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NBA AM: Can The New York Knicks Be Fixed?

The New York Knicks are a mess… but are their problems big problems or lots of little ones?… Brooklyn big man Jerome Jordan is trying to make the most of his opportunity.

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Can The Knicks Be Fixed?:  No one in New York likes to blame the offensive system the team is running. It’s December and the team hasn’t been together for more than two months when you factor in training camp and preseason, but the system is part of the problem.

No one in New York likes to blame the number of new faces on the roster, it’s December and most of the teams in the league have new faces they have already adjusted to, but the new faces is part of the problem.

The Knicks don’t have one big problem; they have lots of little ones.

“I think when we are winning we are defending well and playing off of our defensive energy,” Knicks guard Iman Shumpert told Basketball Insiders. “I think when our defense collapses people get easy shots or second chance shots and it definitely affects us on the other end. So I think as long as we play good defense and make sure we rebound that first shot we should be fine.”

Shumpert is asked on a night to night basis to guard the opposing team’s top playmaker, so he sees first hand when the team breaks down defensively how much things come apart.

Knicks guard Shane Larkin is part of the second unit and is being asked to come in and bring energy. He sees a lot of the team’s problems first hand.

“I would have to say our effort level,” Larkin told Basketball Insiders. “Sometimes we go out there and play hard for the entire game and pull it out and sometimes we just have that one quarter and it can be the first, second, third, or fourth that we just don’t have the same amount of effort. We don’t have the same amount of effort and then we kind of get behind and then we pick it back up and we get back in the game and them we get really close but just aren’t able to get over the hump. We just have to find a way to keep a consistent effort every night and we will be fine.”

There is no doubt that the system the Knicks are running is creating some confusion, especially for guys that are used to playing a certain way. The Triangle Offense is built around a read and react set of philosophies. Rather than just play off of instinct, which many of the Knicks players are used to doing or having hard set rules, the Triangle creates a freer flowing concept that some guys are still struggling with, especially when things start to break down.

“Yeah it is tough and it’s a totally different way to play with each other on the team,” Larkin said. “It’s just those certain situations we are just not figuring it out yet. Going throughout the game the first through the third quarter I think the offense is getting there but it’s not where it needs to be yet. We are making a lot of strides and a lot of improvements in a lot of areas.

“I think when it gets down to crunch time we start thinking too much like ‘Alright this is a play we need to run because we need a basket’ because our offense is built on just coming down the court and being able to make reads. I think situationally we have some ways to improve and we are improving every day we just have to keep working.”

Larkin isn’t the only one that sees his team trying to force the situation to get a win.

“I don’t know if [the offense] definitely plays a factor into it,” Shumpert said. ”A lot of it is just we’ve lost so many games. Once you’ve lost so many games like that you start putting it in your mind not to lose instead of just playing to win. So everybody just needs to take a deep breathe.”

There is no doubt the team is feeling the pressure of each mounting loss and the stress that comes with it, especially in a market like New York where every game is over covered and over analyzed.

The Knicks see their issues as a team.

“We watch film all the time and see when we are just kind of flat out there,” Larkin said. “Then we see when we have great quarters and when we are playing great especially on the defensive end. We play at our best when we run and get out in transition and we see what we are capable of it’s just a matter of getting there at a consistent level for every game and at the moment we are struggling a little bit.”

Losing in the NBA isn’t easy, especially when as a team you can see why you are losing in the game film. For the most part the Knicks players understand it’s a process and they are trying to embrace it.

“Just keep on believing on what you’re doing,” Shumpert said. “Come to work early, leave work late, keep on studying the film and everyone just needs to enjoy the process. It’s a process and it may take a while but we have to keep enjoying it because we still have a lot of basketball left to play.

“We have the guys that we need to win the games and the coaching staff and we got the system we just have to keep working and keep believing in it and once we start taking care of the little things those balls will start bouncing our way and those shots will start going in at the end and will get back on track.”

The biggest challenge for any team making huge systemic changes in how they play is getting guys to stay on program when things get tough. That’s the Knicks’ biggest issue so far this season. Unfortunately for this squad it may also be tied to the underlying notion that many of the players on the team may not be there next year, so when the going gets tough, they may be looking out for their own stat line, which never works out well.

The Knicks are currently 4-16 on the season and have lost six straight games and eight of their last ten games. The good news is the team is roughly five and half games out of the playoff picture in the East and that can turn really quickly.

The message from inside the locker room was that the team is almost there as a unit and the time will turn the corner.

The Knicks don’t have one big glaring problem, they have a lot of little ones and if they can clean up a few of them, they might be able to pull out some of those fourth quarter close games that have plagued their win loss record.

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Making The Most of The Opportunity:  Brooklyn big man Jerome Jordan has bounced around the NBA for a number of years looking for his opportunity. So far on the season Jordan has been one of the more consistent performers for Lionel Hollins and the Nets and he may have found his chance to prove he belongs at this level.

“It’s my second time around so I’m just feeling more comfortable so I’m just trying to go out there and leave everything out on the court,” Jordan told Basketball Insiders. “It’s all about maturing a little bit and knowing that you can’t pass up things because of who’s on the team. It’s a great system, a great team, and great group of coaches so I’m just trying to do all the little stuff that I can and stay active.”

Jordan has played all over the world spending time in Serbia, Solvenia, Italy and the Philippines as well as logging time with the Knicks and three different D-League teams.

Landing with the Nets was a little unexpected, but Jordan has some history with coach Hollins which gave him the chance he needed.

“He appreciates all the stuff I’ve been doing like running the plays and the defensive stuff, rebounding, blocking shots, and all the other stuff that I’ve been doing throughout my career,” Jordan said. “[Adjusting] really hasn’t been difficult for me because the system is pretty much the same. Coach is running the same stuff he ran in Memphis so it really isn’t that big of difference.”

Jordan said practicing and playing with skilled big guys like Mason Plumlee and Brook Lopez have helped his game a lot as well.

“When you have guys like Mason who’s athletic and Brook who is really skilled it gives me the chance to go up against something different every day,” Jordan said. “It’s still a learning process for me so I’m just trying to pick up little stuff here and there from guys like Brook, KG, and even some of the guards. It’s really helped me get better with some of the stuff I can already do on the defensive and offensive end.”

The Nets are 8-9 on the season and current the eight seed in the East, having won two straight.

“We are just trying to adjust a little bit and coach is still trying to figure out some stuff but we will get there,” said Jordan.

Of the Nets’ reaming 65 games, 30 of them are against teams current with a record above .500, which is the most plus .500 games of any team in the East. Fortunately for the Nets, they have the third most home games remaining on the schedule with 33 matchups in Brooklyn.

If the NBA Playoffs started today, the Nets would matchup against the first place Toronto Raptors.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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