The Knicks are three games into the season and with the exception of a Christmas Day “come from behind after giving up a huge lead” victory over the Celtics, the team hasn’t looked very good. There are a lot of technical issues that can be pointed to on film and this article will cover a few of them. More importantly, this article will cover some big picture issues that have had a significant impact on the team’s performance so far. If these big picture issues are dealt with quickly, the team will start winning again and get back into the playoff hunt.
The coaches seem confused and not very confident at times. The players seem confused and not very confident at times. Some of the reasons for what’s going wrong so far impact one group or the other; some of the reasons impact both groups at the same time. All of them need to be addressed.
I. They’ve gotten away from doing what they’re good at and comfortable with.
A. Most of the time, they’re not running Mike D’Antoni’s offense (Coaches edition).
“Seven seconds or less” is supposed to refer to getting off a shot, not getting the ball over half court. The Knicks have gone from being at the top of the league in scoring last year to being #24 this year. They’ve fallen below the very significant 46% in shooting twice this year and, not surprisingly, lost both of those games. Since they only win about 20% of the games where they shoot less than 46%, they need to get their shooting percentages up and do it quickly.
They need to get back to running Mike’s offense immediately. Not doing so is impacting the players. But it’s also affecting the coaches. Let’s deal with that, first.
Except for Mike Woodson, this is a staff that’s run an offense based on a particular philosophy for almost a decade. There’s been talk about Mike needing to make changes to accommodate his personnel and some of that is true. But it’s more to accommodate Stat and Melo by tweaking Mike’s offense. Not to go to a different offensive philosophy altogether.
Mike D’Antoni is not a coach you bring in unless you want his high octane offense. You don’t bring him in and then say “Let’s run the Triangle”. Would you cast Lawrence Oliver in “Dude, Where’s My Car?” Would you cast Ashton Kutcher in “Hamlet”? Would you cast Peter Graves as the pilot in “Airplane”? (Okay, bad example).
Expecting Mike to run a slowdown offense is like hiring Larry Brown and expecting that you can keep him from talking to the media. (Okay, another bad example).
They need to get back to running Mike’s offense so that the coaches feel more confident and so they can use their last decade of experience to manage the game.
B. Most of the time, they’re not running Mike D’Antoni’s offense (Players’ edition).
One of the beautiful things about Mike’s offense (of which I’m a big fan) is that it eliminates many of the obstacles that normally hinder the player’s ability to make the shot. For the most part, a player knows that if he’s in his shooting range, he’s allowed to take the shot. As a peak performance coach, I can tell you that this is huge.
But now the players look confused. Instead of open shot opportunities being created by moving the ball up court quickly, they’re being faced with “creating” a shot after the defense has already set up. Or shooting from areas they’re not really comfortable in. Or both.
In addition to the speed of the game, another cause of problems is that Tyson Chandler (who I’m very happy is on the team) is being played as the “5” on offense as well as defense. This has impacted Amar’e Stoudemire’s room to work in the paint and sent him out to the 3 point line. Not good for him and not good for the players who should be standing where Amar’e is now standing. They might want to look at playing Chandler in the high post or the medium-to-high post extended. Room for Amar’e. Room for Tyson. Room at the 3 point line. Two big men to rebound. Just a thought…
C. Most of the time, they’re not running Mike D’Antoni’s offense (Current point guard edition).
There’s a lot of talk about what Toney Douglas can’t do as a point guard. And in many ways, he’s not the ideal point guard for Mike’s offense. But that can be easily fixed, even if the fix needs to happen over and over.
A “pass first” point guard is ideal for Mike’s system because the system creates open shots and a pass first point guard will get the ball to the player who happens to be open. Toney often thinks of his shot first but he’s got the talent to run this offense effectively with some help.
A major difference between a pass first point guard and a shoot first point guard is in his decision making process. One is looking for the open man and the other is looking for an opening to shoot. If the Knicks take the decision making out of the start of the play, Toney’s got the skills to make the appropriate pass or to run the pick-and-roll.
How do they take the decision making out of the start of the play? By calling a play. If Toney knows that he’s supposed to get the ball to Carmelo, he’ll do it. If he knows that he’s supposed to get the ball to Stat, he’ll do it. He’s not a rebel who’s going to fire up a shot just to show Mike who’s playing the point.
