The Knicks are 7-1 as the toast of the town, and their Jay-Z-owned brothers across the East River, the Nets, are 6-2 and second in the Atlantic Division. That means the Post and Daily News are foaming at the mouth to stir up a little New York rivalry and tout the two teams as legitimate threats to come out of the East this spring. Except, we’re not even through the regular season’s first month, and there are some inconsistencies in what both teams have accomplished thus far. This isn’t to say the Knicks and Nets won’t both make the playoffs as many prognosticators believed, but they’re not going to dominate the East like they’ve done through the first couple weeks of the regular season.
The Knicks, especially, have a lot still up in the air with a returning Amar’e Stoudemire looming on the horizon. STAT’s natural spot at the 4 is where Carmelo Anthony has been most effective as the Knicks have gone a little smaller during this early season surge. Tyson Chandler is still a defensive anchor at the center position, but ‘Melo has been banging bodies in the post while taking advantage of opposing power forwards with his quickness. If Stoudemire’s return and ‘Melo’s subsequent return to small forward throws the team off track, what then? Amar’e's contract is one of the worst in the league, and only a night where Mikhail Prokhorov goes vodka shot for vodka shot with some higher-ups in the Russian Interior could lead to him being traded.
Stoudemire makes a lot of money, and was once the face of the franchise before ‘Melo arrived. He probably wouldn’t handle a role coming off the bench very well, at least not as well as J.R. Smith has responded after initially being upset about his sixth man role during preseason. Unfortunately for the Garden faithful, STAT’s ambiguous place in the Knicks lineup isn’t their only concern.
The primary bright spot for the Knicks this season is their are shooting, but shooting is also the most delicate feature, able to turn cold just as fast as it heats up. They’re shooting at an incredible rate from long range; they’re third in the league in effective field goal percentage, according to Hoopdata. In their only loss this season against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Knicks shot just 5-for-19 from beyond the arc, good for 39.5 percent. It was their first game shooting under 50 percent from long range. In their last two – including that loss to Memphis and their most recent victory over Indiana – they’re 12-for-44. So it’s safe to say their shooting luck, at least from beyond the arc, won’t continue for the duration of the season.
But the Knicks also struggle in other components of the game. They get to the line at a below-average rate (22nd in the league, according to Hoopdata) while giving opponents an average number of looks from the charity stripe. This isn’t necessarily a lack of aggressiveness but probably a byproduct of their continued reliance on shots from the perimeter. The Knicks also fail to grab many offensive rebounds, so if their shots stop falling at their current rate, there will be a dearth of second chances. The Miami Heat can afford to give up some offensive rebounds since their style of play is predicated on their small ball lineup that out-hustles opponents and forces turnovers, but New York’s inability to corral rebounds isn’t offset by two perimeter defenders and rebounders like Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. The Knicks have been fabulous and fans in New York are rightfully juiced, but they also have some holes in their fast start and Stoudemire’s impending return could throw the whole team’s balance out of whack.