The New York Knicks are three games below .500 at 16-19. What exactly must head coach Jeff Hornacek do to fix the struggling Knicks?
It has been exactly two weeks since the last time the New York Knicks won a game. The Knicks are currently riding a six-game losing streak, no loss more displeasing than last night’s knife through the chest delivered by one of the NBA’s bright young stars, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Having earned the opportunity to intern with MSG Networks, I had access to some brilliant basketball minds. Me being a student of the game, I never hesitated to ask questions about basketball.
Often before Knicks home games, I’d talk with Walt “Clyde” Frazier and ask him things about today’s game and what the NBA was like during his playing days. One conversation was about general NBA defense.
What he told me on Nov. 29, 2016 was this:
"“The fundamental key component to defense is taking a stance while guarding the ball. Off the ball, being in an athletic position between your man and the ball at a distance where you can step in and help and not too far where you can’t close out on your man if the ball gets passed to him.”"
After listening to what Clyde had to say, these are things one begins to notice. Guys are standing straight up on defense, not in an athletic position to make a play. Teams are lighting up the Knicks from beyond the arc because they get too far off their man and are unable to help.
It’s fundamental issues which have the Knicks at a disadvantage on the defensive end of the court, which is surprising because they’re a veteran team.
This time talking with former NBA All-Star Wally Szczerbiak, I asked him pertaining to the NBA as a whole. It’s no coincidence the teams that win rings play defense, so why don’t other superstars take note of that and play defense?
"“They all know how important it (defense) is. Just takes right combo of coaches and players to work together to become a great defensive team.”"
The Knicks have one of the most talented paper rosters in the NBA, perhaps they just don’t have the right people in the organization to get the job done on defense.
Everyone from the players to the coaches to the media and the fans have done a good job of distributing blame for this underwhelming Knicks season. Naturally, the face of the franchise Carmelo Anthony will have the fault of a losing start come crashing on his shoulders.
Is ‘Melo’s lack of dedication to a defensive effort to blame for the team’s lackluster defense? Perhaps he’s the one to blame. Or maybe we can point the finger at the head coach Jeff Hornacek?
Is he unable to motivate his team enough to want to bring it each and every possession, and take pride in defending the rim? It’s surprising to see the lack of finger pointing at Kurt Rambis, who was named, for lack of a better term, the team’s defensive coordinator.
Rambis was named the associate head coach to Hornacek this offseason. If you watched a Knicks game early in the season, you could see with your own eyes how Hornacek was reluctant to share the position with Rambis.
Fast forward to Nov. 8, when Kurt Rambis was put in charge of the Knicks defense. Before Rambis took over, the Knicks allowed 109.8 points per game. Post Nov. 8, the Knicks allowed 107 points per game.
Keep in mind the Knicks only gave up 77 points to a Dallas Mavericks team without Dirk Nowitzki and Deron Williams.
According to the numbers the team has improved their defense. So what’s really going on that has the Knicks losing these games?
Looking at the beginning of the losing streak, Christmas day, New York turned the ball over on the final possession of a game where they fought their way back into it to make things interesting; we’ve seen that a million times before.
Three days later in Atlanta, in overtime, Rose lost the ball with a chance to take the lead.
Right there, two games in a row where the Knicks could be on a four-game win streak are losers of consecutive games where they turned the ball over at the most crucial point of the game.
Up next is the New Orleans Pelicans. No excuses, the Knicks should not have lost that game.
Then James Harden goes off for 53 points in a triple-double performance on New Year’s Eve with the Knicks down Kristaps Porzingis.
The Orlando Magic embarrassed the Knicks at home, Aaron Gordon was draining three’s just to give an idea of how bad it was. Orlando scored 115 points in the contest, as New York again played without Porzingis.
Last night at home against the Bucks, the Knicks were in it all throughout the game. New York even led by double digits entering the fourth quarter.
The Knicks were then outscored 34-17 in the fourth quarter and the Greek Freak hit the game-winner over Lance Thomas for the win.
If Porzingis is in the game there is no way Antetokounmpo hits that shot over KP. Just look at the difference of wingspans between Porzingis and Thomas. Porzingis may not have blocked Antetokounmpo, but he could have altered the shot.
At this point, after losing six straight games and falling out of the top eight in the East, accountability on an individual level is important for the Knicks to get themselves out of this funk. Looking at each matchup on a micro-level, if the individual sets a high standard on defense, as a whole, the team is laying the ground work for solid team defense.
How many times have Knicks fans heard, “It’s a career high for John Doe here at The Garden.”
Again speaking to Sczerbiak, I asked him: why does it seem like some players don’t care when their opponent is going off, as long as they get theirs on the offensive end?
His exact words:
"“Believe me guys care! All NBA players have pride.”"
This Knicks have had a tough stretch of games, not playing their best basketball we’ve seen. The potential of this team is all anyone can talk about; they’ve got a young star surrounded by veterans. The recipe for success is there.
There are some glaring issues which need to be figured out, specifically figuring out the identity of the team; who do they want to become?
Is it really possible the Knicks can’t find a way to have a winning season with a former league MVP, a scoring champion, a Defensive Player of the Year, and a 7’3″ lottery pick who’s considered to be one of the most dynamic talents in the history of the NBA?