Well...that was not how you want to start 2017.
Remember when the Knicks were the 3rd seed in the East? Yeah, that's gone now, as the defense somehow continues to get worse on a seemingly game to game basis. There's no real way to put this in perspective, or to say it's just growing pains; this team was supposed to have turned a corner, but what we saw tonight was the same old Knicks.
We've all seen this kind of effort enough times to qualify as refugees from directed torture under U.N. Resolution 738. Weirdly enough, the first quarter wasn't even that bad; Jodie Meeks got hot, as he is wont to do if you leave him wide open and go under every screen (FORESHADOWING), but DJ Augustin went 2/2 from 3, and meanwhile, the Knicks offense was on the war path. It felt like things would settle down, allowing these guys to get back into it despite another disheartening performance on defense.
Not this time.
In what can only be described as a monumentally pathetic performance, the Knicks allowed the lowly Orlando offense to look like the unholy child of the Rockets and Warriors. The Magic moved the rock well, racking up 30+ assists (a Golden State specialty) and nailed 15 looks from behind the arc. You know how in FIFA, if you want to sprint, you have a limited supply? That's how the Knicks defend every single possession, and the meter is only good for 8 seconds of actual effort per person. It almost doesn't matter which 5 guys are on the floor at any given moment -- the defensive failures go beyond description. As P&T'er Rice2012 said, their failures are becoming more creative and daring — a jazz quintet improvising shitty defense in perfect harmony.
It's like these dudes are playing defense for a middle school in a New Jersey suburb. At this rate, Joakim Noah is liable to kidnap Carmelo and send him to Madagascar overnight. Let's start there, actually; once again, Noah was quite good on defense. He’s working his ass off, and he isn’t taking plays off. Which is why Melo's effort, or lack thereof, is so maddening -- we saw him put in effort on defense last year. Where did that go? Why is he constantly leaving shooters to wander off at will and helping one pass away? It’s really like he’s making a point of regularly breaking the biggest rule of help defense.
Don't take that the wrong way, though; Melo is a part of this, but it's not exclusive. This has infected almost everyone on the roster, from top to bottom. These dudes really cannot execute a consistent help rotation at the NBA level. Not at the rim, not on the perimeter, not in transition. They'll start with a possession where help is super late (the bench bigs are extremely guilty of this), so on the NEXT possession, all five guys will collapse onto Elfrid Payton like he's Kyrie freakin' Irving, leaving 3-point specialists wide open. How many times can you lose the guy whose scouting report literally says nothing but "3-POINT SNIPER, SCORES IN BUNCHES"? How do you not only help off, but do it at the worst possible time, in tandem with someone else leaving their man, too, in order to make the "help" have the worst possible effect? It makes absolutely zero sense, on any conceptual level. Jeff Hornacek is probably going to have a mental breakdown reviewing this film tomorrow. The level of mind-numbing idiotic decision making was beyond comprehension. At one point, Mike Breen described the Knicks defense as "inexplicable". That about sums it up.
I don't think this has anything to do with Kurt Rambis, by the way. The Knicks could hire every defensive "guru" in NBA history, bring back Pat Riley with a time machine, kidnap Tom Thibodeau from the wastelands of Minnesota, and they'd still give up 115 to the moribund Magic with the effort and execution we saw today. Blame that on the coaches if you want; there's certainly an argument for it. But this is a team of veterans, and veterans are expected to be professionals. Right now, almost nobody is acting like a professional. And in a lot of ways, it extends to the offense as well. Fortunately, they have enough talent to get by on offense. That is not the case with the defense.
I've said this in about 20 different previews, recaps, whatever -- until the Knicks play defense, and put in some consistent effort, they will not be a good team. Right now, the Knicks are not a good team. With the suddenly scary Bucks up next...this could get even worse.
There aren't many notes, as basically the entire game was a textbook example of defensive incompetence at the NBA level. What there was, I included below.
- Joakim Noah's interior passing is a nice change of pace from Robin Lopez. I think we're all sick of the missed layups, but Lopez has nothing on Noah when it comes to well-placed dimes finding guys for open dunks. At one point, Noah used the threat of his layup to get Serge Ibaka in the air (???), only to dump it off for an easy dunk. That's the kind of stuff you saw from him regularly in Chicago. So that's good.
- At one point in the third quarter, the Knicks actually played defense. They forced two 24-second violations in a row. I thought it was a turning point. It was not.
- Melo's offense was disgustingly heavy on isolations tonight. He managed to bully his way to the line for 8 free throws, but he once again shot horribly from the field overall -- 19 points on 21 shooting possessions is not good. He had some nice dimes late in the game, but his overall regression in terms of playmaking from last season has hamstrung the offense. Again: the offense is not the problem, and I've been a proponent of ISO-Melo for a while now. But there needs to be a balance. This was not, at all, a balance.
- Brandon Jennings has to be a top five irrational confidence guy in the entire league. Right now, he's got a ton of it. With the way he's been shooting this year, the last couple of games have been a complete about-face from what I've grown to expect. It's fun to watch, even if the process behind 85% of his shots makes me want to tear my hair out and punch myself in the gut.
- Willy Hernangomez has a turnover problem. It was difficult to pin down early in the season, as the sample was too small, but it's been a constant in most games where he's seen legitimate minutes. Before today, his turnover percentage was a ghastly 20% -- for a player in limited minutes, in a very small role, that is alarmingly bad. He had 3 more today. Nothing to worry about long term, but it's definitely part of the reason Hornacek has cut back his minutes. Related: Mindaugas Kuzminskas still can't play defense, which is a shame, because his range is seriously impressive. He picked up 3 fouls in like, five minutes, and gave up some unnervingly easy dribble penetration. I suspect Lance Thomas will continue to get the majority of the backup wing minutes because of this.
- Courney Lee had a typical Courtney Lee night. He just hangs around, attacks closeouts, cans open 3's, and gives you efficient scoring by picking his spots extremely well. 14 points on 11 shots is all you can ask for; his defense was relatively lackluster, but I find it hard to blame the one guard on the entire roster who consistently puts in defensive effort.
- Derrick Rose also had a typical Derrick Rose night. He just gets to the rim, uses his agility and handle to get guys off balance, and blows right by them for acrobatic finishes. He's been a divisive player so far; he certainly has his limitations, and his fair share of outright flaws. But it's fun as hell watching him get to the rack and embarass defenders off the dribble. Not much else to enjoy in this game.
- This team is so damn boring without KP. It's really kind of alarming. I don't think his presence was a major reason for this loss, especially when the Knicks started a smaller lineup to compensate, but it certainly doesn't hurt his All-Star bid.
Next up: a home-and-home with the Milwaukee Bucks, meaning we get to watch this joke of a defense try to cover Giannis and his crew of long-armed freakazoids. Giannis is going to lay waste, and Jabari Parker is going to dunk that waste right back through the hoop. Reaching .500 isn't looking too likely for a while. After 2016 killed off so many of our idols, it looks like 2017 may very well feature the death of the Knicks’ playoff chances.