How did things get so bad so fast in New York? The Knicks have lost nine games in a row, and half their team is either hurt (Tyson Chandler), complaining (Carmelo Anthony) or involved in trade rumors (Iman Shumpert). Brooklyn is almost just as bad, a team with a handful of future Hall of Famers and only one goal (championship) sitting at 5-12.
Luckily for both franchises, the East is so bad that Washington is current the No. 3 seed. They’re 9-9. Atlantic Division leader Toronto is the No. 4 seed. They’re 6-10! With the two city rivals getting together for a national TV tilt on Thursday, and with both sides struggling to stay healthy, we figured it was time. Which team is worse: the Knicks or the Nets? We argue. You decide.
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NEW YORK KNICKS
It’s terrible for New York basketball right now. The Knicks and Nets, both projected to contend for an NBA title this season, are off to putrid starts and now hope to just get a playoff spot in the conference. It’s still early, of course but one of these teams is in worse position than the other and it’s not Brooklyn.
The Knicks are on a nine-game losing streak with an overall record of 3-13, which places them at the bottom of both the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference. The last time they’ve had a streak like this was in March of 2006 under head coach Larry Brown, a season that also included a 10-game losing streak two months prior. This current Knicks team didn’t win a single game at home in November.
Carmelo Anthony is averaging 26 points and 10 rebounds per game but he’s shooting the worst field goal percentage of his career at 42 percent. Returning starters Raymond Felton and Iman Shumpert have struggled as well, and last year’s Sixth Man of the Year winner J.R. Smith has been everything but a sparkplug for New York thus far. Andrea Bargnani has been a great addition but with All-Star center and team leader Tyson Chandler out with a non-displaced fracture of his right fibula, the defensive cracks that Chandler covered with his presence have been exposed. They’re 23rd in the league in offensive rating and 28th in defensive rating. Mike Woodson looks like a deer in headlights and Knicks fans have started a petition to oust owner James Dolan.
In short, this season has been a collective disaster. One that I’m not sure will get any better.
For starters, the problems begin with the Knicks’ inability to find other ways to score the basketball. Over the past few seasons, New York’s offense has revolved around their perimeter shooting. When they make their outside shots, things are fantastic. But when they miss, they keep launching instead of penetrating towards the basket. The Knicks are shooting 42 percent from the field and 32 percent from three-point range, a drop from last season’s 45 percent and 38 percent, respectively. Their two most high-profile – and volume – scorers Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith are the best scoring options, yet they’ve combined for a frigid 37 percent from the field this season. And out of all Knicks who shoot at least five field goal attempts per game, rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. is the only player who shoots over 40 percent from three-point range.
The Knicks missed 12 of their final 13 field goal attempts in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game, and 10 of them were 3-pointers. The Nets don’t shoot that many threes – 24th in the league in attempts compared to eighth for the Knicks – but they shoot a higher percentage and when the perimeter shots aren’t falling, they have legitimate frontcourt scoring with Brook Lopez and Kevin Garnett. Chandler, a vital piece to the Knicks’ edifice, isn’t a post-up player that will drop 20 points on a nightly basis, nor is he someone Woodson can revolve his offensive gameplan around. That won’t change when he comes back, either. And for all of Bargnani’s early contribution, he also lives outside of the paint – a space that Anthony, Smith and Felton also occupy.
Which leads to the next problem: ball movement. The Knicks are 28th in the league in assists, and it shows when the players stand around waiting for the ball and Smith goes full-blown isolation like this:
The only time New York moves the ball is when it’s around the perimeter, defeating the purpose seeing as how they’re a terrible shooting team at the moment. Spacing isn’t necessarily the issue, either. It’s the lack of camaraderie and an inability to trust their teammates, and it starts at the top with Woodson.
Typically I’m not one of those fans who points blame at the coach for the team’s wrongdoings. But against the Pelicans on Sunday, I have never been more befuddled by Mike Woodson’s decision making as it looks like he’s lost complete control of the team. After a missed defensive assignment by Anthony that gave the Pelicans a late-game lead, Shumpert ripped him during the following timeout (both players called it a “miscommunication” the following day). The young shooting guard, who has been involved in trade rumors all season, didn’t play again after the incident. Meanwhile, Smith played the final quarter, finishing with 12 points on 4-for-11 shooting and four turnovers.
Shumpert calls out the superstar for his lackluster defense – defense that allowed Ryan Anderson to score 31 points, including seven three-pointers – and he’s the one who gets benched? Then Woody plays Smith instead, who habitually plays one on five every possession? He was on record saying how he will hold every player on the team accountable for their play. Yet, Shump shows some heart by rightfully ripping into Anthony but Woodson can’t? I don’t understand it.
At least Jason Kidd is trying to win. He was willing to spill a Coca-Cola all over his tailored suit – and paid a hefty $50,000 fine for it – just to get Brooklyn off the snide. Woodson won’t even discipline his best player because he knows Anthony could become disgruntled and leave the Knicks at year’s end.
The Knicks indeed have the necessarily pieces. I’ve mentioned Bargnani’s early season success. Hardaway scored 21 points on 10 attempts against New Orleans, and plays determined defense similar to Shumpert. Is it time to switch things up rotation-wise? Yes. What else do the Knicks have to lose? There’s nothing wrong with making a few changes, especially since Hardaway has shown that he can produce efficiently.
Again, we’re only a fifth of the way through the season; there’s still time for a turnaround. New York is only allowing 99 points per game, which is 10th-best in the league. Chandler has also stated that he’ll be returning to the lineup soon, so that statistic should get even better. And the Atlantic Division is so bad that the Knicks are still only three games back despite the dreadful start.
However, right now, the Knicks are undeniably the worst team in the East. They can’t even tank for all the loaded picks in the upcoming NBA Draft – the Nuggets own New York’s unprotected first-round pick. So they must turn it around quickly, not just because they want to prevent Denver from getting a potential franchise player, but also if they plan on keeping theirs in Anthony after this season.