The expectations for the Knicks heading into the 2014-15 season were not high.
Considering the Knickerbockers were coming off a bitterly disappointing 2013-14 campaign in which they missed the playoffs despite playing in a sub-par Eastern Conference, the bar was set rather low.
Still, with Phil Jackson now calling the shots, and a new head coach in place, there was hope in some corners of NYC that this group might actually turn it around. Some believed the mythical triangle offense might release untapped potential.
However, the Knicks have somehow managed to disappoint even those New Yorkers who had low-to-modest expectations back on Opening Night.
New York has lost 10 of their first 13 games, currently sporting an abysmal .231 winning percentage. The only team with more losses is the historically bad, winless Philadelphia 76ers.
Worse yet, the Knicks have compiled this atrocious record despite playing against what has been the league’s easiest schedule. New York has played only three teams who currently have a winning record. The combined winning percentage of the Knicks’ 13 opponents this season is just .433 – the lowest mark in the NBA.
The Knicks’ offense has been fine thus far. They rank in the middle of the pack in team total true shooting percentage (53.9 percent), and they rank 16th in offensive efficiency. Carmelo Anthony started off the season slowly, but has been a beast of late. Over New York’s last five games, Anthony is averaging 29.4 points and 6.2 rebounds, while shooting 63.1 percent from the floor and 64.7 percent from three-point territory.
Nonetheless, there are improvements to be made offensively. For instance, the Knicks lead the league three-point accuracy (knocking down 40.9 percent of all three-pointers taken), yet New York is only 21st in attempts from behind the arc. Three-point shooting is one of the team’s great strengths, which they haven’t fully taken advantage of to this point.
Furthermore, it is widely held belief throughout the league that the worst (i.e. least efficient) shot in basketball are long twos (FG attempts further than 16 feet from the basket but inside the three-point stripe). Incredibly, 30.1 percent of the Knicks total FG attempts are two-point shots beyond 16 feet from the hoop. Per Basketball-Reference.com, No other team in the NBA attempts more than 24 percent of their shots from this distance, yet the Knicks are above 30 percent. In comparison, the Houston Rockets attempts fewer than seven percent of their shots from this distance.
However, if we are looking for the main culprit to blame for the Knicks horrendous start to the season – we need look no further than the defensive end of the floor. Put simply: the Knicks can’t consistently get stops.
New York currently ranks 28th in the NBA in the defensive efficiency, allowing a whopping 110 points per 100 possessions. Again, it’s not as if New York has faced offensive juggernauts. They have given up over 100 points to the Jazz, Bucks and Timberwolves in recent weeks.
A lot of this has to do with the fact that the Knicks’ personal is poor. Players such as Amar’e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Shane Larkin, Jason Smith, ect. all have well-earned reputations as weak defenders.
Still, when a team is THIS bad THIS often, it’s about more than just lack of talent, execution and/or game-planning. It’s about heart and effort, as well.
J.R. Smith surprisingly admitted as much earlier this week. After another embarrassing loss to Milwaukee in which the Bucks scored 66 points in the first half, thanks in large part to a 30-9 run in the second quarter, Smith was brutally honest after the game.
“Coach challenged us at halftime to go out there and play hard and see what happens,” Smith said. “For some reason, it’s something we have to be reminded of, to play hard, which is really embarrassing at some point because you’re a professional athlete. People pay a lot of money to come watch us play. Competing shouldn’t be an issue. So they came out and in that second quarter, they just kicked it into another gear. For some reason, we just wait until we’re down and just start playing, and we can’t do that.”
However, the next night, New York played the undermanned Timberwolves, who were missing three-fifths of their starting lineup – as Ricky Rubio, Thaddeus Young and Nikola Pekovic were all sidelined due to injury. Yet Minnesota demolished the Knicks 115-99.
The Knicks had some built in excuses coming into this season: new head coach, new personal, learning a new system, etc. But at some point, the team as a whole has to accept responsibility. The lack of effort they exhibited in back-to-back nights is inexcusable.
Fortunately, the Knicks actually have their draft pick next summer (as NBA rules prohibit teams from trading away picks in consecutive years). Soon, New Yorkers will start to focus more on the 2015 draft than the possibility of the playoffs. And when the conversation starts to shift, and the vibe of the team becomes disjointed, it can be difficult to get the train back on track.
However, we do know Jackson will be watching closely all season. He needs to find out which players are worth keeping around. A big part of that equation is which players give maximum effort on a nightly basis. As Jackson begins to reshape and overhaul the roster next summer, he’ll have decided which pieces are worth building around, and which should be discarded.
And while the Knicks will have plenty of cap space in July, will top-tier free agents be willing to join an organization that has been amongst the league’s most disappointing teams for two seasons in a row?
The season is slipping away, but we still haven’t even hit Thanksgiving. There is plenty of time to turn the ship around, but changes need to be made quickly.
