Sporting a 21-8 record, the New York Knicks have brought winning basketball back to the Big Apple. Thanks to unworldly three-point shooting and the additions of a slew of proven veterans, they’re grasping firmly onto the second seed in the Eastern Conference, trailing just the Miami Heat for the top spot. Simply put, they’re in a good position. Still, a decline seems inevitable.
As aforementioned, New York started the season shooting the three-point ball at a historical rate. They won six straight games right out of the gate, which was almost entirely due to their uncanny three-point shooting. Seemingly every Knick was shooting for career-highs in the three-point department—Jason Kidd and Carmelo Anthony to name a few. The thing is, they still are living beyond the arc with only a shade of decline to be had. But that’s the problem.
See, rarely does solely good three-point shooting get a team anywhere. I wouldn’t even go as far to say that it’s “good” three-point shooting. Instead, the catch and chuck scheme is resulting in few contributions from other areas of the floor—27th in fast-break points (9.4 points per game), 29th in points in the paint per game (33.2), and average the fourth fewest assists per game as well.
From that, we can declare that there are no good indications that the Knicks will coast through the entire season shooting the ball like they have been lately. History is against them, their age is against them, and just common sense manifests that praying for great three-point shooting from night to night won’t yield the results the Knicks want come April.
With this, comes questions.
What will happen when their three-point shooting comes back to some form of reality? How will they make due without Raymond Felton for the next month-plus?
Both are good questions. Neither has a clear-cut answer, though. So far, we’ve only seen the perimeter version of the Knicks. We haven’t seen any form of consistent interior play, or any signs that something of such will save them when their shots aren’t dropping.
For one, head coach Mike Woodson doesn’t have a reliable go-to-guy on the block. Tyson Chandler doesn’t resemble a scorer by any means, rather a defensive force, but that’s irrelevant. Rasheed Wallace, meanwhile, is far past his prime, and Marcus Camby is a poor man’s Chandler with a better spot-up shot from 14 feet out.
Perhaps Amare Stoudemire will be the dominant inside presence that New York needs. Still, when 34 of their points per game come from three-pointers (league-high), switching to a different approach will be a tough transition, especially at this juncture.
What should also be noted is the Knicks’ canniness in close games. They have the second highest “close game” winning percentage in the league. Even so, this isn’t much an eye-opener. The Knicks’ veteran-navy roster does include one of basketball’s best closers in Carmelo Anthony, and a tough-shot maker in J.R. Smith (yes, I’m referring to his game-winner against Phoenix on Wednesday).
But given their unsustainable three-point shooting, they won’t be able to be in and win as many close games as they have been. The games just won’t be as tight with a slippage in three-point production.
Even more concerning, Raymond Felton’s fractured finger will put him on the shelf for a minimum of four weeks with six weeks being more realistic. He was an indispensable part of New York’s hot start, consistently orchestrating a lethal offense. So, the Knicks will likely have to make do with internal options. Meaning, they better hope Jason Kidd can turn back the clock for a month or so.
Kidd has certainly opened some eyes this season with his imposing three-point shooting, as he is shooting a career-best 45 percent from beyond the arc. Still, his durability is up for debate. He’s averaging just a tick under 30 minutes per game, and at 39-years-old, he isn’t getting any younger. It’s easy to say that the Knicks can’t put too much fate into Kidd filling Felton’s void effectively.
So what’s next?
Well suddenly, the Knicks find themselves in a similar situation—the ball constantly in Carmelo’s hands. Given the strides they’ve taken towards limiting the constant on-one-on play, this would practically be erasing all the progress they’ve made this year. ‘Melo’s usage rate is nearly at an all-time low, yet he hasn’t lost an of his scoring aptitudes. I think they’d like to keep it that way, as their offense is noticeably more versatile when Anthony isn’t a revolving black hole.
In other words, the Knicks are back to the Knicks that struggled under Mike D’Antoni last year. Those Knicks were not title contenders. These Knicks have the potential to reach that platform with a few upgrades. Until then, the Knicks will live and die by the three-pointer, which hardly ever leads to playoff success, or even regular season success for that matter.
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