Jun 5, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; A view of the NBA Finals logo on the floor before game one of the 2014 NBA Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
It is easy in any walk of life to just try and imitate the people who are the best at something to try and reach a similar level. So it’s hardly a criticism of the New York Knicks to say they should try and be a little more like the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat next season in regards to playing style.
For starters, the Knicks could play better defense. The Spurs had the third best defense this season and while the Heat were outside the top 10 at 11th. The Knicks were all the way down at 24th. Part of this was personnel, something that is obviously difficult to overcome. The Knicks had guys like Amar’e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Ray Felton, all putrid defenders play big minutes.
What also didn’t help was former Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler getting hurt and missing about two months. While not having him on defense obviously hurt the team, it also hurt because since Chandler was the Knicks second most important offensive player, the team had to exhaust Carmelo Anthony by playing him almost nonstop.
The Knicks defensive philosophy was also to blame, though. The Knicks would comically switch at every opportunity no matter what. This made it increasingly easy for teams to just get whatever mismatch they needed by setting an advantageous pick. The Thunder continually switched in in game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, and four times in the third quarter the Spurs got either Reggie Jackson or Derek Fisher on Tim Duncan — hardly an ideal matchup for OKC.
On offense, the Knicks could really use some of the Spurs’ overall movement. According to ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh, the Spurs collectively ran 125 more miles on the court than the Knicks this season. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to many Knicks fans as the team spent way too many offensive possessions standing around watching Anthony and waiting for him to do something. While the criticism of “ball stopper” isn’t unwarranted for Anthony, his teammates did him no favors last year with their stationary tendencies on the offensive end.
The two teams left in the playoffs also have far superior shot selection. Of players who played at least 1000 minutes on the Spurs, Heat, and Knicks, a combined 12 players took at least 20% of their shots between 16 feet and just inside the three point line. Six of these players were on the Knicks and of the twelve, none did it more often than Carmelo Anthony. This wouldn’t be as frustrating if Melo was just a jump shooter, but he can also finish well at the basket, evidenced by his 59% FG at the rim and 40% from three while 45% on long two point shots. So from an efficiency standpoint, Anthony was far better off taking a step or two back and trying his luck from three.
It wasn’t all just Anthony, though. Bargnani, Shumpert, Felton, JR Smith, and Amar’e Stoudemire also took way too many long two-point shots. The Knicks would just settle for those shots because in a stagnant offensive system, those are the shots a team ends up with.
While not leading to a high number of assists, last year the Knicks moved the ball around a lot to find the best shot they could get. They constantly made the extra pass and it showed as they were the third best offense in the NBA. This year the team ranked 11th in offense, good but a big drop from the year before.
Harping on defense with this team almost seems futile until Jackson brings in players who actually play defense. The Knicks are immensely talented offensively though and to drop off like they did year to year and to settle for so many long jumpers is an indictment on how they play rather than who they play.