As if the expectations couldn’t possibly have been any higher, the New York Knicks (17-18) now enter the second half of the season with an improbably deep roster that is under inordinate pressure to deliver. Technically, the 2011-’12 campaign’s mid-point occurred two games ago (Thanks, lockout!), but if we’re going to get hung up on technicalities, let’s start with the league suspending both Patrick Ewing and Allan Houston for Game 6 of the 1997 Eastern Conference Semifinals against Miami in 1997. Really, Commissioner Stern, we sit suspended players alphabetically? REALLY?!
Sorry, I’ve apparently never gotten over that travesty.
Anyhoo, now that All-Star Weekend has mercifully concluded — and honestly, is there anything less worthy of one’s free time? — we can briefly reflect upon the first half of this lockout-shortened Knick-season, and without further ado, the grades are in!
(35 GS | 11.7 PPG | 9.5 RPG | 70.2 FG% | 1.3 BLKPG | 19.54 PER)
It’s almost hard hard to imagine now – it feels like Chandler has been dominating the MSG-paint forever – but it was only two-plus months ago that some fans decried the Knicks’ decision to amnesty Chauncey Billups in order to free up cap space to sign the Big Fella. Not only has interim-GM Glen Grunwald been thoroughly vindicated by Chandler’s play (and Billups’ shredded Achilles tendon), but the entire tenor of the Knicks’ defensive presence has been inexorably altered. Credit coach Mike Woodson (some) with bringing his defensive approach to New York, but without Chandler, this team is nowhere near .500. Not only does Tyson bring maximum effort every single night, but he’s also leading the entire league in shooting percentage. In fact, Mike D’Antoni would be wise to ensure that Chandler sees even more touches going forward. Despite the widely-held contention that the center can’t shoot, he actually has a nifty jump hook in his arsenal just waiting to be unleashed.
(11 GS | 22.4 PPG | 8.8 APG | 4.0 RPG | 7.4 FTA | 6.1 TO | 22.33 PER)
According to The New York Times, the average starting salary for a recent Harvard graduate is $60,000.00. Now fully guaranteed, Lin’s contract with the Knicks this season will pay him $762,195.00. Not bad for a kid who was passed over in the 2011 NBA draft by every single club. At this point, what more can be written about Lin, whose meteoric rise has been channeled by everyone from Saturday Night Live to Ben & Jerry’s? As I wrote in my open letter to him, Jeremy still has some work to do on the court, but it would be foolish to deny that he and Chandler are not the reasons why the Knicks sit just 3.5 games out of the division lead. Despite the unfortunate race-based brouhahas, the real story here has always been about Lin’s undeniable talent and his ability to make the impossible seem possible. For a franchise long-battered by bad luck and ineptitude, Lin’s emergence has been a real-life miracle.
(11.3 PPG (Feb) | 46.6 FG% | 45.7 3P% | (16.60 PER)
If you happen to catch a game at the Garden this season, I strongly encourage you to arrive early so that you have the opportunity to watch Novak launch – and make – three-pointer after three-pointer during pre-game warm-ups. Simply put, he is to jump shooting what Rain Man is to counting cards; a savant of the highest order. From here on out, we can probably expect to see Novak play around 20 minutes per night, depending on the match-up, though don’t be surprised if Jared Jeffries and Josh Harrellson are also called upon (for defensive purposes). That the latter has shown a knack for hitting timely treys isn’t lost upon D’Antoni and his staff. And if the guy wearing #1 continues to struggle, all bets are off.
(7.8 PPG (per 36 minutes) | 7.3 RPG (per 36 minutes) | (10.48 PER)
Long-abused as everyone’s favorite punch line – and let’s face it, few things are funnier than Jeffries trying to make a layup – the oft-maligned Isiah Thomas holdover deserves serious credit. Credit for re-signing with the Knicks for the league minimum. Credit for repeatedly sacrificing his body to take offensive charges and dive for loose balls (hee-hee). Credit for being accountable, accessible and professional. And most importantly, credit for standing up for his beleaguered coach when the Garden-vultures were circling. You may not like Jeffries, but every championship-caliber team has a player just like him.
