On the night of December 22nd, 2016, the New York Knicks walked off their home floor with a victory over the Orlando Magic. They improved to 11-4 at Madison Square Garden, and had an overall record of 16-13. They were the third seed in the Eastern Conference and gave Knicks’ fans hope for a winning season.
The next game was on Christmas Day against the Boston Celtics. Before tipoff, there was a great sense of optimism around the Garden. The Knicks had gone 13-7 in their previous 20 games and had erased memories of their 3-6 start.
It would go all downhill from there.
The Knicks would lose that day with a very lackadaisical effort on defense. The Celtics were getting open shots from the perimeter, including plenty from downtown. They trailed by double-digits for much of the fourth quarter. Even with a valiant effort in the final two minutes of the game, they fell short and could not extend their winning streak.
Since that loss, they have been in a horrible losing funk. With a record of 2-9 in their past 11 games, the Knicks have fallen out of the playoff picture.
Surviving the Knicks Rough Patch
When everything is going right, teams know how to win and finish off games. But the opposite is also true. When in a funk, teams find new ways to lose. That is exactly how the Knicks have played over the last few weeks. They are unable to put away their opponents or take control of the game, and eventually lose in the end. This was especially true in two games, at home against the Milwaukee Bucks and on the road against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Knicks blew double-digits leads and lost both games. According to ESPN Stats and Information, losing to the Sixers gave the Knicks their first lost in the last 20 seasons when leading by 10 points in the last 3 minutes of the game.
One of the major reasons for this funk is how bad the Knicks have been on defense. They are not portraying a consistent effort on the defensive side of the court night in and night out. Even within a game, you will see after a glimmer of good defense, and then the opponent will hit open three-point shots and get to the basket at will. They give up 108 points to opposing teams per game, which is the second highest in the East and the sixth highest in the NBA.
The offense is usually not the problem for this team. They might get stagnant sometimes. The biggest knock for this goes to Carmelo Anthony, who is known for stopping the ball movement and playing “iso ball.” But they can put up numbers with anyone. If this team wants to make noise this year, then their play on defense needs to improve and be consistent every game.
The Knicks have been dealing with turmoil on and off the court. It starts from the top and trickles down to the players. Phil Jackson’s attempts have not been successful as the president of the Knicks. His attempts of strengthening the roster have been futile. Since his first year, he has tinkered with the roster every year to make this a competitive team. However, no matter how the roster is tweaked, the Knicks cannot find the right footing to success.
His persistence on implementing the triangle have not been successful. The triangle is his system and he wants the coach to run this as their primary offensive set. But he hasn’t found the pieces for the triangle to work.
His first coach hire, Derek Fisher, was a mistake. Fisher went straight from the court to the sideline, retiring right before he was hired by Jackson. His inexperience showed in his game plan and his off-court romantic scandal. Fisher only lasted a year and a half and was fired mid-season.
This offseason, he hired Jeff Hornacek. Hornacek is a good coach, but his job was tough from day 1. He was grilled by the media if he would run the triangle. Hornacek likes to push the ball and would rather not use the triangle, but also stated they would run a variation of the triangle. When you have different viewpoints in the front office, the results usually don’t look good for the team.
To add to the turmoil, this week Derek Rose brought off-court drama. Right before Monday’s game, Rose went missing. The Knicks did not know where he was. It wasn’t till after the Knicks were embarrassed by the Pelicans on their home floor that they found out Rose flew back to Chicago to be with his family without notifying anyone from the team.
Regardless of who works in the front office, coaches the team, or wears the uniform, the Knicks have been the kings of mediocrity and plagued with turmoil over the last decade and a half.
With the recent run of bad play, there has been an outcry from the analysts and fans to blow up this whole experiment. It is time to trade Anthony, Rose, and anyone else that has value for draft picks and young talent. They need to build around Kristaps Porzingis.
However, the Knicks should let this play out. Under Jackson’s leadership, the franchise has had too many roster overhauls, which is not a winning formula. Rose is the point guard the Knicks have been craving since the days of Charlie Ward. He penetrates the defense with ease and not only gets easy shots for himself, but creates for everyone else.
Anthony is near the end of his prime, if not already there. He has a no-trade clause and probably will not waive it unless things get much worse. Anthony can still score with the best of them and when given the ball at the mid-post, Anthony is still his best turning around and firing a quick mid-range jumper. His scoring prowess continues to carry this team.
Jackson signed Joakim Noah to a 4-year deal. This was definitely an over pay for an aging center that has developed a knack for injuries. But his hustle and defense can carry this team. As the season has progressed, he has gotten healthier. This is portrayed by his play. He is crashing the offensive glass with ferocity on every single play. He is the glue guy of the team.
Finally, Porzingis is a budding star in the league. He is on his way to becoming a superstar and the talent is there. It will help Porzingis to get playoff experience. His best chance to get playoff experience is by keeping this experiment together, getting the season back on track, and getting into the playoffs. Down the road when the team is built around Porzingis, the previous playoff experience will pay off.
In the weaker Eastern Conference, all it takes is a winning streak to get back into the playoffs. The season is only about half way over. The Knicks cannot give up on the season after going through this funk. Seasons have their ups and downs. After this down, the Knicks can still recover and do something they’ve done only four times since 2001: make the playoffs.
Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks, in action during the New York Knicks vs Milwaukee Bucks, NBA Basketball game at Madison Square Garden, New York. USA. 15th March 2014. Photo Tim Clayton (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)