By: Randy Cruz (@cruzr83)
If you compare November 2012 to November 2013, you will automatically notice a few differences between this Knicks team: They were 6-0 in their first six games in 2012. In 2013? They're 2-4. The Knicks were 6-0 at home in November 2012. In 2013? They're already 1-3 with losses to Minnesota, Charlotte and San Antonio. They didn't lose their third home game last season until January 1st against Portland.
What does all of this mean? It means this Knicks team is already a different Knicks team from the 2012-2013 campaign but not for the right reasons.
Yes, the season is relatively early and there are ways to go, but for a team that had championship aspirations at the beginning of the season, at what point does the "season is still early" reasoning still valid?
Clearly the Knicks are not the same team as last season. Players have gone in and out through the revolving door (Kidd, Thomas, Camby, Novak, Copeland replaced with Bargnani, World Peace, Udrih and Hardaway, Jr.). Even the arena isn't the same as last season. But they have the same coach in Mike Woodson, same superstar player in Carmelo Anthony, same defensive stalwart in Tyson Chandler and same impactful role players in Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni, Iman Shumpert, J.R Smith, Kenyon Martin and Amar'e Stoudemire.
So what are the issues?
In the early portion of this season, including pre Tyson Chandler injury, the Knicks offense gives a feel of "what are we doing/supposed to be doing on this play?" You can count on two hands, maybe more, how many times the Knicks get into their offense between 7-12 seconds on the shot clock. Does that mean they're taking forever bringing the ball over half court?, or that Raymond Felton is over dribbling? No and maybe.
It really means when they're over half court, the offense boils down to one option, and that's giving the ball to Carmelo Anthony. But it's the time on the shot clock that Carmelo gets the ball putting him in a position where he doesn't have much choice but to take a shot late in the shot clock. This poses the issue of the lack of ball movement, where being on the perimeter too much, left and right passing, not even north and south passing, helps the defense in giving the Knicks no other option but to take long distance shots late in the shot clock.
The ball movement shown in the first six games is entirely different that the ball movement shown early last season. Could it be because Jason Kidd, a master of ball movement, isn't here any more? Can't really say, but the Knicks do lack that veteran leader who can get the ball in everyone's hands when they need it, where they need it. Prigioni and Felton are the point guards on the team, have the potential of being great ball movement players, but in the first six games, we haven't seen that on a consistent basis just yet.
With Tyson Chandler being out 4-6 weeks with a right knee injury suffered earlier this week at home against the Bobcats, the issue of rebounding, blocking shots and being an inside presence now falls mainly on Andrea Bargnani, who was starting at power forward for three games prior to Chandler's injury.
Bargnani, not known for his rebounding or defensive skills, is in a position where he has to contribute not only offensively but defensively. We saw a glimpse of what he can do on Friday night against the Bobcats, pouring in 25 points, grabbing 8 rebounds and blocking 5 shots, but on Sunday against a San Antonio Spurs team, a team who fans might see in the NBA Finals again in June, that wasn't the case.
Fans might've outgrown their impatience with Bargnani's play in the first six games, but putting him in the spotlight of holding down the defensive fort until Tyson Chandler comes back is a daunting task that might require just a little more time to bare with.
Carmelo Anthony, who was an MVP candidate last November and all throughout last season, is just shooting 41% from the field on 50-121 FG shooting. What can attribute to that is that he's just not getting the good looks as he's accustomed to getting. The defense is being more aware of what he can do and where he likes to shoot from. Him shooting with two or three people guarding him attributes to the low field goal percentage as well since Carmelo is known to take tough shots with multiple defenders covering him.
The spacing is clearly not in Carmelo's favor, with both Chandler and Bargnani on the floor. Now with Bargnani moving the C position and Carmelo going to the power forward, where he's had much success at, can create some space for him to take better quality shots. In the first two games without Chandler (vs Charlotte and San Antonio), he's shooting at a 52% clipse on 22-42 FG's.
Being a notorious scorer at will, there's no reason why Carmelo Anthony can't turn this offensive shooting efficiency slump around (he's still averaging 24.6 ppg) but the shot selection and the spacing on the floor has to improve over the next few games as Mike Woodson continues to experiment with the roster.
Which leads to the final point, and that's Mike Woodson. The coach that brought 54 wins to the Knicks last season and started 18-3 last season is already hearing the "fire Woodson" chants at Madison Square Garden. Although it was a brief and quiet chant, the chant has started, and knowing die hard Knicks fans, it'll continue until Woodson figures out how to get the right chemistry of players on the floor that'll produce and display effort consistently.
Mike Woodson has been experimenting with the starting lineup and has had a few lineup changes already. Now with Bargnani, Anthony, Shumpert, Prigioni and Felton as the five for a while, the topic of shortening the rotation does come into play. With the back and forth sit outs between Amar'e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin, Woodson is looking to rely not only on Barganini, but either Stoudemire or Martin to step up and provide something while Chandler is out.
If Stoudemire and Martin can't provide lengthy productive minutes then it puts Woodson and the Knicks in a more vulnerable position than before in an already thin front court.
As a big Amar'e Stoudemire supporter for years, it's definitely sad to see him in this position from where he once was, because he's made the effort to return and get healthy. Bottom line is that he's not 100% healthy and may never again be 100% healthy, but many Knicks fans who've admire and supported him since his arrival in July of 2010 are counting on him to break out of an extended slump and give something to this team. His play has look beyond shaky this season, almost predictable and looking unsure of what to do at times against his defenders. It's been easy for the defenders to block his shots and strip the ball away from him, and that comes from the lack of explosiveness he used to have.
Which is why I even brought up the point of why doesn't he shoot/rely on his jumper anymore? It's been rare to see him use his jumper which was almost automatic in his first two seasons with the Knicks. He did attempt one jump shot against the Spurs, but it was a long while since he had taken one.
Push the panic button? Not yet. But if the Knicks round up November under .500 and things are resembling pre 2010-2011 Knicks, then that's when you can push the panic button with both hands.