NBA 2013/14 season review: The New York Knicks

With the NBA season roughly two months away all basketball fans are beginning to get excited about their favourite team’s return to action. Whether your franchise is set to tank or challenge for it all, it’s impossible not to want the NBA back in full swing.

In light of this, here’s the beginning of a full scale, team by team, season review, assessing where each team is now and predicting where they’ll end up:

The New York Knicks, 2012/13 Record – 54-28:

Last year saw the Knicks finally break the monopoly on the Division title that the Celtics have held for the last six years, winning the crown for the first time since 1994.

They can’t rest on their laurels though as this season they’ll face a battle not only for the Division but also for their city as the Brooklyn Nets seek to supplant them.

Having significantly improved over the off-season, the Nets will likely join Miami and Indiana at the top end of the Eastern Conference, and with Chicago welcoming back Derrick Rose, the East has become a tough place to be again, posing serious problems for New York.

While they finished as the second seed in the East last year, New York’s year was far from perfect as they crashed out of the play-offs rather unceremoniously at the hands of the Indiana Pacers.

What was particularly worrying was the state of their offence, one that only managed to break the 100-point barrier once in all 12 of their play-off games. The dichotomy between New York’s regular season and post-season performance is one that should be worrying for Knicks fans as it points toward a bigger picture problem.

While there were many contributing factors toward their play-off exit, one seems to stand out from the crowd: their scorers went cold. During the regular season the Knicks ran their offence though Scoring Title champ Carmelo Anthony and Sixth Man of the Year J.R Smith, and with these two surrounded by sharpshooters, New York eased to 54 wins, owners of the league’s 3rd best rated offence.

In the play-offs, however, things went wrong for the pair as Smith struggled to shoot the basketball and Anthony was the main focus of opposition’s defensive efforts. #

Over the first 82 games Anthony and Smith averaged 45% and 42% from the floor. During the play-offs these numbers dropped to 41% for Anthony and a truly woeful 33% for Smith. Just to drive home the point, both shot under 30% from the three-point line. For two players taking a combined 42 shots per game, this simply isn’t good enough and the Knicks reliance on these two players was their undoing.

Given how well the New York offence ran during the regular season it’s surprising that their offence could suffer so dramatically with the dip in form of their go-to guys.

The Knicks were number one in three-point accuracy and bottom of the turnovers per game column, raising the question ‘how could the whole team go so cold’?

The answer seems to lie in the fact that New York were bottom of the league in assisted field-goals, highlighting their tendency to run sets that put Smith and Anthony in isolation match-ups. Instead of moving the ball out of double teams and utilising the shooters that were hitting threes, New York continued let their main men shoot bad shots.

New York’s bigger picture problem is two-fold. Firstly, they need to be honest with themselves and acknowledge that ‘Melo isn’t a Kevin Durant or a LeBron James.

These are guys that are incredibly efficient scorers with the ability to set up their teammates when they aren’t going well themselves while Anthony doesn’t operate with the same efficiency or unselfish nature. While no-one expects ‘Melo to win a championship by himself, the Knicks need to provide him with a better supporting cast, and especially a better secondary scorer than the also inefficient Smith.

Knicks fans second worry is that the hero-ball strategy they saw last year won’t change. While it’s true that New York don’t have many playmakers outside of Smith and Anthony, their ability to move the ball without turning it over and knock down open shots should have been utilised when they stopped scoring.

We saw Miami do this very thing when Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh started struggling during their play-offs. Instead of persisting with their superstars they played patient basketball and let lesser teammates such as Battier, Miller and Cole hit open shots when they arose.

San Antonio also operated with a similar philosophy. Unfortunately, New York’s off-season moves don’t suggest that they’re going to embrace this philosophy any time soon. The loss of Chris Copeland to Indiana was a blow and the Andrea Bargnani trade saw Steve Novak, the Knicks best three-point shooter last year, traded for a power forward who production definitely isn’t a guarantee.

Even if Bargnani has a great year this year, he’s another guy for the Knicks to toss the ball to and say ‘do something’. How easy is it to imagine the Knicks getting locked down by Miami or Indiana in the play-offs next year with Bargnani and Smith both shooting under 40%?

Fortunately, there are some bright spots. Expect third year player Iman Shumpert to shine this season, especially on the defensive end where he will be joined by the incoming Metta World Peace, a top defensive stopper.

Between them they form a formidable wing presence on the defensive side of the ball, something that will allow that Knicks to pull out some extra wins when the offense isn’t quite functioning. The aforementioned Bargnani also has the potential to thrive in New York, as the rediscovery of his shooting touch would provide the Knicks with floor spacing that Amar’e Stoudemire simply can’t provide.

I must stress at this point that I’m being very harsh about the Knicks. This is still a team that will make the play-offs and play fantastic regular season basketball, it’s just that when you’re built to win championship you have to judged against the best of the best, and right now I’m not sure the Knicks stack up.

Prediction: 2013/14 Record 51-31, Knocked out in the first round of the play-offs

image: © mith17