COMMENTARY | There can be little debate that the New York Knicks' season has not gone according to plan.
Last year's No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division champions, the Knicks stumbled badly out of the gate and stand with just a 19-29 record. For a team built to win now, it goes without saying that this is unacceptable.
The loss reverses a recent trend of better play since the calendar turned to 2014. In order to realistically challenge the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers in the East, the Knicks will have to turn the page from the Milwaukee loss and get back to what had been working for them during the recent run of success and be considered a realistic contender.
Here are the four main things that have to happen:
Better Point Guard Play
Between injuries to Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni and poor play when they are healthy, the Knicks are dying for more of a contribution from the point guard position. Although Felton has not turned the ball over much, he has generally struggled with his shot and has provided little resistance on the defensive end against opposing point guards. His issues with getting through screens have forced the Knicks to employ an endless number of defensive switches, leaving big guys like Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin essentially helpless against opposing point guards.
How the Knicks get improvement at the position is up for debate. On one hand, the team can sit back and hope that Felton gets completely healthy and regains his form of his first stint in New York. On the other hand, it may be time to string together whatever assets the team has left to try to swing a trade for a point guard. If the Knicks really want to make a run at the title this season, the latter option is likely the only way to go.
Keep Feeding Carmelo the Ball
The key for whoever the point guard is will be getting Carmelo Anthony the ball early and often. Much has been made about Knicks coach Mike Woodson relying too heavily on Anthony, allegedly often to the detriment of ball movement and getting other people involved.
However, this tendency should be seen as praise-worthy instead of criticism-inducing if you are a Knicks fan. The fact remains that Anthony is the best pure scorer in the game right now, and not featuring him as much as possible is borderline insanity. This, along with the struggles by virtually every other perimeter scorer, causes the Knicks to have to be carried Anthony offensively if they are going to fulfill their preseason promise.
It is not a stretch to say that Anthony should be looked for on virtually every possession and no shot he takes over single coverage should be considered a bad one. Doing so will leave opposing teams no choice but to bring a double-team, which will open up the rest of the team for open shots with the resulting ball movement when Anthony passes out of the pressure.
J.R. Smith Returning to Last Year's Form
One of the main guys relied on to make open shots when Anthony is doubled is Smith. Coming off of a season in which he won the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award, Smith's troubles this year have been well-chronicled.
Not coincidentally, as Smith has started to get it together, the Knicks have enjoyed better fortunes. Much like last season, he has focused on getting to the basket and remaining engaged in the flow of the offense, as opposed to his seeming disinterest in the early part of the year.
Due to the laundry list of injuries that have hampered Amar'e Stoudemire, Smith is essentially the only scorer that can consistently be counted on other than Anthony. When properly focused, he has a great all-around offensive game that can give Woodson the ability to comfortably limit Anthony's minutes by providing a legitimate second option.
Big Guys Staying Healthy
Even with Anthony and Smith leading the offense, the Knicks will still need consistent play from the frontcourt. With a combination of injury-prone and older players, it seems like there has always been an injury issue hampering some combination of Stoudemire, Kenyon Martin, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani. If the Knicks can get these players back to full strength, they should be able to defend the paint against either Miami's elite drivers or Indiana's size.
A reason to be optimistic about the Knicks' frontcourt play is the emergence of Jeremy Tyler, who has provided a spark off the bench with consistent hustle and competent offense. With Tyler in the fold, the Knicks will be able to withstand any future injuries to their core four frontcourt players.
Best-case scenario, if they are all healthy, Woodson will be given plenty of options to mix and match his lineup to counter whatever kind of unit the Knicks are facing on a given night.
It would be a stretch to say at this point that the Knicks should be expected to win the East, even if everything goes perfectly from here on out. However, if these four major things come to pass, the Heat and Pacers will undoubtedly be met by another team with a legitimate chance.
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Del Pearson is a lifelong Knicks fan from Upstate New York. His favorite players of all time are Walt Frazier and Carmelo Anthony. Follow Del on Twitter @DelPearson44.
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