Deep Soothing Breaths, People

My apologies for the lack of posts during this trying week. I generally try to kick it positively here at TWMFBlog, and I regret not giving Knicks fans an oasis from the “chicken little” tenor of the beat writers, Twitter, and other Knicks sites. Anyway, let’s roll up our sleeves and dig in, shall we?

Silver Lining

Let me begin by saying there is a silver lining to all of these losses (well, except for the thrashing at the hands of the Bucks.) In my daily debates with Knicks fans on Facebook, Twitter, etc. a common refrain is: “Fire D’Antoni! Look at these losses! They blew leads to Portland, Philly, and the T-Wolves!” or something to that effect. Here is my response: “Well, isn’t it a good thing that they were winning all of these contests by a large margin?” Think about it. It’s not like the Knicks have totally sucked. Other than the Bucks game, they have led or been close in every single game this season. And that’s with some putrid shooting performances. I’m sure some Knicks fans will consider me a Pollyanna for stating this silver lining, but it’s out there. The reason why everyone is so pissed is because the Portland, Philly, Golden State, Minnesota, and, to a lesser extent, Houston games are all games the Knicks should have won. You’re pissed because the team snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Would there be this much bellyaching had the Blazers and Warriors, two superior teams in my opinion, handily dispatched the Knickerbockers? Would there be calls for D’Antoni’s head if the Knicks hadn’t built up big leads against Philly and Minnesota before choking them away? Perhaps. However, I’d venture a guess that there would be a bit less vitriol. Just one man’s opinion.

The Bad News

Now, despite the silver lining to these agonizing defeats, there is some bad news. And since I always like to receive the bad news first, that’s what you’re going to get. For starters, Raymond Felton is not a good point guard. Yes, his stats look nice and pretty, but he is not as quick as the elite guards and he does not make things easier for his teammates. Simply put, he does not get his teammates open looks. The Knicks throw up WAY too many contested shots. People keep asking what’s up with all the isolation plays. Well, could it be because Felton is inadequate at distributing the ball? Additionally, he is terrible orchestrating the pick and roll. Terrible. This has been discussed ad nauseum online so I won’t rehash here but I’m beginning to think Felton just isn’t capable of running a crisp pick and roll.

Another concern is the Knicks poor 3 point shooting. The 3 point shot is a staple of the D’Antoni system. However, that doesn’t mean D’Antoni encourages his team to simply chuck up 3’s willy nilly. If a player has a wide open 3, he should certainly take it, however many most of the team’s 3’s appear to be contested or rushed. Ironically, Gallo seems to be one of the few players who will fake the 3 and then drive the lane and get to the line. However, even though the shot selection from long range is very poor, the simple truth is that Chandler, Felton, Fields, and Douglas are not great 3 point shooters. There really isn’t much D’Antoni can do to amend this issue other than to encourage them to only shoot 3’s when they’re open and to work on moving the ball and diving more.

Jumping off from there, we’re seeing way too much shooting from the likes of Douglas, Chandler, and Felton. They’ve turned in some solid games, but in crunch time, I want the offense going through Gallo or Amar’e (more on this below.)

Finally, the last bit of bad news is that Landry Fields and Timofey Mozgov are starters. Don’t get me wrong, I like both players and think both have a future in the NBA. However, despite his high basketball IQ, Fields is not enough of an impact player to be manning the 2-guard spot. Many will point to his PER, which is fantastic, but that’s with defenses essentially paying 0 attention to him. If he tried to increase his volume or create his own shot, I’d imagine his PER would fall considerably. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad player, it just means he is probably best suited as a rotation/energy guy coming off the bench. Mozgov is a different story. Mozgov will eventually be a solid starting center but he is just so raw. The Knicks might want to cut back on his minutes and let him develop at his own pace. If he ends up earning a more prominent role, so be it, but right now it might be prudent to scale back. The ultimate point here is the Knicks are starting two rookies. You’re not going to find too many playoffs teams making that claim.

