The New York Knicks Defense Is Deceptively Bad

The New York Knicks were expected to have some problems this season. They had salary cap problems that prevented significant offseason changes, they were an older team and a second-round playoff loss to the Indiana Pacers in 2013 had exposed the Knicks’ deficiencies, at least when compared to the top teams contenders in the East.

But should New York really be on a pace to miss the playoffs entirely, given the woeful Eastern Conference and having the best player on the floor, in Carmelo Anthony, most nights they take the court? That’s the path this team, currently 6-15, is on right now.

Defense is the core problem. New York plays relatively low-scoring games, so this is going to be obscured. But the low point volumes are due to a slower pace, not because the Knicks excel at shutting anyone down when they need to. New York ranks 25th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, and they’re worse at rebounding. Furthermore, their rebounding woes are comparatively worse on the defensive end. It’s tough to succeed at half-court defense when you don’t close out possessions with the rebound.

Injuries are at least somewhat to blame. Tyson Chandler broke his leg and the veteran center anchors the half-court defense and cleans up the glass. The hope is that Chandler will be ready by New Year’s, and if that’s the case it’s something that should give New York a lift. Kenyon Martin has also returned to the lineup to help out with the rebounding.

The health problems aren’t going away though. Raymond Felton just pulled a hamstring and will be out 2-3 weeks. Are we about to see a shift in problems from the frontcourt to the backcourt? New York’s a veteran team and these kinds of injuries can’t be unexpected. Players have to step up, and that starts with Andrea Bargnani and J.R. Smith.

Bargnani is a 7-foot center who plays like a small forward, averaging 14 points/5 rebounds per game. He likes to shoot the three-ball, but is hitting only 31 percent. And a center that hits 44 percent from the floor like Bargnani is playing like a liability. He’s this team’s second-best scorer and has to start playing like it.

Smith was Sixth Man of the Year last season and with his 34 percent shooting this time around is demonstrating why he wasn’t a starter. Smith is having to carry an outsized role on this team. He’s not suited to be the third-best scorer, but until a better option comes along, his perimeter shot has to stabilize.

Melo is getting his numbers, with 25 points/10 rebounds a night, and the 44 percent from the floor is pretty good, given the number of shots he takes. He’s taken fair criticism for being a ballhog, but as you run through the performances of his supporting cast, you’re left to wonder who else should be taking the shots. What he can do better is shoot the trey, where he’s at 32 percent. Anthony is a good enough pure shooter to get that average in the high thirties, which is effective on the three-pointer.

New York might have lost 15 of their first 21 games, but not only are they just 2 1/2 games out of the playoffs, they’re only 4 1/2 games out of the #3 seed. The season is far from lost and I expect to see them turn it around. The Knicks will be in the national spotlight for Christmas Day when they host Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder. If New York hasn’t stabilized by then, the odds are good that someone other than Mike Woodson will be coaching the Knicks by then.