>The Knickerbocker Conundrum

Posted: March 31, 2011 by Keith Stone in Amar'e, Coach D, Knicks, Melo

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A lot has been made about the Knicks’ recent struggles. Before defeating Orlando, they lost nine out of 10 and six in a row including losses to juggernauts like Detroit, Milwaukee, and Charlotte. Melo has been here for 21 games now, more than a quarter of the season, so it’s fair to judge him and the team since the trade. But honestly, I can’t. I’m just confused.

When I used to run cross country in high school, I loved it when the people in front of me were too far ahead to catch but I couldn’t see anybody behind me. That way I didn’t have to run too fast but I wasn’t in danger of being passed.

The Knicks have been in a similar position for almost the entirety of the season. They couldn’t catch Atlanta but they weren’t going to miss the playoffs because the East is so weak. After the trade, it was expected that there might be growing pains but the results have been especially surprising.

There have been flashes but overall the quality of play has been perplexing. Against good teams, the Knicks look motivated and cohesive, but against also-rans, their play has been subpar. Unfortunately, the problems are defense and rebounding, which presumably are a matter of effort. Why is this happening?

Before Melo, the pecking order on the team was obvious. Amar’e was the star and everyone else followed suit. He was the engine that powered the team. The offense flowed through him but the entire team was involved.

Carmelo is one of the greatest creators in the NBA. Watching him, it’s absolutely astounding to see him play. He takes the ball to the hole like nobody else and the way he spins and dribbles the ball makes me question my sexuality.

But when Carmelo gets the ball, everything stops. He might be able to score 60% of the time, but is that better than if the ball gets spread around? On top of that, when guys don’t touch the ball, they become less involved in the game and their energy sags. It shoudn’t happen, but it does. You don’t want that to happen to Amar’e Stoudemire and you especially don’t want him to be unhappy because he’s not getting the ball. He’s earned it.

The Knicks’ offense was built around being up-tempo and finding the open man, not one-on-one play. In his third year in New York, and struggling after little success the past two years, Mike D’Antoni is on the hot seat. A lot of people are questioning whether he can make this arrangement work. It’s going to be tough but after turning Phoenix into a contender and revolutionizing the way offense is played, who better than Coach D to make it happen? It’s like having Wolfgang Puck make you waffles. Maybe he hasn’t made waffles in years, but when he gets the hang of it, those are going to be some fucking good waffles.

D’Antoni is too smart not to figure out how to make this work and Stat and Melo are committed to winning and sacrificing for the greater good. In time, Carmelo will have to learn to defer to Amar’e and his teammates more. The offense should still run through Amar’e with Carmelo an outlet in case the big guy gets stuck. Amar’e isn’t touching the ball enough anymore. This isn’t stuff you can learn on the fly and it’s going to take a lot of work over the summer to improve it.

The Knicks’ rotation is perilously short. When you’re starting Shelden Williams at center, you know you’re in trouble. Losing Chauncey Big Shot with his thigh injury did not help in getting the team to gel. Amar’e is already rightfully or wrongfully averaging a career high in minutes with a surgically repaired knee. Landry Fields is used to playing 30 games a year. Anthony Carter and Roger Mason Jr. are getting significant minutes. They traded away half their team. It’s incomplete. Leonardo da Vinci didn’t hang the Mona Lisa in the Louvre after he sketched out her smile. What Donnie Walsh (or whoever’s in charge) is going to have to do this summer is fill out this roster and make it complete for next year. An athletic defensive big man would be a good start and a dead-eye sharpshooter wouldn’t be so bad either.

This team is worn out and the playoffs are around the corner. What incentive does it have to bust its ass? Yeah, I know the fans are paying money but sixth or seventh place is pretty much a foregone conclusion with Boston and Miami waiting in the wings.

Personally, I want no part of Miami. Despite their problems, Queen James is going to be a beast in the first round of the playoffs. Boston is getting old and the Knicks could run on them. Either way, the identity of their playoff opponent is going to come down to wire and it will be daunting. Better to take it easy now than win a few games and be totally worn out for the playoffs.

So what is the problem? Is there a problem? The Nuggets have been rolling since the trade while the Knicks are crawling across the finish line and for the first time this season, people are starting to push the panic button. Realistically, there’s not one cause. Amar’e has proven that he’s a warrior and when Carmelo is determined to play defense and rebound, he is all-world. The Knicks have some good pieces and are definitely better than they’ve been playing recently. It’s upsetting and confusing to see them play so poorly against bad teams, but luckily (or not) they’re going to be playing somebody really good in about two weeks. I’m not afraid.

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