The Knicks started the season out looking excellent. Then, they had a little period when they looked merely good. Then, they had another run of excellence, followed by another stretch where they just look kind of OK/good.
A kind of OK/good team loses to a team like Sacramento, which has some pretty good players but doesn’t win all that often, when that team heats up from 3. A kind of OK team loses to a team like the Blazers, even at home, because the Blazers are kind of OK/good too. A kind of OK/Good team looks like an excellent team playing a team in turmoil, like the Nets were when we last manhandled them. Next up, the Knicks have to play the Spurs, who are usually excellent even though I’m sure they have their kind of OK/good stretches too. Maybe they’re in one now, maybe they’re not. In any case, how can the Knicks get back on an excellent streak, and how can Woody adjust the rotation to account for players out with injury (Felton,Wallace) and players coming back from injury (Stat, Shump, Camby)?
We need more good options on offense to replace the ones that teams have learned to at least partially take away. We need more good options on defense too, so we can stop teams from exploiting the things they’ve figured out how to exploit.
One: Teams have figured out how to stop Novak from getting good looks, and they’ve done it without giving up easy baskets to other Knicks’ basketballers. One thing that opens up with opponents guarding the Chandler pick and roll dunk and the Novak/Kidd/Smith Threerain™ is the midrange. Felton was trying to take advantage of that and at least occasionally hitting those shots. Now, he’s injured and the Knicks have lost some of that pick and roll mojo.
On defense, Novak is just not very effective. You can see him trying out there but he’s not athletic enough to gamble effectively, yet that seems to be all he knows how to do.
On the boards, Novak seems capable of grabbing a rebound that happens to come his way, but that’s about it.
I love Novak, but in the back of my mind I wondered if he was really worth the contract. He’s a very limited player, and if a guy like J.R. Smith or Chris Copeland can approach Steve’s 3pt shooting percentage, they bring a lot more other stuff.
Two: I love Kurt Thomas, and I think he can still play. But the guy doesn’t bring anything special to the table at this point. Camby brings better rebounding, Sheed the occasional 3 point range, and Amar’e brings a quickness and athleticism. In the beginning of the year, even before we signed Sheed, I figured Thomas was an out of the rotation guy unless there were injuries. Meanwhile, Amar’e has returned from injury, Camby seems to be working into the rotation, and Sheed is close to being back as well.
Three: Ronnie Brewer hasn’t been hitting shots, but his perimeter defense, which is his calling card, hasn’t looked particularly noteworthy either. I’m a big believer in putting out an excellent defensive unit to start the game, but Ronnie doesn’t seem to be providing that, and his presence seems to be limiting the Knicks’ offensive prowess, particularly without Felton, their number one penetrator. Meanwhile J.R. Smith has been playing excellent in many ways, scoring, rebounding, and providing defensive hustle plays as well.
Conclusion One: De-emphasize Novak. Amar’e’s back, Copeland has proved he can put the ball in the basket in a variety of ways, and J.R. Smith and even Brewer are superior defenders and rebounders. I’m not saying Novak should disappear from the rotation, but I think they need to sneak him in here and there so that teams forget about him a little bit and he can come in and get better looks.
Conclusion Two: Sit Kurt. Starting Camby beside Chandler creates an interior defense/rebounding machine that would make opponents think twice, or maybe possibly three times, before driving into the paint. Thanks to the 24 second clock, it’s nearly impossible to think 3 times and still get a decent shot off. Camby could gum up the works a little on the offensive end, but I think the benefits outweigh the costs. Also, you can bring Amar’e in to spell him. In fact, to me your 4/5 rotation should involve Camby, Chandler, and Amar’e going forward. That way you always have Chandler/Camby, Chandler/Amar’e, or Camby/Amar’e on the court at all times and I think those are three excellent combos. If/When injuries and/or foul trouble happens, you have Rasheed, Kurt, or, going small, Melo or Copeland to step in.
Conclusion Three: Start J.R. It’s time. Smith has been providing points, assists, and rebounds, and his D has looked energetic and good. He’s been seriously helping the team in the end of games, so it’s time to have him help the team at the start as well. Besides which, Shump is on the verge of returning, and he’s probably going to be on the bench to begin with. If you’re starting J.R., Shump can be brought in to spell him at his natural two-guard position. If Shump is Shump, Shump will bring more to the table than Ronnie has been bringing. Basically Shump is going to take Brewer’s minutes at this point. And if he’s going to return off the bench (as they usually do), why not start J.R. now?
Caveat: Shump is practicing with the team today, (still non-contact) running through sets as the point guard. Could it be that Woodson sees Shumpert as a point guard? Discuss. Or Discus, if you prefer that sport to basketball.