Where are the New York Knicks that led the Eastern Conference and were talking about nothing less than a conference final? After losing five of their last eight games, no one is talking about Carmelo Anthony as the MVP or how Amare Stoudemire is going to fit in with him and the others. They’re talking about what went wrong, and how they move on from here.
The two things that separated the Knicks from the rest of their opponents after the 18-5 start was their three point shooting and defense. They were third in the league in percentage in November at 43 percent, but shot just 37% in December, falling to 38.8% this season. It’s still better than most of the NBA, but their offense is built around high percentage shots from beyond the arc, thanks to great screen plays, great ball movement from Kidd and Felton and their defense making life easier for everyone.
Now the question is their defense – has it declined and because of that their three point shooting is hurt in someway, or is it the three point shooting that’s making it harder for their defense to cope with transition attacks?
According to Jason Kidd, If we miss a couple shots defensively we sometimes hang our heads. Make or miss, we have to play defense because that’s what got us those 21 wins so far.
Mike Woodson feels the same way – Forget the offense, we score enough points. Defensively, we are not where we were earlier in the season.
Raymond Felton is injured, and that’s sorely felt. Without his penetration ability, the Knicks’ offense looks too stagnant many times. Ball movement until it gets to Carmelo Anthony, who decided what to do with it, usually shoot. Anthony finished with 45 points in the 105-100 loss to the Blazers at home, and is averaging 29.2 points per game. His scoring isn’t what made the Knicks so good earlier this season.
They’ve allowed over 100 points too many times in December, including against teams like Portland, Sacramento and Chicago, all losses to clubs that aren’t exactly renowned for their offensive ability.
And into all this comes Amare Stoudemire, who has been sitting quietly for months, listening to everyone saying how the Knicks are better off without him in the lineup. Carmelo Anthony is the starting power forward at the moment, and Woodson isn’t tinkering with that. Making his 2013 debut, Stoudemire came off the bench as the ninth man, scoring 6 points and grabbing a rebound while shooting 3-8 from the field. As expected, he was slow and sluggish, especially on defense. There were a couple of nice pick n’ roll moves that came naturally to him, but it’s going to take time before he’s a real threat to anyone in the starting lineup.
Either way, Woodson’s biggest problem isn’t how to fit Stoudemire in at the moment. There’s no question he’s a bench player and that shouldn’t change. Also, he isn’t exactly a defensive game-changer that can lift this team back to where they were earlier this season. That seems to be Woodson’s job – bringing Carmelo Anthony to where he was six weeks ago when it comes to effort on D, and through that bring it back to the entire team. Without defense and energy on it, it doesn’t really matter how many minutes Amare Stoudemire gets to play.