Posted Dec 23 2011 9:38AM
Surprise, surprise. The New York Knicks chose defense over star power.
We thought they were going to wait for Chris Paul, the guy who made the toast to "our own big three" at Carmelo Anthony's wedding last year. But with no assets to trade to New Orleans, New York realized that Paul had no choice but to take his talents elsewhere and they quickly changed direction, setting their sights on Paul's friend and former teammate, Tyson Chandler.
To acquire Chandler (via a sign-and-trade deal with Dallas), the Knicks had to jettison Chauncey Billups via the amnesty clause. That created a hole at point guard, but truthfully, Billups didn't play that well after arriving from Denver last season. And though Mike D'Antoni's offense depends a lot on the point guard, it was more important to address the problem that the Knicks have had since Don Chaney was in D'Antoni's spot.
The Knicks have ranked in the bottom 10 defensively for seven straight seasons, a streak which should come to an end this season because they picked up the free agent who could help them most defensively. With apologies to Shane Battier and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Chandler was the most impactful defender available because of his ability to keep opponents out of the paint. Just ask LeBron James, who attempted only 20 free throws in The Finals and just six shots in the paint in the fourth quarters of that series.
Chandler took the 12th ranked defense in 2009-10 and turned it into the seventh-best defense ... and an NBA championship team. But he can only take the Knicks' defense so far because this team still has a number of defensive liabilities. And D'Antoni is still its coach.
D'Antoni has coached nine seasons in the NBA, and the highest any of his teams ranked defensively is 13th. He may be an offensive genius, but he's never put much of an emphasis on defense and never been able to get his team to get stops consistently.
On the floor, the Knicks' defensive problems start with their two best players. Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire are as bad defensively as they are great offensively. In their 776 minutes together last season, the Knicks allowed more than 111 points per 100 possessions, which is downright atrocious defense.
With Chandler behind them, Anthony and Stoudemire should become better defenders. But they can't use him as a crutch, or Chandler will be in foul trouble all season long. If the Knicks are really going to compete with Boston, Chicago and Miami, their improvement has to start with better defensive effort from their two stars.
"It starts from Day 1," Chandler said in training camp. "You can't get halfway through the season and all of a sudden say, 'C'mon guys, we've got to play defense. If you're halfway through the season, it's too hard to stop all of those bad habits. But if you start Day 1 with good habits, it just becomes second nature."
Make no mistake about it, though. Chandler will make a difference no matter how well his teammates defend. The Knicks' defense was bottom-10 in everything but forcing turnovers last season, and its lowest ranking (26th) was in defensive rebounding percentage. Chandler ranked 14th in individual defensive rebounding percentage last season, grabbing more than 25 percent of available defensive boards while he was on the floor.
Ex-Hawks coach Mike Woodson, who was hired as an assistant over the summer, should also help. But even with Woodson sitting next to him, D'Antoni will be the one held accountable if the Knicks don't reach the next level this year.
In D'Antoni's first two seasons in New York, the Knicks were tearing apart their roster to have cap space in the summer of 2010. Last season, they went through a major roster overhaul at the trading deadline to land 'Melo.
Now, things look to be stable. And now that he finally has a defensive anchor in his lineup, D'Antoni's effectiveness as the head coach of the New York Knicks can fairly be judged.
Chandler was definitely the right guy to get, and he'll certainly help the Knicks improve defensively. But it can't be up to only him.
1. Improve defensively. Better scouting. Stronger principles. Better effort. It can't just be about an athletic 7-footer in the middle.
2. Get Anthony and Stoudemire working together. The Knicks rarely ran pick-and-rolls involving both of their stars last season.
3. Instill discipline in Toney Douglas. He's not a real point guard, but he'll be asked to play one on TV, and he'll need to distribute the ball.
1. Of 62 point guards who played at least 750 minutes last season, Douglas ranked 56th in assist ratio, with just 21 dimes per 100 possessions used.
2. Landry Fields' confidence took a serious dive after the Anthony trade last season. The Knicks' will need him to make open shots.
3. If Stoudemire's back keeps him from playing a full season, Anthony will be carrying a huge load offensively. This team has no depth.
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LAST YEAR: 42-40, 2nd in Atlantic
FINISH: Lost in first round of playoffs
2010-11 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2010-11 Stats|
TONEY DOUGLAS, GUARD
10.6 PPG | 3.0 RPG | 3.0 APG
Defensively, Douglas can be a pest. Offensively, he's a streaky shooter. He'd be better off the bench, but the Knicks have no choice but to start him.
LANDRY FIELDS, SHOOTING GUARD
9.7 PPG | 6.4 RPG | 39% 3PT
The second-rounder was a pleasant rookie surprise, providing tough defense, good outside shooting and a willingness to crash the boards. He hit a wall late but looks to rebound.
CARMELO ANTHONY, SMALL FORWARD
25.6 PPG | 7.3 RPG | 38% 3PT
In 27 games with the Knicks , 'Melo put up 26.3 ppg and shot 42 percent from three. This didn't translate into consistent play for the Knicks, who were swept in the first round.
AMARE STOUDEMIRE, POWER FORWARD
25.3 PPG | 8.2 RPG | 1.9 BPG
The Knicks' big-money free-agent acquisition paid off, ending New York's playoff drought with stellar scoring and leadership. Teaming with 'Melo for a full season should be fun.
TYSON CHANDLER, CENTER
10.1 PPG | 9.4 RPG | 0.4 APG
Chandler brings the interior defense the Knicks have been missing for years, though he doesn't block that many shots (1.4 per 36 minutes last season).
|Mike Bibby||6-2||195||G||A defensive liability, but ranked sixth in 3P% last season.|
|Jared Jeffries||6-11||240||F||Unskilled, but the prototypical "glue guy."|
|Iman Shumpert||6-5||212||g||No. 17 pick will get a chance to contribute right away.|
ADDED: G Baron Davis, G Mike Bibby, C Tyson Chandler, G-F Devin Green, C Josh Harrellson, C Jerome Jordan, G Iman Shumpert
LOST: G Chauncey Billups (amnesty), F Derrick Brown, G Anthony Carter, G Roger Mason, Jr., G Andy Rautins, C Ronny Turiaf, F Shawne Williams, F Shelden Williams
TONEY DOUGLAS, G
Adding Tyson Chandler was the move the Knicks needed to make. But to do it, they had to waive Chauncey Billups, leaving a hole at the point guard position. Baron Davis might be able to fill that hole when he's healthy, but until then, Douglas needs to run the show with more discipline than he's had coming off the bench.
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