NBA Daily: James Harden on the new All-Star Format and Chris Paul Being Snubbed
James Harden shared his thoughts on the new All-Star game format and teammate Chris Paul not being selected as an All-Star
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made a bold decision to alter the All-Star game format. By allowing the two highest voted players in each conference to be team captains, Silver did away with tradition and the usual West versus East format. While there were a few complaints about the switch, fans were seemingly more vocal about the decision to not televise the selection of players by the team captains.
Well, the results are in and praise for new format has been nearly universal. With players more invested in the new format, and perhaps the $100k per player bonus for the winners, the effort level was up, plays were being drawn up and executed and defense made a surprise appearance in an exciting game that came down to the final possession.
2018 NBA All-Star and Houston Rockets guard James Harden spoke about the All-Star game and the new format.
“I think it is exciting. You get an opportunity, you know, for a mixture of guys to play on the same team together. We’re trying to win though, it’s competitive,” Harden stated. “Obviously, the All-Star game has a lot of highlights but we’re trying to win, we’re going to go out there and prove we’re trying to win.”
Harden, who played for Team Stephen, did not get the win. However, Harden also made it clear that playing in the this year’s All-Star game meant even more having grown up in Los Angeles.
“To be able to play in the big boy game means a lot. I grew up, especially being from LA, you grew up watching Kobe, watching Shaq every single year. You see how fun, you see how exciting it was,” Harden said. “Now to be here, to be in the city is more special.”
While Harden made it a point to talk about what it means to play in Los Angeles, another factor he seemed excited and appreciative about was being the first player picked for Team Stephen.
“Man, that’s a great feeling. Just because in middle school I was the last pick. So, to be the number one pick in the All-Star game, that’s what the swag champ is for,” Harden said.
Harden wasn’t universally positive about All-Star Weekend. Specifically, he was not happy about being the only Rockets All-Star – especially considering Houston’s standing in the Western Conference playoff race.
“I have a lot to say about that. What are we talking about? Everyone knows Chris Paul is with the Rockets and the Rockets have the number one [record]. How does that not happen?” Harden asked rhetorically. “It’s frustrating. I know he’s frustrated. He never brings it up. That’s why I did say what I said. He’s never going to bring it up. But, I’ll defend for him. He should be here with me in LA as an All-Star.”
Harden had some success as he led his team in minutes and logged 12 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He spoke after the game and confirmed the reconfiguration of the All-Star game produced a competitive game and a fun product for the fans.
“Felt great. I hope all the fans enjoyed [the All-Star game] as well. It was very competitive. Guys got after it from the beginning of the game. Usually All-Star [games] there are a lot of dunks, a lot of freedom. Tonight was intense,” Harden said.
Harden was not wrong with his conclusion that there was less freedom. With less freedom and better defense played, Harden went 5-19 from the field and 2-13 from three-point range while finishing the game without a single free throw attempted. The lack of free throws may have irked Harden, who is renowned for his ability to get to the line (9.9 free throw attempts per game this season). Adding to that frustration, Harden had the opportunity to put his team ahead with a three-pointer late in the game but failed to connect on the shot. Unsurprisingly, Harden expressed his disappointment with the result.
“I was pissed we lost. I’m still mad,” Harden stated.
On the final play of the game, while ignoring Harden, Curry kept the ball with the chance to tie the game. Curry dribbled into a LeBron James/Kevin Durant double team. Curry wasn’t able to get a shot off and Harden was left with his hands up waiting for a pass and a chance to win the game that never came.
Looking toward next year, Harden was asked if as a possible captain he would prefer to have the player selection two weeks before or right before the game. He thought about it and then smiled.
“Probably right before the game,” Harden answered.
Commissioner Silver has spoken on the subject and is sending strong signals that next year’s selection will be televised. That will potentially add another layer of excitement to the new All-Star game format, which is already paying off for the NBA.
Mitchell Taking Things Day-By-Day, But Loving ‘Whirlwind’ Experience
It’s been a special year for the Utah Jazz rookie sensation.
Four-and-a-half months into the first season of his NBA career, Donovan Mitchell has accomplished some incredible things.
He won back-to-back Rookie of the Month honors between this past December and January. He leads his class with 19.6 points per game and nearly 17 field goal attempts per contest. Due much in part to his contributions, the Utah Jazz are the hottest team in the league, riding an 11-game winning streak after falling far below the .500 mark.
To top all that off, he won the slam-dunk competition just a few days ago in an event for the whole world to see. All of this has been nothing short of amazing for the 21-year-old, and even he didn’t see this coming.
“This whole thing’s just been a whirlwind for me,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend of his first-year experience. “Just enjoying the process. There are games where I’m just like, ‘Wow this happened’ or ‘Wow that happened’ and it’s a credit to my teammates and the coaching staff and the organization for believing in me.
