The New York Knicks finished the 2014-15 regular season with the No. 21 scoring defense in the NBA. New York also finished at No. 28 in defensive efficiency, No. 27 in opponent field goal percentage and No. 30 in opponent 3-point field goal percentage.
Head coach Derek Fisher doesn’t chalk that up to the X’s and O’s.
According to Jared Dubin of Bleacher Report, the Knicks will not improve on defense because of a change in strategy. Fair or foul, New York isn’t doing much to alter its approach to the game whatsoever.
From coach Fisher’s mouth, New York’s defense will improve because the players are simply better in 2015-16 than they were in 2014-15.
"“We haven’t completely changed anything, how we guard the pick-and-roll [or anything else],” Fisher said before his team’s preseason game against the Boston Celtics last Friday. “When you have 23 feet of bigs in the paint, it makes the paint look smaller. We got a good amount of guards developing well. [Cleanthony Early] is getting better. We have a number of guys who can do the things we need to do on both ends. I don’t think it’s strategy or X’s and O’s. We have a team constructed that’s more balanced.’’"
He isn’t wrong.
The 23 feet of bigs likely applies to Robin Lopez, Kyle O’Quinn and Kristaps Porzingis—three offseason acquisitions who stand at 6’10” or taller. The height doesn’t quite add up to 23 feet, but the wingspans nearly do, giving the hyperbolic statement some measure of truth.
The perimeter still has question marks, but the Knicks have come a long way from a season ago. Unlike what could be found in 2014-15, the Knicks actually have NBA-caliber players in 2015-16, as Charles Barkley so eloquently put it.
Fisher elaborated on his thought, reiterating that the personnel improvement will be the key.
"“A lot of guys we had on the team are gone,” Fisher said when asked about the difference between this season’s defense and last year’s. “Who we have now weren’t there. It sounds simple to say we have a different team. Robin Lopez is really good defensively. I don’t know how much to say it’s the players that will make the difference.”"
With all due respect to the 2014-15 Knicks, Fisher is right.
The schematics may not have been perfect a season ago, but the personnel played a major role in New York’s defensive inefficiency. Not only was there a massive roster overhaul, but the remaining players were of a lower caliber than anyone could’ve expected.
That’s exactly why the Knicks went 17-65.
In 2015-16, New York will return Carmelo Anthony to anchor the offense. On the other end, the likes of Arron Afflalo, Robin Lopez and Kevin Seraphin will help returning players such as on-ball specialist Langston Galloway improve the overall level of defensive play.
In many ways, New York is depending upon Lopez to fill the massive shoes of former Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler.
"Lopez, for his part, says he is taking a more active role in terms of the defensive communication in order to help prop up some of the players that aren’t quite as strong on that end. “I’m trying to be a little more outspoken,” he said. “I know being in the back I’m somewhat of a leader on the defensive end. I’m trying to live up to that.’’"
The question is, can New York help Lopez more than it did Chandler?
Chandler was the catalyst for a culture change in New York City. He helped the Knicks with his efficient scoring, but his true value was found as the defensive anchor on a team that was flush with offensive-minded players.
Unfortunately, New York never surrounded him with the caliber defenders that a team requires to frustrate opponents on a consistent basis.
For Lopez, he could experience something of a similar struggle in 2015-16. There are capable defenders, but New York needs to buy in as a team for Lopez’s best efforts to be recognized and translated into success.
If nothing else, Fisher will need to backtrack on the, “Not changing the strategy,” talk.
"To emphasize just how important closing out hard and taking away the attempt itself is, Langston Galloway said the Knicks are doing 4-on-5 defensive drills in practice. “We are just emphasizing taking away three-pointers as much as possible,” Galloway said. “If you look at the Finals last year, there was a lot of three-pointers made. It’s definitely changing. The league is evolving and I guess, you say, ‘Stop ’em before it changes.'”"
This isn’t the first we’ve heard about the Knicks’ newfound focus on defending the 3-point shot. Instead, Galloway’s comments are confirmation on the growing belief within the coaching staff.
Fisher made his intentions clear near the beginning of October when he acknowledged the rise in the significance of the 3-point shot.
Coach Fisher made a similar comment about New York needing a change in philosophy roughly two weeks ago.
New York allowed opponents to shoot an unfathomable 38.0 percent from beyond the arc. It was the second consecutive season during which New York ranked in the bottom five in said statistic.
It’s no coincidence that the Knicks missed the playoffs both times.
In 2015-16, New York will make a more concerted effort to close out on 3-point shooters. As much as Knicks fans may want the team to play like the famed 1990s teams, New York can no longer act as if opposing offenses are from another decade.
With a dramatically improved roster and a cognizance of what’s gone wrong in the past, New York should be a significantly better defensive team in 2015-16.
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