Every single day we see the signs --signs that call out: "The Knicks are poop!" The boys in orange and blue didn't even take the court on Sunday, but one of their two conquests (Charlotte) lost to the freakin' Lakers. I think I can say without a hint of hyperbole that a victory against a team that loses to the Lakers is completely devoid of any significance whatsoever.
Saturday's loss to the Atlanta Hawks was somewhat encouraging, in that the team found some success with the small-ball, three-bombing lineups, while still generally playing within the Triangle. That momentum was lost when Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway got into foul trouble in the third quarter, and the Knicks literally ran out of guards to play. The bigs returned, the offense fell apart, and New York's crap-tacular defense took care of the rest.
Following the loss, head coach Derek Fisher was adamant that he planned to keep the big frontcourts in play:
Fisher's asked whether he'll keep using Melo at PF. Said it clearly created more spacing & helped Melo rebound better. But says NYK has...— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) November 9, 2014
... too many big men to play Melo there exclusively. Clearly seems to want others to share the bulk of the minutes at the 4— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) November 9, 2014
With all due respect, coach Fisher, I have another proposal in mind. Forget sharing the load among the Knicks' bigs; give some of those minutes to Cleanthony Early instead.
The rookie small forward didn't exactly set the world on fire against Atlanta, shooting 0-4 and looking lost several times on defense. That might concern me, if I cared deeply about the results of this season. Here are my priorities for the 2014-15 campaign:
- Developing players who will probably be with the team.
- My own enjoyment.
I enjoy watching Cleanthony Early play basketball. He makes annoying defeats like the Friday night loss to Brooklyn far more palatable when he does stuff like this:
Knicks games have quickly developed a routine -- they run bland, fitful Triangle, take too many mid-range jumpers, and generally plod around on D. Adding Early to the mix doesn't always produce positive results, but it does introduce an element of chaos into their stodgy rotations. I call this phenomenon "Cle-entropy."
What do you get when you increase this team's Cle-entropy? You get threes...and lots of them. The rookie has shown no apprehension about gunning from downtown -- he ranks second on the team in three-point attempts per 36 minutes (to Tim Hardaway Jr.) and second in three-point attempt rate (to Pablo Prigioni). The Knicks are shooting an average of 24.4 threes per game with Early on the court, tops on the team, per NBA.com:
Yes, that is a tiny sample size, but the three players at the bottom of that list -- J.R. Smith, Travis Wear and Jason Smith have three of the lowest overall net ratings on the team (along with Quincy Acy). When Knicks are shooting threes, they're kicking ass.
*Note: What the hell are you doing near the bottom of that list, J.R.? Get your act together!
Watching Early play this season -- you can view every one of his three-point shot attempts here -- those shooting numbers are not an accident. He generally plays within the confines of the Triangle, he moves well without the ball, and when he gets open, he shoots.
Last week I wrote that Iman Shumpert was playing as a Knicks wing should play in the Triangle. The bigs must be looking for open shooters on the perimeter, and those shooters mustn't hesitate. Early and Hardaway are studying at the Shump school, shooting threes or driving to the rim. Early may not have Timmy's reputation as a shooter, but everything I've seen from him since Summer League seems to indicate he could hit threes at a league-average rate.
As for the defense...Jesus, does anyone have an answer for this team's defense. Early will be better than Hardaway because it would be physically impossible to be that bad. If he continues to hit his threes, Early could be a taller version of Tim, less useless in the other aspects of the game. And if he can't hit those threes, now would be the time to find that out.
Cleanthony Early is likely to lose any chance at NBA playing time once Pablo Prigioni and Jose Calderon return. Until that time, Fisher should put aside his desire to keep his veteran bigs happy and play the promising rookie at forward alongside Carmelo Anthony.
The status quo at MSG is totally lame right now. Time to throw a little Cle-entropy into the equation.