The Good News, or, How To Fix This Mess

It’s easy to forget Mike D’Antoni is a good coach since he has had to deal with a skeleton crew the past few seasons, but seriously, Mike D’Antoni is a good coach. He’ll coach these guys up and figure out a rotation that works. His Suns teams were noted for getting their act together and going on winning streaks and I hope believe he can work his magic here. That being said, it may be time to temper expectations a bit. Now that we’ve had a chance to check out the Knicks roster in action, it’s safe to say that the talent is there to make the playoffs as a 7 or 8 seed, but this team is destined to finish around .500. Again, D’Antoni’s a good coach, you guys. Just give him some time.

Speaking of being patient, it seems to me that Amar’e is trying to do too much. Note the offensive and loose ball fouls and the frequent butter fingers catching passes and dribbling the ball off his foot. Amar’e is simply forcing the issue too much and not letting the game come to him. Amar’e is at his best when he just dominates within the flow of the game. Remember, Amar’e is only 10 games into his Knicks career. He’s still settling in himself and I expect he will elevate his level of play once he relaxes and doesn’t try so hard.

Moving on to more proactive ideas for improving the team, the Roger Mason experiment should end after one game. He has literally done nothing since coming to the Knicks. I’m not one to make such rash judgments from such a small sample size, but he has been horrendous. I honestly have no idea what Bill Walker did to deserve his demotion and I know he doesn’t offer the same kind of all around game that Fields offers, but Walker strikes me as a D’Antoni guy. He can hit the 3 and he can get to the rim. With Bill Walker on the floor the middle should open up more for Amar’e Stoudemire, which would lead to good results. Reaching even further down the bench, Shawne Williams was allegedly kept on this roster because he can shoot. Well, now might be the time to see what the guy can do. Ditto for Andy Rautin, whom we know can light it up from downtown. I’m not saying Williams or Rautins are the answer, but it’s something to consider.

Expanding on the above paragraph, D’Antoni needs to embrace the chaos. Seriously, forget about playing Mozgov or even Turiaf in a more conventional lineup. Let’s see a lineup of Anthony Randolph, Amar’e, Gallo, Walker, and Felton with Chandler and Douglas as your first two options off the bench. Then you just run, run, run run… D’Antoni made the Western Conference Finals in 2005-2006 with a starting lineup of Boris Diaw, Shawn Marion, Tim Thomas, Raja Bell/Leandro Barbosa, and Steve Nash with James Jones and Eddie House as the key bench guys. Go back and read that rotation again, I’ll wait. While the Knicks do not have the luxury of having Steve Nash running the show or shooting 3’s from the PG position, the Knicks do have Amar’e and a deadly 3 point shooter in Gallo. Felton, Douglas, and Chandler are adept at getting to the rim and Randolph is a talented young player. They just need to run the offense the way it is supposed to be run and not fall in love with the 3 point line. So pretty please, Coach Mike. Embrace the chaos. Just be yourself and get athletes on the floor who will exploit mismatches and run, run, run.

Finally, D’Antoni should run the half court offense through Gallinari. It might have been the Wizards game (not sure though) where Gallo and Amar’e ran a pretty nice two-man game to start the game but never, ever went back to it. Gallo seems infinitely more comfortable putting the ball on the floor this year and he has been attacking the hoop aggressively. Additionally, he has drained a few 3’s off of dribble handoffs from Amar’e/Mozgov where the two big men effectively screen off Gallo’s man. Since Felton has had some trouble orchestrating the pick and roll, why not see if Gallo can play point-forward? After all, D’Antoni was prepared to do this very thing had LeBron decided to take his talents to NYC. Let’s give Gallo a shot to be the play-maker. At the very least opponents would have to respect Gallo’s shot more than they respect Felton’s and Gallo has shown an ability to beat take his man off the dribble and get to the rim. The bottom line for me is that you want the ball in the hands of your best players and, in my opinion, the Knicks two best players are Gallo and Amar’e.

