Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports
Amar'e may be gone, but the Knicks can still win. Here's how...
Is it me, or does every recent period of "post-_______" totally suck ass? Right now I'm trying to find a new job in the post-bubble economy, and...I don't wanna talk about it. A few years ago I was told by TV news pundits that I was living in a post-racial world, which sounded nice, until I realized that many people seemed to be acting just as racist as they did in the pre-post-racial world. Maybe it is just me - I'm a crotchety old man and I hate change. Seriously, what's a Harlem Shake? Is it a flavor of milkshake? Because if it's anything else but a milkshake then I don't care and I never will!
Sadly, we are once again living in a post-Amar'e world. I'll surely miss that phenomenal bastard. But the show must go on. If the Knicks want to hold onto the Atlantic Division and a high playoff seed, they'll need to press on.
This Knicks team is ideally suited to do just that. They have consistently shown the ability to rise to challenge. The worst thing you say about them - mentally, at least - is that they often play complacent, entitled basketball when they are not challenged. The last four games are a perfect example - they played more complete, focused basketball when confronted with superior opponents (Oklahoma City and Utah) and roster shortages than they did in the two previous games against a couple of overwhelmed teams in Cleveland and Detroit.
Let's compare the two halves of the Knicks season so far: pre-Amar'e and with Amar'e. They played 30 games before STAT's return, and they played 29 games with him, so it's a fairly even breakdown. In terms of pure wins and losses, it's no contest - 21-9 pre-Amar'e, 16-13 with Amar'e. But that doesn't tell the whole story, so let's check with some relevant stats, per NBA.com:
We'll start with the shooting. Amar'e absolutely, 100% cannot be blamed for the drops in eFG% and true shooting % - the man was shooting 57.7% from the field and 80.8% from the free throw line. The fact that they added STAT and their shooting percentages fell speaks to just how bad everyone else has been shooting the past two months. The main culprit, as you might expect, has been the team's three-point shooting - 39.3% pre-Amar'e, 34.6% with Amar'e. It's not like the team stopped getting open looks with STAT in the lineup; they just stopped hitting them. That has to be concerning. We can only hope that Carmelo Anthony's shooting numbers pull out of the the nosedive they've taken in the past few months (.477 FG% / .434 3P% in 2012, .414 FG% / .344 3P% in 2013).
One thing the Knicks can work on is ball movement. The assist stats bear out what we've seen on the TV screen - the Knicks haven't been moving the ball as well as they did early in the season. With Amar'e gone, the Knicks once again lack a reliable presence in the post. As I see it, they can respond to this problem in one of two ways: they can isolate Melo and J.R. on the perimeter, or they can get back to the kind of ball movement that used to be their specialty. That right there is pretty much a choice between losing basketball and winning basketball. Saturday night - without Melo, mind you - we saw the Knicks choose ball movement...and winning. Let's keep it up, guys!
This season, Amar'e has brought two essential skills to the offense that will be difficult to replace - offensive rebounding and free throws. The Knicks may just have to punt on the offensive rebound - they will probably stay in their small lineups more often, and Kenyon Martin is not a good rebounder. Marcus Camby has shown the ability to grab o-boards when on the floor, but there's no reason to expect him to stay on the floor for an extended period.
There is a chance, however, that the Knicks can make up for at least some of these lost free throws. Much of the burden will fall on the guards - with Amar'e's post game gone, they must either drive to the rim or deliver the ball to remaining Knick bigs in prime scoring scoring position down low. I must admit, they shocked the hell out of me last time out by doing exactly that - of the 15 Knicks who played in the game, a mind-blowing 12 went to the line for a non-technical free throw (13 if you count the tech that Novak shot). Particularly impressive was Iman Shumpert and his 10 free throws...more than half as many free throws as he had shot all season (17). Shump has been an offensive black hole this season, despite shooting nearly 40 points higher than he did last season from downtown. If Shump is feeling more confident in his surgically-repaired knee, then he has to start being more aggressive in driving to the basket. In fact, any Knick wing player under the age of 35 should drive to the basket with renewed vigor - and that includes the Bernard King of Wisconsin, Mr. Steve Novak:
The Knicks are unlikely to make up Amar'e's offense no matter what they do...unless everyone starts hitting 40% of their threes again. If they're to succeed, the Knicks are going to have to compensate on the defensive end. Let's face it, this shouldn't be too hard for them to do...we're talking about Amar'e Stoudemire, after all. The question is whether or not Kenyon Martin and/or Marcus Camby can anchor a second unit even remotely as stingy as Rasheed Wallace did back in the heady days of November and December, when the Knicks D-rating was nearly two full points lower than it was during the Amar'e period (101.9 DRtg during Sheed's 22 games). Every point those guys keep off the board will relieve the pressure on the Knicks scorers.
Besides Camby and K-Mart, is there anyone else on the roster who might join Melo and Chandler in the front-court? Okay, I'm just gonna throw this out there:
|Net (Per 100 Possessions)|
|8||C. Anthony | T. Chandler | C. Copeland||6||67.5||+6.7||+7.8||+.034||+5.9||+10.0||+.079||+.061||-3.2||-7.2||+.022||+16.1|
I know that's a small sample size, but that "+16" looks awful nice. The Knicks are pretty desperate now, so maybe the Melo-Copeland-Chandler front-court might be worth a spin, and...
Hold on, there's a knock at my door.
Oh, hi, Coach Woodson. What brings you all the way to Beijing? Would I like to go for a ride with you? I dunno, sir, it's kinda late. Why do have a burlap sack and a cattle prod? NOOOO! YOU CAN'T STOP THE TRUTH! COPELANDIA WILL NEVER DIE!!!
[five hours later]
I, Joseph Flynn, being of both sound mind and body, do solemnly swear that I in no way endorse Christopher Stephen Copeland as a viable alternative for the New York Knicks' rotation. I do not consider him to be a decent basketball player, and any assertions to the contrary in the future, either by myself or by a third party on my behalf, should be considered grounds for legal action by the Madison Square Garden Corporation.