Set up some clear rules for Toney: If a play is called, initiate the play. If it breaks down and you have a shot, take it. If no play is called, shoot if you’ve got it or pass if you see an open teammate. No muss, no fuss.
Not only will providing a play to Toney eliminate a decision-making challenge, it’ll allow the coaches to make sure that the right people are taking enough shots. See “What Goes Around Needs to be Spread Around” for how shot frequency impacts the Knicks’ 46% abilities.
Try calling plays for Toney for a few games and see how well it works.
D. Most of the time, they’re not running Mike D’Antoni’s offense (Future point guard edition).
There’s been a lot of talk about “when Baron Davis gets healthy” and how he’s going to improve the team. I agree.
But when there were rumors about Baron signing with the Knicks, there were a lot of people asking which Baron they were signing. The happy one who plays his best or the disgruntled one who doesn’t play as well? Legitimate questions.
Did you see Baron get interviewed on TNT last night? Did you see his eyes light up when he was asked if he was excited about playing in Mike’s offense? I thought he was going to drool.
We know which Baron we’re going to see if he’s running Mike’s system. Which Baron would we see if he was handed the ball and told to run the four corners? ‘Nuf said.
II. They’ve got to do some things they’re not comfortable doing (Coaches edition)
In this shortened season, it’s vital to balance a player’s minutes so that he’s rested enough to play at a high level and in the game enough for it to make a difference. This means having to play as many players as it’s feasible to play (yes, I know they can only play 5 at a time). They can dress 13 men this season. And if #13 can make a legitimate contribution to a game, this is a great season to give him some burn.
But Mike has never seemed comfortable playing more than 8 or, sometimes, 9 a night. He’s long been criticized for playing his starters for too many minutes over the course of a season.
Can he go deep into his bench while avoiding having to focus too much on substitution patterns? Of course he can. I wouldn’t have asked the question otherwise!
If the Knicks were to play their bottom 5 guys (#9-13 or #8-12) like UNC used to do with their Blue team, they’d realize a number of benefits. This “Blue” team would go in as a unit and play 3-5 minutes to give the starters a rest. They’d press and harass the other team all over the floor, forcing the opposition to burn more energy than they want to.
Potentially, you could give them their 5 minutes by spanning the 1st and 2nd quarters and the 3rd and 4th quarters and the starters would get extra rest without losing any additional playing time.
Since they’d play as a unit, they’d practice as a unit and could be handled by an assistant coach. Other teams would actually have to prepare for the Blue team, taking time away from their preparation against the starters.
And since they’re a unit, it’s easy to count them as “1” when thinking about how many players are being juggled. These kinds of mental tricks can work wonders.
Try it for a couple of weeks and see how well it works.
III. Stop shooting if you’re not sure that you should shoot (Please, please, please edition)
One of the things I noticed during the Knicks-Lakers game was that, many times, Knicks’ shooters had the ball and an open shot. But instead of shooting, they hesitated, decided to take the shot, and then took it. Do you know what else I noticed? Every time they hesitated and then shot, they missed. Not really a surprise.
Pro tip (or at least a tip to the pros): if you get the ball in range and aren’t sure that you should shoot it, you shouldn’t. Pass the ball or dribble but don’t bother to shoot unless you’re trying to beat the shot clock. Almost always, if you hesitate, you’re going to miss.
Do you know how a player should know that he’s going to shoot the ball? He’s on the floor and his team has possession. That doesn’t mean that he’s actually going to shoot but he should always be prepared to shoot.
That means knowing whether or not he’s in range. That means that, if he’s just come in after a long stint on the bench, he knows if he’s warmed up and stretched out enough to shoot. That means being prepared to square up and shoot if his teammate gets in trouble and bails himself out by passing to the open man. That means knowing that everything that’s required to take a good shot is already set.
Remember, even if the play is called for you, you can decide not to shoot if you catch, turn, and are swarmed by defenders or otherwise feel unready. But it’s a lot quicker to know you’re all set and then back off the shot than it is to catch the ball wide open and then figure out if you’re in your range, etc., etc., etc.
And if you have any doubt about whether you should shoot, PLEASE DON’T SHOOT!!!. (Thanks. I feel better now)
IV. In Conclusion.
There are many small things that can be tweaked but the Knicks will be better off dealing with these bigger issues. Basically, it boils down to do what you do well and find creative ways to deal with situations that make you uncomfortable.
Good advice for the Knicks. Good advice for most of us.
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