Knicks disappoint fans, still have time to turn it around

Carmelo Anthony has contributed to both the Knicks' successes and their problems. (credit: Keith Allison via Flickr) Carmelo Anthony has contributed to both the Knicks' successes and their problems. (credit: Keith Allison via Flickr)

After the Brooklyn Nets traded for power forwards and centers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in the off-season, adding to an already-talented core, the New York Knicks were supposed to progress from an exciting season that yielded a No. 2 seed in the East Conference and a trip to the conference semifinals.

Instead, injuries and the peaking Indiana Pacers derailed the Knicks’ dream year. Few predicted the joyless abyss that would become the first half of this season’s incarnation of the Knicks.

The only notable roster changes from last year were the losses of retired point guard Jason Kidd, now coach of the Nets, and power forward Chris Copeland to the Indiana Pacers, as well as the trade of three-point specialist Steve Novak to the Toronto Raptors for center Andrea Bargnani, and Amar’e Stoudemire’s actual appearance on the court.

However, this roster seems like a huge regression for what is basically the same team.

The Knicks have a lot of things working against them. One thing that always has to be noted with the Knicks is that the team is poorly managed. Players are handed awful contracts for lengthy periods, draft picks are shunned for aging talent, and without the huge draw of the best market in professional sports, this team would probably be sold or absorbed by the National Basketball Association (NBA) after years of bad results and little reason to care.

Unfortunately, New Yorkers are stuck with this stinker of an organization pulling together nothing of note from 2000–10. This recent run of success was an anomaly, a case of stars wanting to play in New York rather than the Knicks actually doing something to create a good team.

The result was a very talented and poorly constructed team with disappointing, early playoff exits in consecutive seasons. This bad management is one of the first reasons the Knicks are struggling so much this season.

This poor administration causes three big issues. The first is that the Knicks are perpetually capped out and cannot respond to legitimate team needs, making it easier for other teams to figure out how to beat the Knicks from year to year.

The second issue is that Jay-Z’s Creative Artists Agency (CAA) has basically taken control of the Knicks’ basketball operations, causing silly basketball moves like giving small forward J.R. Smith (more on him later) a huge raise and signing his brother.

The third issue is that players never really develop into the stars they’re supposed to become, and these disappointing results yield sad basketball stories like guard Iman Shumpert, a player who was supposed to be a star and regressed mightily this year due to poor coaching and frustration with trade rumors. These three issues have hampered the Knicks greatly in different ways and all contribute to this disaster of a season.

The lack of attention paid to key problems with the Knicks last year — basically, the defense behind rim-protecting center Tyson Chandler — was predictably a huge problem for the Knicks.

When Chandler was lost to a leg injury early in the season, the Knicks went on a disastrous nine-game losing streak, putting them in a huge hole going forward.

The defense last year was an unmitigated disaster. The Knicks could not stop anyone, and there is no way to win a basketball game if the other team scores at will.

This issue was compounded by an awful offensive scheme from coach Mike Woodson, which basically boils down to passing to small forward Carmelo “Melo” Anthony and standing still while he tries to score by himself. To his credit, he’s put together a stellar season despite running what seems like infinite isolation plays.

Poor point guard play from Raymond Felton and an injury to point guard Pablo Prigioni have caused ball movement to be a huge issue for the Knicks, probably contributing to all of the isolations.

Carmelo is clearly a top-five talent in the NBA and has been incredibly effective from midrange over the course of the year. His problem, as always, is that he is ineffective going to the basket and doesn’t play defense. It’s not a safe bet to build an entire team around a player whose bread and butter is the midrange shot — a usually very inefficient way of scoring — and absolutely no help on offense.

With a consistently one-dimensional offense and little in the way of defense, it becomes more obvious why the Knicks are struggling: They’re playing to their weakness, and they’re taking no steps to help cover these weaknesses.

The team’s big off-season acquisition was draft bust power forward Andrea Bargnani, known as an awful rim protector and rebounder, further compounding the Knicks lack of defense without really diversifying the offense.

In fairness to Bargnani, he has played very well, but he still has not clicked defensively, and protecting the rim is a huge hole behind Chandler, who is of almost no use on offense. With bad personnel and bad schemes, winning was never a likely outcome.

One player who was supposed to help the Knicks defensively was shooting guard and small forward Shumpert.

He played very well in the playoffs and, compared to other Knicks, was a defensive wizard. The key phrase here is “compared to other Knicks.” His defense can get lazy and he watches the ball a lot instead of paying attention to who he is guarding.

Offensively, he’s not useful for much any more besides three-point shots. Shumpert’s regression might be attributable to frustration with trade rumors earlier in the season, but that does not change the fact that he is having a significantly worse season than he did the previous year.

The Knicks’ stubborn refusal to trade him at the beginning of the year turned out to be a missed opportunity. Shumpert may be good one day, but not for the Knicks. There is no system for developing players into stars on the Knicks. With no first-round draft picks until 2019, the Knicks probably
understand this problem.

Speaking of regression, Smith, a key contributor last season, is having a terrible season. When on the floor, Smith has been missing shots at a stunning clip, shooting 37 percent and chucking 12 awful shots per game. That unimpressive record only happens when he’s not getting fined for untying opposing players’ shoelaces or getting benched for missing meetings. In games Smith has missed, the Knicks have been excellent, beating the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks.

The Knicks had an okay first five games of the season while Smith was suspended for violating the league’s illegal substance policy. Smith, playing upwards of 30 minutes a game, went from barely advantageous to a huge drawback this year.

In addition to his shooting deficiencies, Smith continues to hog the ball and play awful defense. His shoelace-untying and pot-smoking also comes in addition to his affiliation with the CAA, which he abused to force the Knicks into keeping his brother, point guard Chris Smith, on the roster despite not being a NBA-caliber player.

J.R. Smith’s regression is probably the most apparent way in which Kidd’s retirement hurt the Knicks. Kidd consistently put Smith in a position to score, which inflated Smith’s stats noticeably. The missed shots this year have piled up and made the Knicks way worse for their efforts.

Though it’s not comprehensive, the coaching and personnel problems facing the Knicks show that the lofty projections for this team were probably more of an overestimation of the talent on the roster rather than a reasonable prediction of mediocrity.

The Knicks should be able to turn their season around, but the team’s poor management is a bad omen for future results.

The horrible Eastern conference means they should be a playoff team, but in the Eastern Conference, that’s not really anything to hang one’s hat on.