COMMENTARY | Last week, I warned that although there were five valid reasons for New York Knicks fans to be optimistic about their team, there were just as many possible causes of concern that could prevent New York from going deep in the playoffs this year.
Here they are, in order of the things that might cause Knicks fans the most anxiety this postseason:
1. An Overreliance on 3s in Playoff-Style Basketball
No team this season took more 3-pointers (28.9, tied with Houston) or made more 3s (10.9) per game than the Knicks, who also knocked down an NBA single-season record 891 treys this year. New York was also tied with San Antonio as the league's fourth most accurate (37.6 percent) team from behind the arc.
That all sounds great for the Knicks, but a review of all 82 regular-season box scores (supplied to me by the Knicks' public relations staff during New York's regular-season finale April 17) reveals an extreme difference in the Knicks' level of success when they surpass their per-game average for made 3s and when they don't.
New York was a nearly unbeatable 40-6 when making at least 11 3-pointers this season, but a poor 14-22 when sinking fewer than 11 3s.
Last year, the Miami Heat largely took the 3-point shot away from the Knicks while ousting New York in five games. This year, the Knicks are so dependent on the 3-point shot that the one weapon that could carry them to their first NBA Finals appearance since 1999 could just as easily be their undoing in a first-round series loss -- if they don't reach that seemingly magic number of 11 made 3s per game often enough.
2. The Lack of a Consistent Third Scoring Option
The Knicks know what they'll get offensively from their best player, Carmelo Anthony. But, after that, they can't even look to the rest of their starting five for a reliable second scoring option over the course of a playoff series. That responsibility should continue to fall to reserve guard J.R. Smith.
Relying on those two is fine, with Anthony winning his first league scoring title this year, and Smith being a heavy Sixth Man of the Year Award favorite as the NBA's leading scorer off the bench this season.
However, if opposing defenses are able to effectively key on either Anthony or Smith, or both, the Knicks don't have a third scorer outside of point guard Raymond Felton, who himself doesn't score consistently enough in that role, and who is better when he's playing as more of a true point guard while setting others up, instead of looking for his own shot.
3. The Knicks' Delicate Health
The fact that New York was forced to bring back retreads Earl Baron and Quentin Richardson to finish out the season tells you all you need to know about the health status of the Knicks' front line down the stretch this year.
New York's injury problems all started with Amar'e Stoudemire in the offseason. He came back from knee surgery, played well for 29 games, and then missed the Knicks' final 23 regular-season games due to a pair of ailing knees.
Then, it was Rasheed Wallace, who after being a significant cog during the Knicks' dominant 18-5 start, missed 59 of New York's final 60 regular-season games. Wallace finally came back April 15 to play only four minutes in Charlotte, where he promptly re-injured his foot and retired for the second time in his career.
Meanwhile, 13 of the 14 games Anthony sat out this year were due to an assortment of aches and pains and a knee a draining. And, the Knicks sorely missed the solid defense and double-double averages of All-Star center Tyson Chandler, who sat out 16 of his team's last 20 regular-season games with his own knee injury, and then primarily, a bulging disc in his neck.
With the injuries to Stoudemire, Wallace, and others to Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas, the Knicks lured a second veteran forward, Kenyon Martin, out of retirement in late February. Martin had been a main piece in New York's late-season turnaround, but he too missed seven of the Knicks' last eight regular-season games with a hurt knee, and then an ankle injury that kept him out New York's final five contests of the regular season.
Even with most of the Knicks' starters resting in their regular-season finale, important rotation players Iman Shumpert, Pablo Prigioni, and Chris Copleland suffered various minor injuries.
Those three, along with most of the roster that New York will rely on, should be ready to go for the playoffs, but the track record shows that when it comes to health nothing remains guaranteed for the league's oldest roster.
4. Paul Pierce's Big Game and Big Shot Ability
While the Knicks have Anthony, Smith, and others who can make big shots down the stretch, their first-round playoff opponent, the Boston Celtics, can counter with one of the most clutch players in the history of the game in Paul Pierce, who has often hurt New York with late, game-deciding jumpers. Pierce most recently did that to the Knicks in the Celtics' lone win, during the first of the first of their four meetings with New York this season.
Although the Knicks are favored to win the series with the Celtics, if they let Boston hang around Pierce is still more than capable of putting up big scoring numbers and hitting some huge shots that could potentially steal a series-changing win or two for the Celtics.
5. The Knicks' Propensity for Losing Their Cool
Look no further than Boston's win in New York on January 7 to realize how trash talking forward Kevin Garnett can verbally get inside the head of even a great scorer like Anthony. I gave this first-hand account of how Garnett's psychological ploys forced Anthony into a 6-for-26 shooting night.
Among other verbal taunts, Garnett reportedly told Anthony that his wife, "Tasted like Honey Nut Cheerios."
If those tactics are employed again, Anthony and his teammates should be focused enough to shrug it off, especially with the playoffs on the line. But too many times the season, whether against Boston or other teams, the Knicks have lost their composure either when irked by other teams, or from a lack of getting calls from referees.
That issue has been enough of a concern for head coach Mike Woodson, who told me after the Knicks' win over Atlanta, on April 17, "It is really about commitment, focus, and understanding that the playoffs [are] a different ball game in terms of how they let you play. "We can't be complaining to the officials. We have to play. We have to dictate and control the game."
Jonathan Wagner is a New York Knicks beat writer for New York Sports Day and a weekly featured guest discussing the Knicks and other sports topics on the New York Sports Geeks internet radio show (powered by Sportsideo). Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanJWagner.
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