All this trade talk, strangely enough, has left me feeling that the Knicks could, indeed benefit from a coaching change. For me, the realization came while reading comment after comment declaring that it was OK to trade Shump in a Lowry trade, as long as they didn't trade Hardaway Jr.
I've never had any illusions of Shump developing into an all-star or superstar max salary type of player. To me, he seemed like a guy who is athletic and cared - really cared - about defense. As an offensive player, I don't find him particularly gifted with the ball in his hands. He's capable of the occasional spectacular dunk, but he also misses them. He's not really a guy that hits contested shots in traffic. He's not a point guard.
But offensively, he's showed me the ability to 1.play within himself, within a game plan, and 2. hit open 3 pointers with enough frequency to draw a closeout.
He's also showed me he's a good rebounder for his position.
Those things don't add up to all-star. But they do add up to wins. Sure, teams need guys like Melo that can score even when the defense is perfect. But they also need multiple guys that care about defense and can hit open shots in rhythm about 40 percent of the time.
This year, Shump's not been as good. His D seems gambly. He hasn't hit those three pointers as much. He's seemed hesitant offensively. We have a shiny new toy that has hit some three pointers and done the things Shump hasn't been doing.
Here are Shump's career stats (125 games):
FG% 3pt% FT% Reb Ast TO Stl
39.9 34.6 80.1 3.3 2.2 1.4 1.4
Here are Hardaway Jr's career stats (20 games):
FG% 3pt% FT% Reb Ast TO Stl
46.5 41.8 87.5 1.0 0.9 .0.6 0.4
Here are the stats for Landry Fields' rookie year (82 games).
FG% 3pt% FT% Reb Ast TO Stl
49.7 39.3 76.9 6.4 1.9 1.3 1.0
Sure, Hardaway's stats look gaudy. But so did Fields'. Will Hardaway go the way of Fields? Proabably not. Will he be an all star? Maybe. Will he ever be the type of player to care - I mean really care - about defense? I doubt it. Do we, as a team, need more gunslinging shooters who don't much care about defense, with Melo, J.R., Amar'e and Bargs on the squad? Probably not. Do we need more guys who care about defense? Yes. Every team does. And in an NBA which is packed to the gills with high scoring ball hogging former high school stars, guys who care about defense are actually hard to find.
Is Shump's defense perfect? No. But I still think that the fact that he cares means he's going to be a better defender throughout his career than Hardaway Jr.
Shump hasn't had a great start to his season. Maybe that's because he's 23 years old and he's tired of playing second fiddle to guys who make prettier offensive moves than him and yet take plays off on D. As a fan, I'm sick of this shit. I'm sick of fans, commentators, and coaches acting like defense doesn't matter. I bet Shump is too.
I like Kyle Lowry. Lowry's good. Felton's good too, when he's not hurt, but he's always hurt. For whatever reason, Felton's not been as good defensively as I remembered him being during his first stint here. So Lowry's probably an improvement.
On the other hand, trading an end-of-the-first-round draft pick making a good initial splash in the NBA, and who hasn't really shown the passion for defense, might be a very smart move indeed. Even if it sucks to give up a guy like that, like it would have sucked to trade Shump in Shump's rookie year. Like it would have been to trade Landry Fields in his rookie year.
The more I think about it, the more I think correct coaching decisions could turn this team around without any trades. And I think trading one of your few defensively oriented guys, even if he's not playing very good defense right now, would be a mistake.
Here are the coaching principles that I think would turn this team from a 6-15 team into a 15-6 team.
1. Play two point guards on the floor at most times. Your point guard pecking order is Ray, Prigioni, Murry, Beno.. Why Murry over Beno? Because defense is actually important, and Ray has not been playing good defense.
2. Play Amar'e Stoudemire down the stretch. He does well there, and he's proven it.
3. Your center pecking order is Tyson - Kmart - Aldrich. Those three guys have at least the bare minimum of defensive and rebounding skills. Amar'e or Bargs at the 5 can be done for short periods depending on what the other team has going on, and only then if all your other good defenders and rebounders are on the floor.
4. Elevate Shumpert over J.R. Smith in any kind of rotational pecking order. Allow Shumpert to make more mistakes without yanking him, don't allow J.R. to waste possessions without yanking him.
5. Yank and punish Melo if he tries to go hero ball down the stretch. Sit him, and let Pablo and Amar'e go to work. It's a better plan.
Here's how I see it: You need playmaking, perimeter defense, interior defense, rebounding, efficient interior scoring, and efficient long range scoring, along with someone that can hit a contested shot at the end of a possession,. You need those things on the court , for 48 minutes, as best as you can. You're only as strong as the weakest link in that chain. You have to try to have all those things, or you're not going to win games, no matter how spectacular some of your players are at doing some of those things.
So this translates into a starting line up of Felton, Prigioni, Melo, Amar'e and Chandler.
Backed up by Murry, Shumpert, MWP,Bargnani, and Kmart
With the injuries it becomes Prigioni, Shumpert, Melo, Amar'e, and Kmart
backed up by Murry, Beno, MWP, Bargnani, and Aldrich.
No offense against J.R. Smith and Hardaway - those guys have some good skills, but putting them in the rotation over Murry and Shumpert compromises the defense too much without adding enough offense to compensate. Now maybe if MWP is meandering with the ball too much and not hitting his open threes, or Beno isn't doing much, you can throw J.R. and Hardaway in there. Maybe if Murry is a complete disaster on the offensive end - it might be better to throw J.R. or jr. in there. But basically, not matter how great your offensive players are, having 4 or 5 weak defenders on the court loses games.
I just don't know why it's OK with Woodson ( and most of the rest of the NBA) to play a guy who's only good on the offensive end while it's not OK to play a guy that's only good on the defensive end. J.R. can go 1-10 in the first half and Woody will stick with him. But Shump gets 2 quick fouls and he doesn't get the same amount of rope.
So we can trade for Lowry, replace Felton with him and that's probably a net positive, but if Shumpert and MWP are in the deal, suddenly we have big holes on the defensive end, even if Lowry's defense is an improvement over Ray's.
In any case, it won't matter because Woodson won't play the game and adjust his rotations in a way that treats defense and rebounding with the same respect as offense. And he also won't play the game and adjust his rotations in a way that puts the proven endgame performers on the floor during the final minutes. And the Knicks will continue to lose games.