(11.3 PPG | 3.8 RPG | 2.3 APG | 2.4 STL | (16.18 PER)
When rumors of New York’s interest in Smith began to circulate in late January (kudos to @alanhahn for breaking that), I was admittedly not enthused. Though I realized that the Knicks needed scoring, outside shooting in particular, I felt at the time that adding Smith’s erratic personality – not to mention his schizophrenic game – to an already combustible locker room would be ill-advised. It’s still too early to know if Smith’s acquisition was the correct move, but count me as one of those who may end up eating his words. Sure, he’s only been with the team for four games, but J.R. has shown incredible effort and athleticism (especially on the defensive end) when he’s been on the court. In fact, no one should be shocked if D’Antoni eventually replaces Landry Fields with Smith in the starting lineup before all is said and done, despite the much-needed bench-scoring the latter can provide. Any such move will largely depend on whether or not Baron Davis can recapture some of the old magic, but either way, for the Knicks to win, they’ll need major minutes from Smith — especially since Toney Douglas doesn’t appear to be in the team’s plans going forward.
(34 GS | 10.2 RPG | 4.5 RPG | 48.0 FG% | 1.4 STL | 13.32 PER)
My vacillations over the long-term viability of Fields as a starting-caliber SG are well-chronicled, but his play of late certainly hasn’t hurt his case. In February, Landry’s scoring, shooting percentage, rebounding, and steals are all up, and his turnovers are down – and yes, I understand that #7 missed a majority of those games. Fields still has a lot of work to do, though, especially with respect to his putrid three-point (26.5%) and free-throw (60.9%) shooting, but as an “intangibles” guy, there is something about him that pleases me. Maybe it’s just his beard-fade, but for a team that is trying to find itself, having a player who doesn’t need the ball in his hands to contribute isn’t such a bad thing. Oh, note to Landry: Ixnay on the erdnay shenanigans with Lin, mmkay?
(30.1 MPG | 10.3 PPG | 3.4 RPG | 3.2 APG | 2.0 STL | 10.21 PER)
Last March, when I wrote that Shumpert could be Knicks’ Iman of the Hour in the 2011 NBA draft, feedback was almost uniformly negative. “He’s no point guard,” they screamed. “He can’t shoot,” they yelled. And when Iman’s name was called by David Stern, they booed loudly and lustily. And ultimately, they were kinda right. And yet, they were also kinda wrong. Yes, Shumpert (thus far) is a poor shooter. Yes, he’s demonstrated an inexplicable inability to finish at the rim. And yes, Iman’s play-making skills evoke comparisons to another Knick non-PG on the roster, but none of that matters because the neophyte is an elite defender with a motor that just won’t quit. We all saw what happened against the Nets last week when New York had no one to guard Deron Williams. We all saw what happened against the Heat last week when New York had no one to guard Dwyane Wade (spelling his name correctly requires patience and fortitude). Shumpert is going to play, Folks, and he’s going to play a lot. This, in my humble opinion, is a good thing.
(10.2 PPG (per 36 minutes) | 8.4 RPG (per 36 minutes) | 12.39 PER)
Anytime the word “Country” appears in your nickname, comparisons to Bryant Reeves will unfortunately ensue (never a good thing), but for a player who came into the league with absolutely zero expectations, Harrellson has performed admirably for the Knicks. “Country Strong” has missed the last five weeks with a broken wrist, but his impending-return will be a welcome one, and considering D’Antoni’s stated intent to go with a 10 or 11 man rotation, “Jorts” should be able to carve out a valuable niche with the second unit down the stretch. From a scouting standpoint, Josh’s unique skill set — defensive-minded, hustle-PF with long-range shooting ability — makes him a valuable commodity. Kudos to the Knicks’ front office for unearthing such a potential gem in the second round, BTW.