Closing Thoughts

Remember that we’re only 10 games in to an 82 game season. Also bear in mind that this team could easily be 5-5 had they beaten the Sixers and T-Wolves (I doubt many will argue that they shouldn’t have won those games) and who knows what happens against the Warriors and Rockets if they managed to win those two games. Yes, a team is what their record says they are to a certain extent, but it is important to remember how much turnover this team has undergone. Remain patient and optimistic even if it seems impossible or ridiculous. The season is too long to abandon hope after a mere 10 games.

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3 Responses to Deep Soothing Breaths, People

  1. Pingback: What Should We Do? at Knicks Vision

  2. AndrewInAtlanta says:

    Greetings Keith. Thank you for the thorough article. I absolutely agree with all of this, except the last point, and I’d like to add a few comments.

    Us Crazybocker fans DO need to remain patient. I laugh at much of the Knicks woes myself but I’m not losing sleep because we’re pretty much getting what I expected. As you noted, we are starting two rookies and there are a lot of new faces. Really not so surprising when you think about it. I know people are frustrated with 6 years of losing but clearing cap space does not mean instant success. I think fans really need to face the fact that this will take a few more years and “try” to enjoy the ride. As you noted, I am excited that we are so competitive, and I haven’t been excited about the Knicks in a long time.

    I also agree that MD is a good basketball coach but I do worry about his ability to “coach young guys up.” It’s more than NBA coaches have had to do in the past (the college coach’s job). Better said, coaching one young guy up because he came out early is one thing, but we have several young guys. I’m just sensing maybe MD has to do more of this “coaching up” thing than he was prepared for.

    On Amar’e forcing things too much, I couldn’t agree more. As I said the other day, Amar’e is a great player but I believe we are seeing what Amar’e is like without Steve Nash. He needs a setup man and we don’t have one.

    Having said that, I love the idea of making the offense go through Amar’e and Gallo. If Felton or Douglas comes across the half court line and immediately jacks up a moderately contested 3 one more time…well, fill in the blank. I am also really beginning to see Wilson Chandler’s limitations. I felt it last year as well. He takes too many bad shots and his defense is horrible. Nice role player but not a star in the making at all in my view.

    Now, where I don’t agree. We’re not a .500 basketball team with the current roster. I think MD should do exactly what you said – play a lot of guys and embrace the chaos. If we sniff the playoffs then great but that should not be the focus. Getting the young guys lots of minutes, understanding the system and ready to add a piece or two in the offseason (as opposed to wholesale changes) should be the focus. Get rid of the “playoffs or bust” mentality. It’s only going to frustrate people. Will it really make people feel better to get the 8th seed and get crushed in the 1st round? I think we win 36 or 37 games tops. Again, that’s ok if we really get better and figure out the core going into next year.

    Again Keith, really nice piece

  3. RE: MDA “coaching players up,” if you read :07 or Less (SSOL) you see how MDA and his staff coach up Diaw, Barbosa, and even Raja Bell.

    RE: Running the offense through Gallo. I think it just makes the most sense. Him and Amar’e are far and away the Knicks’ best players and should be taking the majority of the shots. I understand this is not truly running the MDA system, but they just don’t have the shooters to run it. However, in SSOL MDA constantly talks about “diving” and I think guys like Chandler and Randolph would excel at this. Fields already has shown a great ability to do this. Anyway, I want to see Gallo and Amar’e taking the big shots at the end of games, especially since Felton can’t run a PnR.

    RE: “Playoffs or Bust” I look at it this way – what 8 teams are better than the Knicks? Miami, Boston, Orlando, Atlanta, Chicago, and Milwaukee are all definitely better than the Knicks – that’s 6 teams. Personally, I think the Knicks are easily better than Philly (the loss notwithstanding,) Washington, New Jersey, Toronto, Detroit, and Charlotte. That leaves the Knicks, Indiana, and Cleveland competing for 2 playoff spots. Both of those teams have played decent “team” ball, however I think the Knicks have a higher ceiling because I think we have better impact players. Neither of those teams have guys like Amar’e or Gallo, imo. Although, both teams are better than us at the PG spot.

    RE: This is what Amar’e is w/o Nash… well you’ll just have to wait until my post on that.

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