One of the Knicks' biggest challenges this season has been gathering defensive rebounds. When Amar'e Stoudemire questioned the team's collective effort after the loss to the Thunder on November 28th he may have had an eye towards the team's poor rebounding. The Knicks are collecting a mere 70.9% of their opportunities on that end of the floor; they rank 6th-worst in opponent second chance points per possession. The Knicks are bad enough at defense already. Offering opponents multiple opportunities to score doesn't help.
November 18th's four-point loss to the Bucks was one of the most egregious examples of New York burying its chances for victory by failing to rebound. Milwaukee grabbed 50% of their available offensive rebounds. That is unacceptable, really. The Bucks shot 55.1% from the field that night. Allowing them to take half of their misses back ensured the Knicks loss. Zaza Pachulia alone snatched seven offensive rebounds leading to two threes, a layup, and a shooting foul. Those plays are always important, but are perhaps even more so in such a close game.
Some of the blame for the Knicks' poor energy lies with Carmelo Anthony. Anthony has never been reputed as a particularly focused defender, and his inconsistent effort on the defensive glass isn't going to quiet his critics. Look at this play from the beginning of the aforementioned Milwaukee loss. Brandon Knight has just driven the paint and missed the layup over the contest from J.R. Smith.
Anthony is doing a very good job watching the ball but has forgotten to watch his man, and failing to put a body on Jabari Parker allowed the rookie to grab an offensive rebound over four Knicks and score an easy layup. Here's another from the first quarter that night. The Knicks as a team are rebounding 69.1% of opponents missed shots with Anthony on the court, compared to 74.3% with him on the bench. That's the worst defensive rebounding disparity on the team, and it's something to watch as the season progresses. Carmelo is the captain, and part of his leadership must include showing more hustle on the defensive end. If you believe that teams take after their star player, then perhaps it isn't a surprise that this Knicks team has failed to impress defensively so far. Even if you don't think Anthony's lax energy is affecting his teammates, it still stands to reason that the team will struggle to focus defensively when the leader in minutes played is so inconsistent on that end.
Of course, it wouldn't be fair or accurate to place all of the blame on Anthony. Rebounding needs to be a team effort, with players supporting each other to gather the ball after every play. Take this possession from Sunday night's loss to Miami. Late in the fourth quarter, the Knicks desperately needed to get a stop and close the gap by scoring quickly. Dwyane Wade wrestles the ball away from Iman Shumpert for the layup, putting the game further out of reach. This isn't all on Shumpert, though: Stoudemire fails to box out Josh McRoberts, allowing him to get inside position and fight for the carom with Wade. Without McRoberts putting a body on him, perhaps Shumpert could have gathered the rebound and help keep momentum going New York's way.
It sounds trite, but New York has to get to more of these 50/50 balls if they're serious about winning games. The roster as currently constructed was unlikely to contend for anything, but this season should be used to lay the foundation for the remainder of the Carmelo era. His defensive weaknesses should not simply be waved away because of his offensive utility. Perhaps more dogged determination to end opponent's offensive possessions would trickle down to the rest of the team. It's easy to focus attention on Anthony's teammates when the team struggles, but Melo is at least as guilty as everyone else of taking plays off on defense.
The Knicks are playing like a team largely thrown together; a team full of players who don't know if they have a future in New York. Some of this is to be expected. But this is also the first season of Anthony's near-max contract, and it can be difficult to justify that price tag when he can't be relied on to be a leader on defense. More consistent effort from him could go a long way. As the roster develops more chemistry, perhaps they will be able to coax more energy from each other. Until that happens, however, the Knicks aren't likely to see very many wins.