The New York Knicks have hit rock bottom. The best thing about that is there is no place to go but up.
At 5-28, the Knicks have the most losses in the NBA — literal rock bottom — and are in the midst of a eight-game losing streak, a west coast road trip and a pilgrimage to the promise land the triangle offense supposedly inhibits. During this stretch of time, Carmelo Anthony has been banged around and Derek Fisher has said he is pretty much okay with his team’s struggles.
Encouraging? Discouraging? Fisher’s positivity is nice in dark times when there is no one but him to find a silver lining for everyone; I’m encouraged by his unflappable words. I am discouraged by Carmelo Anthony’s struggle with health and obvious gap between the rest of his team, for his talent is head-and-shoulders above anyone else. Will the lack of talent be addressed this season? Probably not. That being said, the Knicks should snuggle up in the cellar of the NBA standings, kick their shoes off, and watch the losses pile up. With a first-round pick in the upcoming NBA draft, New York is better off cutting its losses and accepting defeat.
Turning around the season at this point would be something out of a fairy tale. Anthony and his troops would need to go 37-12 the rest of the way to finish over the .500 mark and most likely make the playoffs in the somewhat-improved Eastern Conference. If you can believe that, James Dolan has a kazoo and a court side seat waiting for you in game 1 of the playoffs.
Atop the list of disappointments this season would have to be the absence of Andrea Bargnani. In two seasons with the Knicks, the former number one pick has played in only 42 regular season games. During his stint, his teammates have played 115 total games; meaning Bargnani has been sighted in only 32% of games during his time in New York. Underwhelming? I think it can be taken slightly further than that.
Before the turmoil, when West Point was supposed to be the turning point for the crumbled basketball franchise that is the Knicks, Andrea Bargnani was envisioned as a tailor-made triangle player by Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson. For a seven-footer, Bargnani can pull defenders away from the basket with his jump shot and perimeter play. The absence of a player who can consistently draw attention from defenses has hurt New York and Carmelo Anthony, who has shouldered the burden of scoring all season long.
Amar’e Stoudemire is the closest Knick to Anthony’s 24 points-per-contest, averaging 13 per game. 71% of Stoudemire’s point come inside the paint, according to NBA.com/Stats, making it hard to allow the offense to come to STAT. His points are created from entry passes and chunks of time that are eaten off the shot clock. His inability to stretch defenses makes it difficult for him to get other players involved the way Bargnani can. It may sound crazy, but Bargnani’s absence has had a toll on this team.
Iman Shumpert has been a year away from breaking out for two years now. Will it ever happen? Literally adding insult to injury, Shumpert’s ailment could not have been more ill-timed. New York is suiting up about nine players during its current west-coast trip, and Shumpert’s defense on the perimeter is sorely missed. Injuries have been the biggest disappointment of Shumpert’s career so far. His nine points per contest is promising and he is certainly on the threshold of becoming a double-digit scorer — finally. But there is still plenty to work on. In a year dubbed a “try out” by many fans and most importantly, a contract year for Shumpert, his play has been a flat line for New York. Also, when Shumpert is the clear-cut starter for this team with potential to fill a very important role in the future, why aren’t we seeing more?
The hope that Shumpert can become a key cog in New Yorks future fluctuates similarly to the New York Stock Exchange just a few blocks away from Madison Square Garden. Any Stock expert will tell you that stocks cannot be predicted. Right now, I can say the same thing about Shumpert’s game, affirming Phil Jackson’s reason to not engage in extension talks with Shumpert back in September.
As September feels like millennial ago for Knicks fans who have suffered through 28 losses, it was only three months ago when Jose Calderon was also predicted to be a fit lead guard for the triangle offense. Previously etched as one of the most efficient shooters in the NBA, Calderon is shooting a career-low 41 percent from the field and has been a let down at the point guard position.
A folding chair would have been an upgrade over Raymond Felton. Bring in Calderon and New York felt that the guard position had seen a major upgrade. In reality, Felton only shot percentage points lower last year than Calderon is this year (39 percent) and actually dished out more assists (5.1 APG). In what is probably the most competitive position in the NBA, the Knicks have a past-his-prime Calderon with an expectation that he can help this team improve. That hasn’t been the case.
Calderon’s lack of aggression and inconsistent shooting is doing nothing positive for New York. At this point, it is understandable that the Knicks are happy with anyone not named Raymond Felton bringing the ball up court, but has Calderon really been that much of an improvement?
There isn’t much to be proud of right now as a Knicks fan. But the certainty that almost every player will be gone next year plus a draft pick is encouraging enough to get through a few more months of losing. Overall, this year has been one big disappointment piled up higher than the Empire State Building, and Knicks fans are angrily climbing it like King Kong looking for some type of reassurance that things are actually getting better rather than worse. At this point, coach Fisher should continue to experiment and learn, and everyone else is left out on a limb by themselves. Carmelo Anthony can sit back and enjoy his big pay day until things get a little more serious next year. For now, let the feeling of disappointment sulk in. The feeling isn’t going anywhere for now.