportunities.

Inconsistency and Temperament issues

The Knicks’ major stars till now have been the mercurial duo of Smith and Felton. While both have posted exceptional figures, the experts are still not ready to accept them as the superstars of this Knicks team. This is because their past history is counting against them. The likes of Smith, Felton, Stoudemire and Melo are known to suffer from incongruity and inconsistency, where these players have turned moody, sour and have faded away. These stretches of inconsistency needs to be avoided if the Knicks are serious about their dream to win a Championship, and it is here that the role of the veterans like Kidd, Wallace, Thomas and Camby becomes vital. The Knicks are also sure to benefit from the experience of the seasoned superstars, who other than proving as vital clutch players, can serve as ideal mentors for the young and exuberant core of the team. They will have the responsibility of ensuring that the players remain focussed, and avoid getting into a mental state that can prove detrimental to the team’s fortunes.

DEFENSE:

Strength:

On the defensive end, the Knicks have made rapid strides under the guidance of their coach Mike Woodson, especially considering their defensive record under D’Antoni.

The first thing that their aristocratic, hard-nosed coach did was infuse a sense of accountability in each player of the roster. He made them responsible for every defensive lapse, and encouraged the players to form a strong defensive identity. As the famous saying goes, “Offense wins you matches, defence wins you Championships.”

And it is this new-found importance to defence that has fuelled the resurgence of the Knicks. With the additions of Brewer and Kidd, the Knicks have two of the best perimeter defensive players in the league. Add to this the reigning Defensive player of the year, and you are looking at a mean lock-down defensive unit. The stats just validate the expectations from this trio as the Knicks have allowed a meagre 92 ppg, 4th best in the league. They have also excelled in their defensive rotations, forcing teams to shoot a lowly 42% from the field, and are also among the league leaders in three points allowed and free throws conceded.

Weakness:

The Knicks’ major deficiency in size is the only thing hurting them on the defensive end of the floor. The Knicks are giving up far too many offensive rebounds and allowing the opposition many second chance opportunities. Against the Grizzlies, who have strong and dexterous big men in their ranks, the Knicks lacked the size and strength to combat the duo of Marc Gasol and Randolph. With Stoudemire still not fit, the Knicks had to rely on their veteran bigs’ and were beaten down low by the Grizzlies big men. Randolph and Gasol came away with a combined total of 44 points and 25 rebounds.

Chandler does remain a great defensive player, but with so many bigs’ playing around him, and Melo or Wallace inept at providing much defensive cover, he was left with too much to do. The match against the Grizzlies exposed this glaring deficiency that Woodson will have to sort out at the earliest.

On the whole, the Knicks have definitely been the biggest surprise of the season so far. If they can continue to remain free of injuries, and keep their temperament and confidence at an optimum level, they can surely prove to be legitimate challengers to the Miami heat for the crown.

The Knicks have for long found themselves at the butt of many jokes and jigs. The latest one being the joke pulled by Mr President himself, in which Obama compared himself and his team to the Jordan led Bulls and paralleled his victory and defeat of Rodney as the fall of the Patrick Ewing led Knicks. The big-market franchise has been at the butt end of jokes for too long. Maybe it is time for them to get those mouths to shut up, and add a 3rd possible Championship banner to the rafters at MSG. How far they are able to succeed, will surely be revealed in the next few months. The speculations of them matching the Bulls’ 72-10 record may be running the circles as of now, but for most of the basketball fraternity, the sanity of the comparison is validated only in the dreams of Spike Lee. But, for a franchise still smarting over the shambling tirade involving Linsanity, and coming to terms with the decimating effects of the hurricane “SANDY”, I guess we can give the people of New York that window and space. Hope they get back to their winning ways against the Pacers.

P.S – LBJ the conference just got tougher.

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