Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Knicks Not Quite There Yet
By Zach

Editor's Note: Today, we've got another guest column from contributor John Schmeelk. No surprise, it's about the Knicks.

Turned a corner...not quite yet

And no, this is not because the Knicks lost two in a row after their six game winning streak. I was going to write this on Saturday before the Knicks lost those games, but unfortunately time has its constraints.

This is not to say the Knicks are not improving, they certainly are. As said in this blog a couple weeks ago – it has been proven the hatred between Larry Brown and Stephon Marbury was very much overrated. Marbury has played great since, adjusting as much to Brown as Brown has to him. Marbury’s passes now often lead to dunks or open shots for teammates, and his shot selection has been very good. Most importantly his demeanor and leadership on the court has improved ten fold. Instead of sulking, and showing frustration he is smiling and encouraging. The team has a general flow on offense, teammates knowing where one another are on the floor, and knowing where they like the basketball.

Give some of the credit for this to Larry Brown who has finally found a shortened rotation that works. It should not be a surprise that it is one that starts with Nate Robinson and his defense in the starting lineup, along with David Lee and his rebounding. Quentin Richardson’s role has decreased, and with less time he has actually played better. Despite two straight subpar offensive games Jamal Crawford’s shot selection has been – gasp better with his FG% up over 42%. The team leads the NBA in free throw attempts and is in the bottom in 3pt attempts. Eddie Curry is healthy and putting up 15-20 points and 8 rebounds a game. Most importantly the team is learning how to finish games, often times playing their best basketball in the fourth quarter of games. All these reasons are why the Knicks won six in a row. But if you look at even those six wins more closely you will see why that winning streak hasn’t continued.

In the six Knicks wins during the streak in regulation, they gave up 104, 92, 116, 84, 105 and 94 points respectively. In those same games Knicks opponents shot 47%, 42%, 45%, 37%, 53% and 49%. The defense was weak at best. Not as bad as it was last season, but still not good enough for a team that wants to be in the playoffs and maybe even do some damage. The team struggles too much in the high pick and roll, switching, causing mismatches with big men on guards and visa versa. Their weakside rotations on help situations has gotten better, there have been less open threes against the team but still too many. When Eddie Curry is in, and his man sets the screen it is expected to be problematic in defense situations, but it happens even if it is Antonio Davis, Channing Frye or Maurice Taylor. The big men are showing on the pick, but the guards aren’t fighting over the screens hard enough and fast enough to allow them to rotate back to the screener.

But with a young team this can be improved, and should be by the end of the season. But if it’s improved enough to make up for the team’s early season slump remains to be seen. As it is they Knicks only stand about 3 games out of the eigth seed of the Eastern Conference. And yes, it is insignificant if the team misses the playoffs or simply gets plowed by the Pistons in the first round, except for one thing. The Bulls own the Knicks first round pick and they want desperately for it to be out of the lottery. So, for once in the NBA, making the playoffs really does matter. Especially for the Knicks.

Schmeelk Tidbits

-How long until Isaiah makes a trade? The Knicks strongest need is at small forward, not point guard despite popular opinion. Ruben Patterson is still available and would be a fit defensively. As much as David Lee is popular, he can’t guard the faster 3’s. Jalen Rose is still a possibility as well. But as it is in the NBA more likely is a match no one has even spoken about yet. The Knicks have two expiring contracts that could be valuable in trades in Penny Hardaway and Antonio Davis.

-Never again will you see Peyton Manning defended here. He was brutal in that game against Pittsburgh, even given chances his overmatched team didn’t deserve. And I know everyone love Tony Dungy – but can this guy be any worse in the playoffs? The Colts gameplan was brutal. It was like they hadn’t seen a blitz all season. Ever heard of max protection?

-Speaking of bad gameplans – did Lovie Smith have Mike Martz work the gameplan for him? Good job stopping the Panthers one offensive weapon in Steve Smith. Make the Panthers try and run it, or if they throw it make them do it to Ricky Proehl or Keary Colbert. And what happened to running the football? When did Rex Grossman become Joe Montana? The Bears were a running team all year, and in this game Thomas Jones was underutilized.

-I don’t care what anyone else says – NFL teams these days are simply not that good. The Broncos are so bad they still almost lost the Patriots even though they vomited all over themselves. And did I have to hear Phil Simms rave about how the Pats played like champions? Maybe Phil was watching a tape from last year because on Saturday the Pats treated the ball like it was radioactive. For you non-physics majors, that means they didn’t want it. Both teams weren’t any good. I can't believe it, but that probably means Pittsburgh as a sixth seed is going to win the AFC and go to the Super Bowl.

-Good job by the Seahawks winning despite Shaun Alexander being out. Now maybe Darrell Jackson will get the national recognition he deserves – so much for him being a sleeper in fantasy drafts next year.

-The officials: Not as bad as people are making them out to me. I understand the Polamalu call even if I think the rule should be amended, and I think the no call on the offsides/false start deal was the right one. The officials blew their whistles before any penalty was committed by either team (though I think two Pitt players moved) – there was no other possible result. And I think Im the only on in the country to think Asante Samuel did interfere with Ashlie Lelie by cutting his running land and boxing out and forcing him to the sideline.

-Did I mention the Colts suck? I guarantee next year that if they clinch homefield they won’t basically not play football the last four weeks of the season. Anyone who thinks that layoff had nothing to do with their loss and offensive struggles isn’t paying attention. Oh yeah, and Mike Vanderjagt can kick any field goal for me the first 58 minutes of any game, but the last two I’ll take anyone else, except the Conquistador, Jose Cortez.

-If the Texans take Vince Young they’re fools.

-NEW SB prediction: Seahawks 27, Steelers 24. That’s right Blogmaster, you’ll finally get your title.

-Oh yes, one other thing: Despite the fact this is the best football weekend of the year, it was not the best television. I have two numbers for you: 24.

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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