Can the New York Knicks Take a Step Forward on Defense?


Apr. 7, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Metta World Peace during the game against the Phoenix Suns at the US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Lakers 125-105. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Though the New York Knicks spoke about defense often last year, referring to it as their critical component to victories, it was no secret that they weren’t a great defensive team. While their offense was elite — third in the NBA in offensive efficiency — their defense lagged, ranking 17th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, giving up 103.5 points per 100 possessions.

Through Monday afternoon, most of the Knicks’ offseason work had been offensive-minded (trading for Andrea Bargnani, drafting Tim Hardaway Jr.), but with one signing, the Knicks suddenly appeared to take a step forward on defense. Grabbing Metta World Peace for the remaining mini-MLE suddenly gives the Knicks a lot of options on defense (and offense, subsequently).

The main feature of the World Peace signing is that the Knicks now contain an experienced defender to guard the elite wing players in the NBA. Of course, the Knicks possess Iman Shumpert, a wily, talented, hands-y defender in his own right, but through nearly two seasons, Shumpert hasn’t looked good guarding bigger players. When switched onto small forwards like LeBron James and Paul Pierce, Shumpert has struggled. In contrast, he’s looked very good defending great point guards (see: Rose, Derrick in ’10-’11), and has looked capable against similarly sized players like Dwyane Wade and Paul George.

With World Peace, the Knicks now have a go-to defender on those bigger players like James and Pierce. Of course, he isn’t the defender he used to be, and stopping someone like LeBron James doesn’t happen very often. However, he’s got the size, wits, and determination to make life hell for opposing wing players (he did just that to Carmelo Anthony on Christmas day this past season).

Similarly, World Peace can take the pressure off Carmelo Anthony at power forward. Anthony sizzled on offense facing bigger opponents, but he took a beating as the season went on when defending power forwards. World Peace has an extra 30 lb. tacked on that will help with the beating that comes against bigger power forwards like David West or Carlos Boozer. Anthony and World Peace could cross-match on offense and defense so that ‘Melo plays power forward on offense and guards smaller players on defense, and vice versa for World Peace.

Of course, part of the trouble with the Knicks’ defense last year was their lousy system. As Mr. Jared Dubin wrote yesterday, a team’s defense can be great even without great defensive players — it’s all about system. The Knicks struggled, in part, last season because they insisted on switching every pick and screen, even when unnecessary, and creating mismatches for the other team. However, even some of their offseason moves have helped their cause in that department. As mentioned, World Peace can switch onto pretty much all wings; Andrea Bargnani, while not a good defender by almost any measure, can be switched onto power forwards or centers because of his size; and Tim Hardaway Jr. has the size and speed to defend guards or forwards.

The Knicks’ bench still looks to be a problem defensively, however — both Glen Grunwald and Mike Woodson have spoken about playing Amar’e Stoudemire and Bargnani together, and when combined with Smith, Hardaway Jr., and Prigioni, opposing benches might score with ease. Another backup point guard and big man (Kenyon Martin?) are necessary, especially if they can play defense and sew up some of the holes the above lineup would leave. Likewise, a smarter system would help. But nonetheless, the Knicks look poised to make a step forward on the defensive end, which is necessary in becoming more of a contender in the East.

And raise your hands if you’re excited for a Shumpert-World Peace-Chandler trio locking down opponents in the starting lineup.