“Without them, none of this would be possible, so I really thank them for giving me this opportunity.”
Believe it or not, Mitchell wasn’t always so sure about where his life would go. He played for a couple of seasons at Louisville and ended up declaring for the 2017 NBA draft, a night where the Jazz stole him away from every other team by executing a deal with the Denver Nuggets to land the 13th overall pick in Salt Lake City.
“I tell people all the time this wasn’t my plan,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend. “After two years of college, being here for All-Star and even being in the NBA wasn’t entirely my plan, so I’m just taking it one step at a time, one day at a time, praising God for this opportunity he’s given me.”
So far, Mitchell is picking things up on the go. As he keeps improving and solidifying his game on the court, he’s also bettering himself mentally.
“If I just continue to be humble and continue to learn, that’s the biggest thing is learning and understanding the game,” Mitchell said. “I make the joke that it’s easy to study film and watch all the games when you don’t have five classes to study for throughout the day. So it’s been fun and I’m just taking it day by day.”
It’s pretty awesome that he’s doing what he’s doing with friends by his side. Most of us think of this class of rookies as a special group because of their talents as players, but it’s a tight-knit inner circle of friends who are enjoying every second of life in the NBA together.
Kyle Kuzma, John Collins, De’Aaron Fox, and Dennis Smith Jr. are friends Mitchell mentioned that he’s been close with for a while, and to see all of their hard work culminate so quickly at the Rising Stars game in Los Angeles is something special.
“I’ve known a lot of these guys, pretty much everybody on this team since high school for the most part,” Mitchell said. “Kinda hanging the same way we did in high school just a lot more cameras, a lot more downtime, bigger city.
“It’s fun. Just gotta treat it like it’s fun, go out there and just be kids. Live a dream of ours since we were younger.”
After the weekend he had, Mitchell accomplished that goal.
Whether the next step in his career has a Rookie of the Year award written into it or not, we’re seeing spectacular things from the one they call “Spida.”
And it’s about time people are taking notice.
NBA Daily: Tobias Harris Thrives at Every Stop
Tobias Harris was traded yet again, but thankfully for the Clippers, he’s gotten better every stop he’s made.
When Tobias Harris was a 19-year-old rookie for the Milwaukee Bucks, he faced a lot of the same issues that other 19-year-old rookies before him had faced, most notably the ones dealing with a lack of playing time.
He only saw the floor in 42 games, playing on 11 minutes per contest when he did get out there.
Despite that, it was somewhat of a surprise that the Bucks gave up on his talent so early in his career, trading him to the Orlando Magic just 28 games into his sophomore season as part of a trade for J.J. Redick.
The Magic immediately tripled his minutes, and he’s never been a 30 minutes-per-game guy ever since. He also has never said a negative thing about any team he’s ever played for. As far as he’s concerned, every opportunity is a blessing and a learning experience.
“I didn’t look at Milwaukee as a team giving up on me. I looked at it as Orlando valuing me and seeing me as a piece of the puzzle,” Harris told Basketball Insiders during All-Star Weekend, where he participated in the three-point contest.
“The NBA is about opportunity, so when you get the opportunity you have to make the most of it. Going from a rookie not playing to where I’m at now, it takes a lot of hard work, focus and determination,” he said. “You have to have the confidence in your own self, to understand you can break through in this league.”
And break through he did, in large part because those first 18 months as a professional were so challenging.
“Adversity helped me to work hard,” he said. “I always envisioned myself as a primetime player in this league. I have a ways to go to get there, but that’s the best part about me. My best basketball is ahead of me, and adversity has helped me get there. It’s motivated me, and I want to be the best player I can be. I’m trying every single day to fight for that.”
This season, most of which came as a member of the Detroit Pistons, was a career-best for Harris.
Between the Pistons and L.A. Clippers, Harris has averaged a career-high 18 points per game, and while he wasn’t voted to the All-Star Team this year, his name popped up in the conversation. He’s never been closer.
It was bittersweet for him, though, leaving a Detroit team he liked so much.
“My favorite part was being around those guys [in Detroit],” he said. “It was a great group of guys and a great coaching staff. Coach Van Gundy is a great coach. At the same time, when I first got there, we had a chance to make the playoffs and we got in the playoffs. That was nice for me, to put that pressure on myself and get it done.”
Now, he’s ready to accept his next challenge in Los Angeles with the Clippers.
“I look at every new opportunity as a new chance,” he said. “My first trade from Milwaukee to Orlando was a situation where I just wanted to prove myself to the league. When I was traded from Orlando to Detroit, it was a situation where I wanted to help the team get to the playoffs, and that’s similar to this one here, too… I really like the group of guys that are on this team. I like our demeanor and our approach, so after the break I look forward to building that chemistry and moving forward.”
Of course, moving forward is all he’s ever done.
After everything he’s proven to date, it seems like a given that he’ll continue to make strides with his new team.