14 March 2012

Told you so?

Count me unsurprised. Also, in Anthony's camp here.

Looking back on the playoffs last year when New York got a lot of buzz and were promptly annihilated by an aging Boston team, I'd say Carmelo was the only guy playing (very) well, Fields was okay, and Billups was hurt. That's more or less the story this year except they have a good center (who cannot score) instead of a good point guard (who could). Not much changed.

This was their schedule during the 8-1 stretch
New Jersey (won by 7)
Utah (11)
@Washington (14)
LA (7)
@Minnesota (2)
@Toronto (3)
Sacramento (15)
New Orleans (lost by 4)
Dallas (won by 7)
(6 home games, and two road games against the dredges of the NBA, basically only played two games)
Since then
New Jersey (lost by 8)
Atlanta (won by 17)
@Miami (lost by 14)
Cleveland (win by 17)
@Boston (lost by 4 in OT)
@Dallas (lost by 10)
@San Antonio (13)
@Milwaukee (4)
 Philadelphia (12)
@Chicago (5)

I see only two cupcakes in that list, NJ and Cleveland, which they split those two games, and one win over a decent team (Atlanta, who is down one of its best players in Horford). There's also 6 road games out of 10 instead of a bunch at home.

Basically speaking, their schedule got MUCH harder, and it should surprise no one that they began immediately losing games. The reason? Lin? Melo? Coach? Not really.

Comes down to:
1) Amare has played very poorly all year, especially useless as always on D. It's possible that he's done physically, or more likely has some major personal emotional drains (I believe he suffered a close personal loss before the season started AND has had to deal with both the acquisition of Carmelo last year and the rise of Lin as overshadowing himself as the star).
2) This is not a very good team, particularly as assembled. It has essentially 2 all-star caliber players (Melo and Chandler), an overpaid has-been in Amare, at least the way he's playing, another has-been in Baron Davis, and two potentially solid but young NBA players in Lin and Fields (meaning: inconsistent). The best on the rest of the roster is Steve Novak, a 3 point shooting big man, and the mercurial JR Smith, who's been in China until recently. They don't have a solid 8 man rotation that you can go to war with and win. That means, most of the time in the NBA, you lose games unless you have a top-tier superstar like LeBron/Kobe/Wade/Duncan/KG types. Carmelo is a gifted offensive player, but he's not a top-tier guy. Mostly because he's never cared about defense.

What it really comes down to though is that this was a huge GM failure or a breakdown in coach-GM communication. If a team has Amare and Melo, it needs a defined and skilled point guard capable of helping them make plays and score efficiently. It does not have one. In fact they cut Billups for contract reasons and that left an injured Davis, Shumpert and a long-since washed up Mike Bibby (ie, not even an active point guard on the roster). Lin was a nice pickup, but he didn't start out as the plan for the go-to as a point and I still don't think he's a true point guard (that wasn't his position at Harvard either and he still turns the ball over a ton to prove it). For a system like D'Antoni's style of offense, it is an even worse offense to ignore the point guard position in the off-season the way the Knicks did. This is also a team that, because of either GM indifference of injury, has given plenty of minutes to Bill Walker, Shumpert, Jared Jefferies, and Toney Douglas. These are, at best, mediocre NBA players rather than skilled role players on which a team should build itself around and which a coach should have to use or play. Perhaps D'Antoni has overused them, and one can certainly critique his coaching at length. But more likely he's just been forced to give minutes to somebody at those positions. 

If you want my opinion, D'Antoni resigned out of frustration for the team that he ended up with more than anything. What possible basis was there for thinking they would be successful this year as a result? That they signed Tyson Chandler? That they won a bunch of games over meaningless teams?

Updated: Predictably, since their schedule got marginally easier, the Knicks have begun playing "better" (9-3 with 7 home games, losses to Atlanta and Indiana on the road, plus getting blown out by Toronto on the road, and wins over Philly and Indiana on the road, and also Indiana and Orlando at home. Not bad certainly, but nothing terribly unexpected). They've also since lost Stoudemire (not a huge loss) and Lin (apparently not a huge loss either) while Carmelo has gone on a scoring tear. In other words, the problem wasn't Melo. Thanks for playing. 
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