Posted Nov 27 2010 12:01PM
NEW YORK -- Just 16 games in, the New York Knicks have already experienced the highs and lows of a roller coaster 2010-11 season.
After winning three of their first five games, they dropped six straight, with the low-point coming in a 21-point collapse in Minnesota. Point guard Raymond Felton looked like he couldn't run a simple pick-and-roll, and head coach Mike D'Antoni appeared to be a bad fit for a team that didn't have the talent to push his offensive system to the limit.
Scoring just 101.1 points per 100 possessions through their first 10 games, the Knicks ranked 24th in the league offensively. Amar'e Stoudemire was averaging 20.8 points per game, but shooting a career-low 46 percent from the field. Wilson Chandler, Toney Douglas, Raymond Felton and Danilo Gallinari were shooting a combined 42 percent.
The Knicks were taking the fourth most 3-point attempts in the league, but were shooting them at the sixth worst percentage. They were improved defensively, but not nearly enough to make up for their inefficiency on the other end.
Then the Knicks headed west for a four-game trip. And in Denver, they discovered their offense, scoring 118 points in a ridiculously fast-paced game. Their fourth-quarter comeback fell two points short, but the loss was not like the previous five, and D'Antoni called it "a little bit of a positive step."
That step forward carried over as the Knicks won the final three games of their trip, shooting 52 percent in wins over the Kings, Warriors and Clippers. Gallinari hit 10 of his 16 threes in the three games, Stoudemire averaged 30-plus, and Felton started to look a lot more comfortable running his new team.
Of course, the competition probably had something to do with the Knicks' offensive explosion. The Warriors and Clippers are two of the three worst defensive teams in the league this season, and the Kings aren't much better.
So the Knicks needed a little validation when they returned home. And that may have come with a home-and-home sweep of the Bobcats, which put them at .500 and gave them their first five-game winning streak since January of 2006. The Bobcats aren't nearly as good a defensive team as they were last season, but they're a big step up from the Western Conference doormats.
A look at the Knicks' numbers during their last six games makes it clear how they've turned it around. They've actually been worse defensively in these six games than they were in their first 10. But their offensive improvement has more than made up for the porous defense.
|Off. Rat. = Points scored per 100 possessions Def. Rat. = Points allowed per 100 possessions|
The Knicks' increased efficiency is about more than just better shooting. They've been turning the ball over less, getting to the free throw line more, and rebounding (on the offensive end) better. And all of that is a product of better ball movement and better floor spacing.
"I think a lot of it is just the chemistry," D'Antoni said earlier this week. "They have a little bit more confidence with each other."
Having adjusted his offense to better fit his personnel, D'Antoni deserves some credit for the offensive improvement as well. Rather than forcing Felton to get Stoudemire the ball via the pick-and-roll, the Knicks have been using off-ball action to get the ball to Stoudemire directly. That allows their star to go to work one-one-one.
"We've cleared out for Amar'e, getting him not having to attack one against five, which he was," D'Antoni said. "We didn't really put him in a great position the first few games. And now he's in a better position to attack."
Stoudemire has averaged 25.5 points on 57 percent shooting in the six games, getting to the line more than eight times per contest. The trip out west earned him Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors.
Heading into Saturday's game against the Hawks, the Knicks sit in sixth place in the Eastern Conference. Now ranking sixth in the league offensively, they've clearly made strides. But it must be noted that they've played one of the weakest schedules in the NBA thus far.
With a tougher road ahead, the Knicks' season will likely continue to resemble a roller coaster ride, because their defense is not good enough for them to be very consistent. But now that they've got the offense clicking, they're looking more like what we expected from their upgraded roster.
John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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