The Knicks literally took a train up to Canada last night, and the RCMP met them at the border and got them up to Toronto. They played well. But they still lost their second loss in a row. New York has issues and if they don’t get them solved quickly, they’re in trouble.
On the defensive end, there are glaring problems with this basketball team and it’s more infuriating because it seems as if the Knicks – players, coaches, and management – aren’t invested enough to see the issues themselves. They can’t defend, whether it’s in half-court or in transition. New York has doubled down on serial fouling, ranking 5th in fouls per game and have given up 81 free throws in their last two contests. In contrast, the Knicks aren’t drawing any on the offensive end: they’re last in free throws made per game differential, and 19th in fouls drawn. They rank 27th in points per game differential, 3-point Field Goal Percentage allowed and steals per game. They’re 28th in net rating. When you’re only bright spots are offensive rebounds and blocks, you end up with a 3-6 record.
Problem #1: Play Defense
The Knicks starting lineup consists of Rose, Lee, Porzingis, Anthony, and Noah. That’s a former MVP coming off of three major knee injuries, an underperforming supposedly solid defender, a sensei and his young grasshopper who are both known for their offensive prowess and defensive deficiencies, and a former Defensive Player of the Year who is a shell of himself protecting the basket. That’s not anything to write home about. Yet, I still expected more than this:
Rose not getting into a proper stance. Porzingis showing too far out. Noah not even making an attempt to block or even alter Lowry’s shot. It’s a two-point game with two minutes left, and New York allows Lowry to waltz in for an easy left-handed layup with no interference. It’s lifeless. Effort plays a part as well. Below, Rose and Kuzminskas are running the break and are met by four Raptors defenders. Every Raptors player makes it past half-court – Lowry comes in late – and back into the play while Anthony, Holiday and Noah don’t hustle back. Even Rose stands on the perimeter while Kuzminskas battles for the ball. Kuzminskas has three opportunities and doesn’t convert – and yes, you can make the case he should’ve made the initial layup – but the Knicks aren’t showing any effort, any hustle and it shows on plays like these.
Problem #2: If You Do Happen to Foul, Foul Hard
I counted three instances where the Knicks committed a bonehead turnover and then compounded the mistake by failing to make a hard foul on a Toronto shooting attempt, resulting in an And-1. First was Kyle O’Quinn, second was Carmelo:
It’s lazy, uninspired and idiotic. It’s these fouls – mixed in with Courtney Lee picking up three fouls in less than a minute – that add up to easy points and allow the Raptors into the penalty with 7 minutes left in the third quarter. Lee actually played Derozan well until the foul trouble: Demar had 13 points on 14 shots prior to Lee’s quick fouls; he scored 20 points on 9 attempts after. New York was then forced to play more passive defense which got Derozan and Norman Powell going in the third.
Problem #3: Carmelo Disappearing Act
Anthony didn’t tally a single field goal in the final quarter after scoring 27 points in the first three. He entered the fourth with 7:03 left in the game, and missed all four of his attempts, including getting blocked by Lucas Nogueira with 1:09 left and the Knicks down, 109-105. This has been a recurring theme for him, in which some attribute passiveness as the problem and others fatigue. The Knicks tend to devolve into iso-Melo in late-game situations, even in games where the ball has been moving well. Granted, Anthony looks for isos in periods 1-3 as well, but in the fourth, he’s dead set on being the scoring closer instead of making the correct play, even if that means someone else gets the bucket. But here, he just didn’t look active – strange considering he only played 12 minutes against the Celtics because of his ejection. On the Nogueira block – which was a fantastic play – Melo had no opening. It was a force.
Anthony isn’t showing up in the fourth quarter and refuses to play quality defense. At age 32, he’s still a supreme scorer but New York needs more than points from him if they want to contend for anything ever.
Problem #4: Turnovers
Since the turn of the century, the Knicks have arguably been considered the most selfish and dysfunctional NBA team. They have a degenerate and greedy owner in James Dolan, have hired and fired multiple coaches and it’s become a resort for egotistical NBA players who care about the city’s lifestyle and individual statistics over the team’s success. There was a glimmer of hope during the 2012-13 season, but since then, it’s been downhill all over again. This team is different. They want to involve each other. It’s a starting roster full of veterans who understand the importance of unselfishness when vying for a championship, and a bench full of young guys maturing into their own. And right now, the latter is going through some growing pains.
These turnovers are all indicative of players simply moving too fast, but they’re also doing things uncharacteristic of their skill set. On the first GIF, Hermangomez is facing up Nogueira, who is a springy lanky power forward. Hermangomez doesn’t possess the ability to simply shoot over him or the power to post him up, so he opts for the playmaker role. For his size, he’s a tremendous passer – one capable of making the perfect pass in and out of the post. But just because you’re capable of delivering a pass doesn’t mean that it constitutes for you to make it in every possible situation. In this instance, his motives are so transparent. Hermangomez literally telegraphs the pass to Holiday, who is cutting and has Lowry beat on the baseline. He’s looking for the lob and instead gets a one-handed chest-level pass that’s intercepted by Nogueira, who doesn’t even have to move to snag the ball. It doesn’t make sense:
Then, there are situations when guys are looking to score and when it’s not there, they making decisions too quickly. Below, Porzingis is coming off a Noah screen and receiving a pass from Carmelo. Various options are at his disposal after the catch: 1.) catch and continue dribbling to the rim 2.) pivot and spin to take a jump shot at the free-throw line 3.) wait for Powell to commit completely and give it back to Melo or 4.) pull it back out and reset. Instead, he caught the ball, turned back inside, dribbled, swiped through the defender and threw it into the front row. I’m not sure what he saw, and maybe Melo should’ve been moving to the wing instead. But when you’re 7’3″, no defender should be able to speed up your process. As a scoring threat, defenders are looking to contain you by throwing multiple bodies in your direction so keep the ball high, survey the court and make the smart play – not the impulse one.
Holiday makes a similar mistake. This is one of the Knicks’ favorites plays and one they’ve run to high success thus far this season. Holiday is running off two consecutive screens by Kuzminskas and Noah to get an open look. He also has Derozan beat by a few steps. But it’s read immediately by the Huskies with Jonas Valanciunas stepping up and cutting off any lanes to the rim. Instead of Holiday pulling it out to the top of the key, he jumps inexplicably and makes a terrible attempt of a pass to Noah that, of course, doesn’t reach its target:
The last two GIFs happened in the third quarter when the Knicks put themselves in a hole with foul trouble. If you’re not only fouling and giving your opponent easy points at the free-throw line, but also committing dreadful turnovers on the offensive end, you’re simply not going to win. The Huskies deserve credit, as well. When the Knicks got into the penalty, DeRozan turned it up a notch instead of settling. Lowry was exceptional in the final minutes of the fourth, burning Rose on a few drives to the basket. And Nogueira – aka The Long Weeknd – was a monster in the paint, grabbing pivotal rebounds and making two consecutive game-saving blocks on Anthony and Rose. We know New York can score. Great. They have much more issues they need to work on, and if they don’t solve them quickly especially in this improved Eastern Conference, things can get out of hand quickly.