To say the New York Knicks have been a disappointment through the first four games would be somewhat of an understatement. While some Knicks fans are still grasping onto the belief that this team can win a title, even the most pessimistic of observers pegged the Knicks for a 5th seed in the Eastern conference, and another season of 50 wins. So whether or not you believed this team was championship caliber or not, the general consensus was that the 2013-2014 Knicks would be a very good team.
Now it’s never a wise thing to overreact to what you see early in the season, but it is hard to watch this years Knicks team and not come away feeling as if something is missing.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the most glaring concerns for the Knicks through the first 4 games of the 20130-2014 season.
Finding the best lineup combinations
Through the first four games of the 2013-2014 season one thing is very clear – Mike Woodson has no idea what his best lineups are, which groups should play together, and who should have their minutes cut.
Of course, this is a problem for a lot of NBA teams at this point. Working new faces into a rotation is rarely a smooth transition, and usually takes at least a few weeks for coaches to figure out. Even with that in mind, this seems to be a big problem for the Knicks right now.
Looking at a sample size of four games is always tricky, whether this team goes on to win 50 games or 35, Mike Woodson will eventually get his rotations figured out. But that does not make what we’ve seen through the first four games any less concerning.
When evaluating a teams rotation a good statistic to lean on is usage percentage. For anyone who is unfamiliar with usage percentage it is defined as an estimate of the percentage of plays a player is used while he is one the floor. Pretty straightforward.
Last season the Knicks had 4 players with a usage percentage over 20% (Carmelo Anthony, Raymond Felton, J.R. Smith, and Chris Copeland).
Through the first four games of this season the Knicks currently have 8 players with a usage percentage over 20% (Carmelo Anthony, Iman Shumpert, Metta World Peace, Raymond Felton, Andrea Bargnani, Tim Hardaway Jr., Amare Stoudemire, and Beno Udrih)
What this tells us is pretty simple. Currently the Knicks have no idea who their best options are, or who should be taking shots, especially when Carmelo is on the bench. One thing that should bring this number back down to earth is the return of J.R. Smith. When Smith returns the Knicks immediately have their go to guy when Carmelo is off the floor. But still, having 8 players with a usage percentage over 20% is way too high, regardless of where we are in the NBA season.
The Knicks struggling to keep opposing guards out of the paint was a problem even with Tyson Chandler in the lineup. Now as the Knicks are faced with the reality of being without their defensive anchor for the next 4-6 weeks, this could very quickly turn apocalyptic.
Last season the Knicks made a lot of progress on the defensive end, finishing the season with a defensive rating of 101.0 (5th in the NBA). While through the first four games of this season the Knicks have a defensive rating of 106.3 (18th in the NBA) Now that may not sound like a huge difference, but it is, and it’s already causing the Knicks to lose games.
The difference defensively is even more glaring with Tyson Chandler out of the lineup.
In 106 minutes with Chandler on the court, the Knicks have allowed a very impressive 92.2 points per 100 possessions. To put that in prospective, last seasons leader were the Indiana Pacers at 96.6. With Chandler off the floor, that number balloons to 105.6 points allowed per 100 possessions.
While the problems on defense should be a concern right now, this is yet another area that at least in theory should get better as Mike Woodson figures out his rotations, which one would think, would lead to better chemistry on the defensive side of the ball. Regardless of the built in excuse of it being early in the season, head coach Mike Woodson is not impressed with his teams effort to this point.
"“Our defense, it stinks right now … We got to get it fixed. In order for us to stay in the race you’re going to have to defend and rebound the ball.”"
So at least Knicks fans can feel good knowing that their head coach understand this is a top priority for his team right now.
Lack of scoring punch
It’s hard not to notice that the Knicks are missing J.R. Smith in a big way right now. And with all due respect to Mr. Smith, that in itself is a problem.
Sure, when J.R. returns to the lineup he immediately provides the Knicks with a legitimate second scoring option, which will certainly take a lot of pressure off of Carmelo Anthony to do it all. Yet still, relying this heavily on J.R. Smith should say a lot about where this team really is right now. Smith is a very good NBA player, but if he is your number two option, you are more likely than not looking at a first round playoff exit, assuming the ‘bockers can even make it that far.
The good news is that ultimately every single one of these issues can, and most likely will, be fixed to some degree. The bad news is that with an owner who has a history of making rash decisions, a “panic trade” is very possible, and something all Knicks fans should be weary of right now. If James Dolan were to pull off one of his classic panic trades (Andrea Bargnani is a good recent example) the only asset that will bring back a legitimate return is Iman Shumpert.
As we saw last season when Dolan almost shipped Shump out of town for Jared Dudley, the man is capable of this kind of short-sighted approach. So for now all Knicks fans can do is cross their fingers that their owner does not do anything too reactionary which could ultimately lead this team into a further downward spiral. My advice for James Dolan on the .00001% chance he’s reading this – Let the people you’ve hired make basketball decisions, and stick to fronting your terrible blues band.