Fixing Knicks’ Locker Room Letdowns

As I noted back on January 24 (Knicks $1 Short in Qtr 3), the Knicks had established a pattern of low scoring 3rd quarters, something less than expected since the players should be coming out rested and recharged and with a game plan altered based on what transpired in the first half.  As it turns out, not only has that pattern continued, there are other signs that “locker room to lighting it up” isn’t happening.  This article will attempt to remedy that.

In the 24 games beginning on January 12 (the same starting point as my prior article), the Knicks’ worst scoring quarter has often been the 3rd.  On top of that, it’s the quarter they’re most likely to score fewer than 23 points (I picked this test based on expecting 100 points per game from a Mike D’Antoni offense and then expecting roughly 25 points per quarter to achieve it).  And it’s the quarter least likely to be their highest scoring quarter.  All in all, the third quarter hasn’t been a good one for the Knicks.

But further research showed that the 1st quarter is the next most likely to be their worst scoring quarter; the next most likely for them to score fewer than 23 points; and the next least likely to be their highest scoring quarter.

While many teams do well coming out of the locker room and then taper off late in the half, the Knicks are the opposite.  One thing that is common to the first and third quarters?  The Knicks are coming from the locker room before they start to play ball.

Pre-Lin / Post-Lin: it doesn’t seem to matter.

Before I propose some reasons and solutions, here are the numbers for the past 24 games:

Qtr          Lowest Scoring Qtr**      Scored < 23 points     Highest Scoring Qtr**

1st            4 gms(outright) &                         12 gms                4 gms (outright)
                 2 gms (tied w/other qtr)                                            2 gms (tied w/other qtr)

2nd           3 & 2                                                  6 gms                9 & 1

3rd           9 & 3                                                 13 gms               2 & 0

4th            4 & 1                                                   7 gms               7 & 1

** Is greater than 24 games because of ties with other quarters in some games.

Possible Problems and How to Solve Them

Physical

This could be that they’re not stretched out enough; they’re not resting enough; not drinking the right energy drink (some are for “during competition” and others for “after competition”), etc.

More importantly, with new construction and last season’s November Orlando game postponed because of asbestos being released into the air during renovations, could there be something in the Knicks’ new locker room that is affecting the players?  This could be varnish, some type of plastic, mold (possibly released during construction), asbestos (same), etc.

Psychological – Part 1

Something could be used as a slogan that isn’t having the expected impact.  Or being said in a way that gives it the opposite impact from what’s intended (“don’t think about all the missed shots in the first half…”).

Habit

While any one of the items listed above could be the problem, perhaps that problem no longer exists.  It’s very possible for a person or team to repeatedly fail after a problem is solved because they’re used to failing and they’ve linked certain behaviors to making that failure happen.  Since the Knicks 1st and 3rd quarter issues happen both home and away, it’s very likely that a habit is now part or all of the problem. 

Psychological – Part 2

It’s possible that this scoring problem has become a team belief (“We don’t score a lot of points in the 3rd quarter”, etc).  Team beliefs happen quite a bit during the season and they are very hard (and very easy) to break.  Whatever beliefs an athlete and/or team has affects performance.  Dealing with this type of challenge will be addressed in part 2 of this article, to be posted at a later date.  That article will include some real-life examples and solutions, including one from the ’99-’00 season when Latrell Sprewell returned to Golden State for the first time since trying to choke his coach. 

Solving the Problems

All aspects of the “physical” section of this article should be checked (certainly, at least, the air quality in the locker room).  I’d be surprised if anything like “stretching” or “energy drinks”, even if they were once a problem, continue to be problems.  Still, it’s worth making sure that none of these are issues now.

As far as “psychological – part 1” goes, although poor languaging is almost a given due to the lack of training in the topic in the US, it’s unlikely that it’s still causing problems.  Improper languaging most often affects performance when it’s done from the sideline during the game and I’ll devote an article to that in the near future as well.

Since I’ve already indicated that I’ll deal with “psychological – part 2” in a future article, that leaves “Habit”.  Without knowing what the original cause of the problem is, as long as the Knicks haven’t wandered into “team belief” mode, these techniques can fix things as quickly as tonight’s game.

Breaking the Cycle – Sequence

The first thing that can be done is that the team can change the sequence of events.  Doing this will often be enough to break a poor performance cycle.  Let’s say, for example, that before the game, the Knicks’ sequence of events looks like this:

1-Players gather for last minute instructions
2-Coach Weber speaks on special situations (inbounds plays, end of quarter, etc) for this game
3-Coach Woodson speaks about special defensive focus
4-Coach D’Antoni speaks on special offensive focus
5-Team prayer
6-Take the floor for warm ups

If the players’ brains have linked this sequence with their poor performance (and they could easily do it, even though it probably has nothing to actually do with their performance), then continuing with this sequence will continue the poor performance.

A simple change like this could break the cycle:

1-Players gather for last minute instructions
2-Coach Woodson speaks about special defensive focus
3-Coach Weber speaks on special situations (inbounds plays, end of quarter, etc) for this game
4-Coach D’Antoni speaks on special offensive focus
5-Team prayer
6-Take the floor for warm ups

Something easy to do and well within the control of the coaches.  It shouldn’t hurt, based on the patterns of the past 24 games.

Breaking the Cycle – Point of View

We’ve all heard the expression “point of view” but rarely is it known how important physical point of view is to our results.  On a personal note, I spent most of high school sitting in the back row telling jokes, making my classmates laugh, and getting thrown out of class.  When I was paying for my own classes, I sat in the front and was more quiet and focused.  I still find, to this day, that if I sit in the back of a seminar or meeting, I’ll interact more, make people laugh, and be grateful that they don’t have detention at professional events.  But when I sit in front, I learn more and am more quiet.  I also get annoyed at those people who keep telling jokes from the back of the room (hhhhmmm).

Another example is Charlie Weis, former New England Patriots offensive coordinator and Notre Dame University head coach.  Weis did not have the type of success that he and everyone expected when he left the NFL and went to Notre Dame.  I had suspected that it was, in part, due to the change to his “point of view” – as the offensive coordinator, he sat in a booth high above the field and relayed plays via walkie talkie.  As the head coach, he patrolled the sidelines.  Very different angles, very different sized players, very different “points of view”.

My suspicions about Coach Weis were confirmed (to me, anyway) when he injured his knee, had surgery, and had to sit in a booth above the field and relay his instructions via walkie talkie while he recovered.  All of a sudden, the Fighting Irish were playing better, going for more yardage, and scoring a lot more points.  The players’ skill levels didn’t go up.  But Weis started calling better plays for the situation, something that was easy for him to do because his “point of view” was the same as it was when he was the OC of the Super Bowl Champions.

How can the Knicks change their points of view?  Easy.  First, change where they’re sitting when they meet before the game and at the half.  Players who sit on the left side can sit on the right side.  Players who sit in the back can move to the front.  It’ll seem strange at first and that’s a great thing.  Feeling “similar” may be what’s causing them to continue bad performance streaks.

When can they do this?  Tonight.

In Conclusion

There are things in play which affect performance that we never knew were part of the equation.  Some simple solutions are possible.  And these solutions will work for us in our regular lives as well as for the Knicks on the court.  Wait until you see how much beliefs affect performance.  You’ll be amazed.

In the meantime, these simple changes can make a major difference for the Knicks if they give them a try.

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