A Less Eye-Stab-Inducing Perspective on the Knicks

Photo: Chris McGrath/2010 Getty Images
Blame this guy! Boo! Booooo!!!!! Photo: Chris McGrath/2010 Getty Images

After last night’s disheartening Knicks loss, we read Will’s post this morning and became even more dejected about the team. We threw our playoff-tickets invoice out the window while crying. We set a Carmelo Anthony jersey on fire in the middle of a staff meeting. We nihilistically got sour cream on our burrito at lunch because long-term health concerns just didn’t seem important. If the Knicks didn’t care about using their fourth-quarter possessions efficiently, why should anyone care about anything?

But now that we’ve settled down, retrieved our ticket invoice from the sidewalk, and had a talk with HR about “using inside voices,” we’re not quite so pessimistic. Things at the Garden aren’t great, but they’re not actually that worrisome, either. With a hat tip to commenter Aperlund’s earlier observations, here’s why your attitude about the team should be one of calm, hopeful, unstabby patience.

Carmelo hasn’t actually done any complaining or sulking. The most evidence we have that he’s unhappy is that he appeared upset during a game against Detroit Friday, didn’t talk to the media afterward, and looked sad after losing last night. He hasn’t made any gripey remarks about his coach, teammates, or offensive system, and no “sources close to the situation” cropped up to say anything of that sort. And personally, we don’t find it unusual or upsetting when a professional athlete demonstrates negative body language after losing a game in which they played like dog crap.

Carmelo is not a team cancer, Stephon Marbury heir, or any other type of evil sportswriter demon. Carmelo has been the centerpiece of three teams that have won 50 games. He’s two years removed from a team that beat the eventual-world-champ Lakers twice in the Western Conference finals. In Stephon Marbury’s entire career he never won 50 games or played in the second round of the playoffs (aside from his brief time as the seventeenth man on the ‘09 Celtics). During this allegedly crisis-inducing stretch of games Anthony has played for the Knicks, he’s scoring 24 points a game — while shooting with accuracy that’s actually above average for him, driven by a 42 percent success rate on three-pointers. So let’s not even start getting started with this Marbury stuff.

Anthony is now in a situation where he’s being asked to work within a less isolation-focused offensive system than he was used to in Denver. This is the same challenge he faced as a member of the 2008 Olympic team — the team that won a gold medal after Anthony was selected as a co-captain by Mike Krzyzewski, who is not known as a proponent of selfish ball-hogging. His problems this season in Denver were with the team’s management, not his teammates or coach. (Which isn’t to say he couldn’t have done a better job of keeping the off-court stuff off the court. But it’s not like he was running around cursing at George Karl and punching people in the locker room.) (Although only because everyone had already been punched by Kenyon Martin.) Anthony also, of course, won an NCAA title.

And that all said, we agree with commenter jojo that it wouldn’t kill Carmelo to maybe think about passing once in a while. He might do well to study last night’s nemesis, Paul Pierce, who’s adapted to his team’s changing personnel by turning from a shoot-first guy into a maddening spot-picking assassin who can still unpack the ol’ one-on-one moves when needed late in games.

Fifteen games is not enough time to evaluate a team. This one is kind of obvious. But if we’re going to be making small-sample observations …

The Knicks actually looked good last night. Amar’e Stoudemire and Ronny Turiaf teamed up well on D, staying active on the boards and blocking shots. Amar’e just doesn’t seem to be a good match with Jared Jeffries, who’s an active enough defender but can’t protect the rim and suffers episodes of hysterical blindness every time the ball goes his way on offense. Amar’e doesn’t really take to the role of being the only defensive presence in the paint, which requires him to expend energy and fouls that he doesn’t have to spare if he’s also carrying a Jeffries-sized monkey on his back at the other end. Last night was a big improvement, rotation-wise, over previous games, and, God willing, next season will bring even more depth on the defensive interior. Which is something that Carmelo was never going to be able to do anything about anyway. The team’s real problem last night was fourth-quarter offense. And speaking of that …

If your team’s biggest problem is that they couldn’t score on the league’s best, most experienced defense in the fourth quarter, you’re in good shape. Especially if the solution to that problem is Chauncey Billups, Carmelo Anthony, and Amar’e Stoudemire figuring out pick-and-roll offense under the instruction of Mike D’Antoni.

A Less Eye-Stab-Inducing Perspective on the Knicks