The difference between former New York Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni and interim boss Mike Woodson shouldn't be so stupidly simple. For all his flair as a run-and-gun sideline stalker, D'Antoni's Knicks actually ranked higher defensively this season before his resignation (10th in the NBA in defensive efficiency) than any of the Atlanta Hawks teams coached by the supposed defensive specialist in Woodson. And if the new Knicks coach thinks he's going to turn New York around by taking the keys away from young and turnover-prone second-year guard Jeremy Lin, handing them to veteran Baron Davis in the process, then we've stumbled into yet another of the five trillion ways The New York Knicks Have Missed The Dang Point Since James Dolan Took Over.
These are the rumors, as tossed out by the New York Daily News, and the New York Post. Lin may start for a spell, but the ball is out of his hands as the Knicks slow down to the sort of isolation-heavy offense that Woodson preferred in Atlanta. The Daily News' Frank Isola is even using well-sourced guesswork as he suggests that Lin could be replaced as a starter by Baron Davis "within two weeks," though Woodson insists that Lin will remain his starter for now. Par for the course for a coach that accidentally (and, if we're fair, indirectly) referred to Lin as a rookie in his meeting with reporters on Thursday. Howard Beck of the New York Times dug even deeper in his take:
"Woody's inclination would not be to play him," said a person who has worked with Woodson.
The problem here is that Lin isn't the problem. The offense is a problem -- the Knicks are filled with well-compensated offensive stars and yet they rank in the lower reaches of the NBA in offense -- but it's not the problem. The defense is a problem -- New York absolutely fell apart defensively during the six-game losing streak that preceded D'Antoni's resignation -- but it's not the problem. Nothing is as cut-and-dry as replacing A with Z; but the Knicks seem to revel in these stupidly simple assumptions that ignore nuance and tinkering in favor of replacing the old black hat with a new savior in a white hat. And it's why an unheralded and deeply flawed team from Milwaukee might beat them out for the last playoff spot in the East.
To be sure, Lin's game is also flawed at this point in his career. The guy has played just over a thousand NBA minutes so far, and he's still catching up with the jack of speed that tends to result when you jump from Harvard to the NBA. He turns the ball over too much, and he's not a spectacular spot-up shooter. And Woodson's way around this, apparently, is to hand more minutes over to Baron Davis, and put the ball in the hands of isolation "threats" like Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire.
The problem here is that, for this season at least, Stoudemire is done. Absolutely dunzo, in terms of posting up. He has no lift, his overall numbers in the post make Ian Mahinmi look like Kevin McHale. His hops are gone, he's not confident going up against quicker power forwards, and he's more comfortable shooting jumpers off of a screen and roll. Hopefully this changes once he rehabs over the summer, but for now Stoudemire is in the midst of a lost year.
Anthony, in an isolation set? I'm literally shaking my head as I write this.
Carmelo Anthony has put up knockout per-game scoring numbers for his entire career, as well he should considering the quick pace his teams have played at, and the amount of shots he takes. But only in specific seasons, and even specific instances within those seasons (like, when George Karl takes over as coach mid-season and yells a lot), has Anthony's scoring actually meant something. Only when Carmelo has been part of a point guard/small forward screen and roll -- with lots of quick decisions and less triple-threat meandering at the pinch post -- have Anthony's significant scoring gifts put a team over the top.
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Letting Carmelo and Amar'e work these things out on their own in isolation sets seems like the right tonic for a confused offense that for the last six weeks has relied on a neophyte point guard with way too much to figure out. But dumping the ball in and backing off? Turning Lin into a spot-up guy along the lines of Mike Bibby (the current Knicks third-stringer that worked under Woodson in Atlanta)? This won't end well.
Neither will emphasizing Baron Davis' role in the offense. Lin is turnover-prone, to be sure, but Davis has been turning the Knicks' offense into something resembling a pear since he returned from his debilitating back injury. In 26 percent of the possessions he uses up, Davis turns the ball over. That's a staggering number for a point guard; and for all of the "six TO"-nights you see on the cable TV ticker from Lin, his 21 percent mark is better.
We're only 11 games into the 32-year-old Davis' season, so he could improve, but we also have to round up to tell you he's shooting 32 percent from the field, and 21 percent from behind the 3-point arc (despite taking nearly half of his shots from long range). At this point, you are (literally) better off handing the keys to a clueless kid playing his 1,100th minute as an NBA point guard. A guy you accidentally (we hope) mistook for a rookie following your first practice as Knicks head coach on Thursday.
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The Knicks, as a result of the Anthony trade, have no depth. Tyson Chandler has been brilliant this year, but his ascension has left Stoudemire out of place at power forward after only playing the ostensible power forward last year. Stoudemire is out of shape relative to his own needs, because following his knee surgeries he has to work twice as hard in order to remain a force. Anthony wants to play the Kobe Bryant-role, breaking down offenses from the top, but his handle and shooting range aren't even good enough for Carmelo to play the Paul Pierce-role. And Jeremy Lin, for all his gifts, is still distracted to the point of destruction because of the myriad things he has to consider while he keeps that live dribble.
New York's issue isn't as simple as taking the ball out of Lin's hands, or emphasizing defense, or emphasizing a different type of offense. It's about structure, and personnel, and patience, and perhaps a lost season while it all comes together. That won't stop the team, as has been its custom for over a decade, from choosing broad strokes instead while it attempts to find The Answer.
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