Are six games too early to declare a state of emergency for the New York Knicks? Through approximately seven percent of the season, the Knicks are 2-4 and in danger of falling even further in the standings.
On Sunday, they suffered arguably one of their worst losses in the past decade, a 120-89 debacle at home against the San Antonio Spurs. Granted, the Spurs are one of the best teams in the NBA, but the Knicks would have lost to the Bobcats (which, in fact, happened last Tuesday) the way they played. The Spurs opened on a 10-0 run and never looked back, effectively silencing the Madison Square Garden crowd for the entire game. This laugher basically highlighted everything that is plaguing the Knicks right now.
The first area that the Knicks need to address is defense. For some reason, the Knicks continue to switch on defense instead of fighting through picks, allowing opponents to take advantage of offensive mismatches. The Spurs exploited this weakness on multiple occasions. Danny Green, a sharpshooting three point machine, was mystifyingly left open to nail three after three. Tim Duncan, who has not gotten to the charity stripe much this year, hit nine of eleven free throws. He was able to get to the line so often because of the Knicks’ excessive switching, often leaving a shooting guard to defend the 6’ 11’’ Duncan.
The loss of Tyson Chandler for four to six weeks is crippling. His presence masked the Knicks’ defensive deficiencies, which are being exposed now. They do not have a true center to guard the paint and prevent easy layups. On Sunday, Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard got to the basket often without any fear of getting their shot blocked. Andrea Bargnani is good enough offensively, but he just does not have the defensive skill set and intensity that Chandler brings day in and day out. Cole Aldrich, the backup center, simply is not talented enough to cut it. The Knicks need to concentrate on gritty, team defense instead of relying on one player like they have done with Chandler.
The Knicks also need to work on offensive issues. Gregg Popovich’s Spurs are paragons of selflessness. They are masters at spreading the floor and finding the open man. There are no egos involved: their perfect ball movement allows everyone to get an equal chance. This was demonstrated on Sunday, proving be a stark contrast to the isolation plays the Knicks ran for Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith. Every time down the court, Anthony, Smith and Raymond Felton attempted to dribble through multiple players and force the ball in the basket, a method that proved to be very ineffective. In fact, the Knicks’ little offensive success occurred when they moved the ball around and looked for the open man, often finding Bargnani open for a mid-range shot.
Basically, the Knicks need to change both their offensive and defensive philosophies before they can expect an improvement in performance. This is a lot tougher than it sounds, and it does not sound very easy. I would not bet on it, but crazier things have happened.