Madison Square Garden, home of New York’s darling Knicks, was recently given a notice to vacate the premises. It has 10 years to find a new stomping ground in a highly congested, landlord-controlled New York market. At 29, during his peak years, as last year’s leading scorer, and early on in 2012-13 a leading candidate for MVP, Carmelo Anthony has no worry that he’ll receive a similar notice from the Knicks. But the notorious Knicks mis-management might be sending a different, though no less worrisome, message to the star.
Last year the Knicks had one of their best seasons in recent memory. They ended as the number two seed out of the East, though quite an arm’s length from the Heat, and posted the league’s seventh-best record. Based on standings alone, only Miami, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Denver, the Clippers, and Memphis were better. But, the New York Knicks team that made it to the regular season finish line wasn’t the same team that had sprinted forth at the sound of the starting gun. It wasn’t a morale issue―they mostly kept winning, after all―or a case of clashing heads. As the oldest team in league history, the Knicks were just losing limbs as fast as they were losing hair, prostate health, and time on the eternal clock because, well, they were damn old.
As an aged roster tends to do, they had trouble closing out the over-the-hill Celtics in the first round. And got clocked by the dark horse Pacers team harder than any Knick has ever hit a Reggie Miller.
Fast forward to this summer’s free agency and break down what the moves have actually been:
1) Re-signing a 36-year-old second-year point guard in Pablo Prigioni who averaged about as many points (3.5 PPG), assists (3.0 PPG), and rebounds (1.8 RPG) as Mike Woodson would have if playing 16 minutes.
3) Gave a three-year contract to a guy who will be out for the beginning of what is supposed to be a championship-chasing season knowing full well that he needed knee surgery before doing so (at least the Knicks claim they knew, which does sound suspicious since a surgery of the knee can rightly hobble a guy like J.R. Smith who relies on his explosiveness).
4) And a seven-footer who averaged 3.7 rebounds last year and who plays defense like its contagious is their new surefire power forward. At least with Andrea Bargnani you know that management is essentially shooting in the dark. (Maybe that’s why they were inclined to secure the Italian whose shooting averages suggest he does the same).
Therefore, it’s no accident that everyone is predicting that the Knicks will look like a rural mudslide this year. SJN has them falling all the way down to 11. Same with SB Nation and ProBasketball Talk. Even Jeff Caplan over at the NBA’s mother site sees major slippage for the New York hometown team.
The Knicks’ most urgent necessities were better ball movement, rebounding, running the fastbreak, and more points coming from inside the paint. None of its acquisitions really address these nagging issues.
A quick look into last season’s numbers show, as stated that:
1) The Knicks shot the ball from deep at a high rate (34.6%, just second to the Rockets) and relatively well (37.2%, or good for fifth) and they tried to play a perimeter game from within the three-point line come playoff time to shoo away from an always ill-fated resort to play long ball when defense gets tighter.
This is their regular season shot distribution (both this shot chart and the one below are courtesy of NBA.com):
And this their playoff shot distribution. (Note: The drop-off from long-range is also due to Boston’s and Indiana’s defensive grit, especially Indiana who was last season’s best team at guarding the three).
But none of this really makes sense for them. First, because moving away from their bread-and-butter in the postseason is never a sound strategy. Second, because a lot of that mid-range game migration is due to an increase in Carmelo touches, and you always want to keep ‘Melo from being a high-volume shooter as much as humanly possible. And third, the Knicks boasted some of the NBA’s worst rebounding. 26th-worst, to be exact.
Knowing all these points, Knicks brass has looked for inside scorers-slash-rebounders and ended up with Metta World Peace, Kenyon Martin, Andrea Bargnani, Iman Shumpert, and Pablo Prigioni. Just criminal.
2) Which brings us to rebounding. Looking at defensive rebounding―which the Knicks were worse in than in offensive rebounding, though they were bad in both, and which is another symptom of 3-point-friendly ball―almost all their best defensive rebounders are gone. Almost bafflingly, those players―Marcus Camby, Rasheed Wallace, Kurt Thomas, Jason Kidd―were also the oldest on the squad. Even more baffling is that no one has been brought on to replace an already deficient rebounding unit.
3) The Knicks need better ball movement as seen in their lukewarm fastbreak and assist numbers. A lot of that stems from having guys like Carmelo and J.R. who require a stopped-ball offense on the same team, but it is also an extension of coaching (both on and off court). Having point guards that collectively average less than nine assists also isn’t going to help matters.
a) It also isn’t going to help address their inability to run the floor. If New York was more adept at the fastbreak game, they could potentially catch defenses on their heels, making their 3-ball-heavy tactics a more reliable and varied-by-association calling card. To boot, if they didn’t trail every other team in fastbreak efficiency with 1.023, they might be able to solve some of their paint-scoring woes.
b) The Knicks are still on the market for another point guard but no one is really available that will take care of their biggest negative: assists. They’re the worst passing team in the NBA and it shows across all fronts. They averaged the least amount of assists per game (18.7), passed the least on converted field goals (51.8%), and had the poorest ball movement as a trackable stat with 0.202 assists per possession. This doesn’t all fall on the shoulders of their main facilitators, but it can certainly be blamed on them. To make matters worse, no new Knick is much of a passer either.
Carmelo Anthony has plenty of his own downfalls but it must not be comforting to see the Knicks honchos seemingly gloss over these problem areas. They’ve promised him the ability to build-a-franchise like Dwyane Wade did in Miami, come 2015, but that might not be so tantalizing in this circumstance given how the Knicks office has approached this off-season. If Melo has any sense, he might just want to walk next summer when he has the option to opt-out of a failing experiment.