If you were watching basketball last Thursday night, there is a good chance that you may have decided to direct your set to show the New York Knicks take on the Miami Heat in Miami. If you did such a thing, you may have noticed that the Knicks completely annihilated Miami, for the second time this season. I for one, could not stop thinking that if it not a game of roundball, but instead a contest of gladiatorial combat from the Roman days, that the first few rows of American Airlines Arena would have been spattered with gore to the degree that observers would wish they had ponchos, like some sort of macabre Gallagher act.
I feel like the Heat will rebound, and this is all some championship hangover. They will eventually get their basketball equivalent of a Bloody Mary and move on with their lives. The game, in the scheme of things, means much more to the Knicks than it did to Heat, as anyone who watched could attest to. So what I want to discuss is the Knicks. This has been the most effective Knicks team in a decade, and at times has looked like they could blow anyone they want to off the court. But there is hardly a more star-crossed or media-exposed team in the league than the first team from New York, so it all adds up to beg the question: Is this Knicks team for real?
So let’s start with the obvious things about this Knicks team. First off, they have the best offense in the league. HoopData currently has the Knicks as scoring 111.3 points per 100 possessions, which is a full point better than last year’s NBA Finalists, the Heat and Thunder, and ten points better than league average. They also shoot over 28 threes a game, which is more than anyone. Ever. They also have an effective field goal percentage of 62.5 on threes this year. The only other teams that can say that? Miami and Oklahoma City.
Now, Amare Stoudemire is currently out, which has left Carmelo Anthony to play power forward, while the likes of JR Smith, Steve Novak, Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton fan out behind him. When you add in Tyson Chandler jockeying for position down low, you can see why all of this may give opposing defenses fits.
And speaking of the defense, it currently sits at 100.7 points given up per 100 possessions, which is a point above league average and good for the number 11 defense in the league right now. Tyson Chandler rightfully gets plenty of accolades for the presence of any defense in New York, but it is important to note that Anthony and the rest of the crew are looking much more engaged on that side of the ball, something I will partially attribute to defensive minded head coach Mike Woodson. Maybe the Knicks defense isn’t ready to be called “elite”, but with an offense like the one they currently possess, you only really have to be above average.
But now let’s talk about the future of this Knicks team. There are a few old maxims and clichés that everyone likes to trot out when it comes to contending teams in basketball. One of which is generally applied to every team sport, the old “defense wins championships.” By and large this is true, as when games slow down in the playoffs an effective half-court defense is a necessity. But consider this: two years ago when the Dallas Mavericks won the title, their defensive efficiency throughout the regular season was 102.3, worse than the Knicks have right now.
Speaking of that particular Mavericks team, the second axiom people like to use about play-off basketball is that you can’t win with a team that primarily relies on the three. Again, I submit to you the Mavs from their championship year. That year, the Mavs attempted 7 less threes a game than the Knicks this year, and shot it with about 8 points less efficiency. Allow me to also remark that that Mavs team was built around an offensively masterful power forward (Dirk), three point shooters fanned out behind him, with Tyson Chandler always looking for lobs down low.
Now don’t get me wrong here, I’m going to jump the shark and go and predict a Knicks championship this year. This team has several issues looming ahead of them. When you throw Jason Kidd in with the back-up big man rotation in New York, consisting of Rasheed Wallace, Marcus Camby, and Kurt Thomas, you have to wonder if the league sent out Knicks recruitment flyers out to anyone who requested retirement paperwork. Players who have this many years on them have an annoying tendency to get injured, and if Tyson Chandler were to go down especially, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to picture the Knicks’ defense falling off of a cliff in your mind’s eye.
Then of course you have the problems that could arise with trying to fit the players coming back from injury back into the rotation. Looking first at Iman Shumpert (SHUMP SHUMP!), you know that he is a defensive pest that could help to push the defense to that elite level that we were talking about earlier. The problem is he doesn’t exactly shoot the three well (30% FG last year), and that could mess up the entire offensive scheme of the team. Most likely best used in lineups where Felton and Novak can share the floor with him, along with Anthony at power forward and Tyson Chandler.
The big question mark looming, however, is of course how Amare Stoudemire fits into all of this. The simple fact here is that when Amare and Carmelo share the floor, the team has suffered greatly, both on offense and defense. Amare was never a great defender, and in recent years has become even worse. Offensively, he occupies the slot that Carmelo has been using to great effect to help manufacture this lightning rod offense, and you can’t slot either to center for any length of time or the defense falls apart.
One of the more obvious solutions would be to put Amare into a sixth man role, coming off the bench to attempt to replicate Melo’s production when he’s out. As much sense as this makes, stars like Stoudemire have ways of finding their ways into starting line-ups, even when they shouldn’t. I can’t say for sure that Amare wouldn’t do it if asked, but I know that these aren’t the types of questions that coaches like to ask. You can lose players and entire teams quickly if things are received badly, and New York isn’t exactly the friendliest place in the world to be a coach if things start to go badly.
So ultimately, I believe that the Knicks’ title chances are going to rest more with Mike Woodson and Amare Stoudemire than with Tyson or Carmelo. Woodson’s job ahead isn’t enviable in the slightest. And I’m sure that in some corner of his mind Amare realizes that his relevancy on this team is slipping away quite quickly. Both are going to have challenges ahead that ultimately decide the fate of this highly entertaining basketball team.
But still, the great start the Knicks are off to provides hope for more, if they can avoid a few pitfalls along the way. This Knicks team’s chances of bringing home a championship may not be the best of any team to play the game, but as the Mavericks proved, they aren’t necessarily unprecedented either.
Jordan Akin had to check his temperature multiple times when he realized that he wanted to write a piece campaigning for the Knicks’ status as a contender. You can give him the name of a good doctor on Twitter @jakin1013, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.