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.
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