New York State of Mind, Part IVIn the summer of 2012, Phil Jackson called the Knicks' roster "clumsy." For quite some time I have been skeptical of the Knicks' rebuilding plan--or rebuilding plans: the Knicks seemed to put all of their eggs in the LeBron James basket (plan one) and then when it became clear that James wanted nothing to do with New York they acquired Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, two All-Stars who do not have complementary skill sets (plan two). Stoudemire functions best in screen/roll sets that exploit his athletic ability and excellent hands, while Anthony favors isolation sets that permit him to go one on one. Stoudemire is injury-prone and after playing in 78 of 82 games in his first season with New York he missed 76 out of 148 games the past two years. Anthony is a big-time scorer whose teams tend to do well in the regular season before flaming out in the first round of the playoffs. The Knicks won one playoff game in the first two years of the Anthony-Stoudemire era, which is not much of a return on an investment in two max level contracts.
Did the 2012-13 season finally validate the Knicks' Anthony-Stoudemire plan? New York posted a 54-28 record, second best in the Eastern Conference behind the 66-16 Miami Heat. In A Tale of Two Cities: The Rise of the Knicks and the Fall of the Lakers, I explained how the Knicks got off to a fast start in the 2012-13 season:
One obvious difference is that Carmelo Anthony has been very productive and efficient, posting the third highest scoring average of his career, the best three point shooting percentage of his career and the fourth best overall field goal percentage of his career. He is still not a great rebounder, passer or defender but it looks like he is in the best shape of his career and that he has committed himself to playing hard on a consistent basis instead of in fits and spurts. What caused Anthony to change? Coach Mike Woodson is holding Anthony accountable at both ends of the court and it appears that we are once again witnessing the Jason Kidd Effect, which may not be provable statistically but nevertheless exists: every team that Kidd joins becomes better and every team that he leaves becomes worse. Kidd is mentally and physically tough, he is unselfish and he is a defensive-minded player, four qualities that the Knicks have lacked for many years. Kidd is only fifth on the Knicks in minutes played and in his old age he has evolved from a dynamic point guard into a spot up three point shooter but the impact of his professionalism is being felt on and off the court. Simply put, the Knicks no longer play or act like knuckleheads...
Kidd will continue to be the consummate professional, as will fellow championship ring owners Tyson Chandler and Rasheed Wallace, but it remains to be seen if Anthony and J.R. Smith will be focused and efficient for the whole season; it also remains to be seen if the Knicks can maintain their extraordinary three point shooting and their virtually error-free ballhandling. The Knicks are better than I expected but I still am not convinced that Carmelo Anthony can be the best player on a championship team. It will be very interesting to see how far the Knicks advance in the 2013 playoffs.
I recognized that the Knicks had improved to some extent but I also questioned if the reasons behind that improvement were sustainable during the postseason. The Knicks did a decent job of maintaining their three point shooting prowess and they kept their turnover numbers low but Anthony went through a stretch in which he shot worse than .430 from the field in seven out of eight playoff games, finishing the 2013 playoffs with a .403 field goal percentage. Smith received a one game suspension in the first round, was ineffective when he returned to the lineup and he shot just .331 from the field during the postseason. Another important factor is that the Knicks had no answer for Father Time; saying that Kidd faded late in the season and during the playoffs would be a huge understatement: there is no doubt that his 40 year old heart and mind were willing but his body rebelled and he did not score a point in New York's final 10 playoff games. Scoring was never the most important part of Kidd's game but his inability to make a basket necessitated that the Knicks cut back his minutes, which diminished the impact of his leadership and toughness; in order to lead, a player has to be in the fray and not just offering wise words from the bench.
Other commentators provided much less measured analysis of the Knicks' regular season success, spewing hype about how great the Knicks are and about how Carmelo Anthony is an MVP caliber player--one voter even foolishly selected Anthony over LeBron James in the official MVP balloting. Hype does not win playoff games, though--and neither do flawed, "clumsy" rosters; the Knicks struggled to beat an aging, injury-depleted Boston Celtics team in the first round and then they got embarrassed 4-2 by the 49-32 Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. So, this is what several years of rebuilding--including tens of millions of dollars spent on Anthony and Stoudemire--achieved: one playoff series win.
The Knicks' good 2012-13 regular season run did not at all justify the money that they are paying to Anthony and Stoudemire. While the Knicks played better last season than they did when Anthony and Stoudemire first joined forces, it must also be noted that the Knicks benefited from the injuries that took out several of the Eastern Conference's top players, most notably Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo and Danny Granger. Kidd's decline hurt the Knicks in the playoffs and now that he is retired it will not be easy for the Knicks to replace the intangibles that he provided during most of the regular season.
New York State of Mind
New York State of Mind, Part II
New York State of Mind, Part III
posted by David Friedman @ 10:53 PM