Friday, December 30, 2005

The Knicks Reversal
By Zach

Today, we've got a nice New Year's present for you, a guest column from John Schmeelk

After nineteen games the Knicks were 6-13, struggling but there were reasons for optimism. The team had gotten through the toughest part of their schedule, just finishing the second of their two West Coast Trips. Ranked in the top ten in FG% allowed, they were playing good solid defense and slowly coming around on offense. In their last two contests they only allowed 84 and 85 points to the Clippers and Suns, dropping both games on the road in the final seconds.

Then something happened on the plane ride home. The team that arrived in New York to play six of their next eight at the Garden was not the same one that left Pheonix. They would lose 7 of 8, giving up more than a hundred points in all their losses, their only win coming at home against a Jazz team minus Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko. The Knicks offense improved, scoring more than 90 in every one of those games, but their defense was absolutely putrid, especially on the perimeter. It became clear that defense was the true problem.

The popular theory now, coming off an 0-6 performance, is that Stephon Marbury has quit on coach Larry Brown and isn'€™t trying anymore. Anyone who watches the game knows that is not true. Marbury remains the Knicks best perimeter defender (of course that is less a credit to him than it is an indictment of Quentin Richardson and Jamal Crawford who couldn't stay with their own shadows). And offensively Marbury is shooting less than last season, getting to the free throw line more than any other teammate, but something is missing from his game. It'€™s the same thing that'™s always been missing. His body language stinks, and he always seems angry or frustrated with his teammates rather than supporting them. But all that being said he is not the problem. He shoots too much, he tries to pass more, he is purposely not shooting enough to stick it to Larry Brown. He can'™t win.

The problem is not so simple. But it starts with Quentin Richardson. He has been an absolute bust this season. He can'€™t guard opposing two guards, and is shooting a dreadful 36% from the field. Yes, he shot only 39% last season but he'€™s shooting far less from the perimeter. Some have mentioned the loss of his brother may be on his mind, and that may be true, but how does that explain is equally awful play before his brother was killed in Chicago? It doesn'€™t. He has brought absolutely nothing positive to the basketball court and why Larry Brown continues to stick with him in the starting lineup is baffling.

The Knicks actually played some of their best basketball of the season with Nate Robinson in the starting lineup. He€'s overrated, He'™s immature, whines too much to the refs and is often out of control but he can guard opposing point guards, and guard them well. He did as good a job on Steve Nash as anyone ever has when the Knicks played Pheonix. And Marbury, with his strength does a fairly good job guarding twos, though he can be shot over in the post.

Another problem is their slow starts. I can't remember the last time the Knicks started the game with a lead, early on. They are constantly playing from behind, lending them to turnovers and bad shots on offense that turns into easy shots for opponents. I think this lands on Larry Brown, and his choice of starting lineup. He seemed to have finally set one, but not the right one. How is a team supposed to score when their starting five include four inferior offensive players in Jerome James, Trevor Ariza, Antonio Davis and Quentin Richardson? They can'€™t. It is constant. This is also the reason Marbury'™s assists are down - he spends the first 4-6 minutes of every game on the floor with a bunch of stiffs. I like Crawford off the bench, he is the ultimate replacement for John Starks, someone Knicks fans love so much -“ except of course Crawford doesn'€™t play any D. Is there a reason Channing Frye can'€™t start at this point? He'€™s already the second or third best player on the team. Want to start Davis? That's fine, start him at center. No teams have true centers anymore and he can hold his own. Of course Eddie Curry coming back would help.

His injuries have killed this team. He is improving defensively, committing fewer offensive fouls and when he actually plays can be dominant down low. And remember he is only 22. Put his inside game with Frye's ability to shoot outside and finish around the basket, and it is a deadly combination. But he has to get healthy, and fast for the Knicks to start winning games. And remember, the Knicks lose their first round pick to the Bulls this year, no matter where it is. The pick is NOT lottery protected in any way. It makes it even more imperative for them to improve their record.

But the bottom line is this: the team no longer plays defense. They can'€™t guard the most basic play in the game, the high pick and roll and they never rotate enough after help on dribble penetration. Until Brown can get the team to start playing defense again, they won'€™t win, with or without Stephon Marbury. And that is on Larry Brown. The team proved it could play D early in the year, it has to start doing that again. Coach, get to it!

John Schmeelk is a former WNYU Sports Director and Cheap Seats host, as well as a current WFAN producer. He also somehow finds time to hang out with most of the Sportszilla crew on a fairly regular basis. If you liked what he wrote, leave a comment or e-mail us at sportszilla at gmail dot com and we'll try to convince him to write more.

Also, if you're interested in writing a guest column, send us a sample column. It should be no less than 250 words, no more than about 750 (though if it's good, we'll make an exception).


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