(25 GS | 21.4 PPG | 39.7 FG%| 5.8 RPG | 4.1 APG | 19.17 PER)
Let’s face it. As ‘Melo goes, so will go the Knicks. Fairly or unfairly, he is the one who (selfishly) orchestrated his Nugget-departure in favor of “Coming Home,” and with great contractual-booty comes great responsibility. Or something like that. Carmelo’s production this season is down across the board, having missed almost 1/3 of the team’s games due to a bevy of minor injuries sustained (wrist, thumb, groin, ankle, mental fortitude). His numbers can also be attributed to what was a dysfunctional roster before the arrival of Mr. Lin. If you’re a betting man or woman, though, you’d be wise to lay a few shekels on the Knick SF. For starters, ‘Melo has played just a handful of games with the aforementioned Lin, and despite the incessant criticism, ‘Melo has actually tried to play within the team-construct this season. His assists (3.1-per-game for his career) are way up — yet his turnovers (3.0-per-game) are not — and now that he’s healthy, I suspect we are all about to witness a breakout of epic proportions. The truth is that D’Antoni’s system and Anthony’s style of play are NOT incompatible, and once the lethal scorer sees how much more fun the game is being guarded one-on-one (an impossibly futile endeavor for any single opposing player) as opposed to being double and triple-teamed, god help the Knicks’ opponents.
(29 GS | 17.5 PPG | 8.0 RPG | 44.7 FG% | 4.7 FTA | 16.30 PER)
Though Knick fans’ ire has been disproportionately levied upon Carmelo Anthony ever since “The Trade” was consummated, the man who was once dubbed “Gotham’s Savoir” has become the latest target du jour for all that ails the franchise. Whether due to last season’s back injury, added bulk, the compressed schedule, or a combination of all of the above, Amar’e has clearly been a shell of the player who garnered legitimate MVP-consideration just one year ago. Once a ferocious finisher, he’s now getting blocked on a disturbing 15% of his attempts close to the basket, and one needn’t be an NBA scout to see that the explosion and lift just aren’t there. In fact, unless Stoudemire is given free space to gather up a head of steam, he’s seemingly incapable of dunking anymore. As further evidence of his decline — whether temporary or not — his career average of 1.4 blocks-per-game has been cut almost in half (0.8). And in what is the most clear indication of his finishing-ineptitude, Amar’e is averaging just 4.7 free throw attempts per contest this season, down from his career average of 7.6. Given that Stoudemire doesn’t play defense or rebound very well, if he isn’t hitting mid-range jumpers, he’s a liability. Sad, but true.
(6.1 PPG | 1.2 APG | 2.7 RPG | 39.8 FG% | 8.48 PER)
In the interest of complete disclosure, I like Walker. I like that he plays with attitude. I like that he got in Kevin Garnett‘s face. On Christmas Day, no less! I like that he’s always willing to talk after games. I even kinda like his haircut, which reminds me of my son’s favorite morning television program. But in the NBA, and especially in New York, having me like you doesn’t mean much, and when it comes to Bill’s style of play, it means even less. Quite honestly, I am not sure I have seen a player with less basketball-IQ. Thankfully, given the Knicks’ depth, the days of Walker launching ill-advised three-pointers early in the shot clock, with no teammates anywhere nearby to grab a rebound seem to be over.
(3 GAMES PLAYED| 8.3 FG% | MINUS 5.19 PER)
I had no idea a player could even accumulate a negative PER, but I guess it is indeed possible. Way to go Boom Dizzle! And that shooting percentage? Oh, my. Thank goodness for Jeremy Lin, because if what we’ve seen from Davis thus far is what we’re going to see from Davis going forward, the Knicks might have ended up praying that they actually finished low enough in the standings to utilize that lottery-protected pick that the Houston Rockets acquired in the
LeBron James signing Tracy McGrady trade. Look, ultimately the Knicks need Baron. They need him because he’s their only viable option at PG after Lin. They need him to score off the bench. And perhaps most importantly — assuming he regains some semblance of his game — they need him to be a solid citizen and not complain about his role or his minutes. We all know that Davis has entered the twilight of his NBA career, but the question remains, does he know that?
(59 POINTS | 27.4 FG%| MINUS 1 Headband | 6.12 PER)
If not for Douglas’ unexpected disappearing act, Bibby would probably already be waiver-wire fodder, yet he’s managed to stick around despite zero production. It’s gotta be the sans-headband, right?
(61 Minutes Played | 1 D-League Demotion| 14.61 PER)
It’s not that I don’t like Jordan, he seems like a nice enough guy — his PER is actually comparable to Stoudemire’s — but for me, what it comes down to is that HE’S NO JEREMY LIN! I know, I know, I’m a harsh grader.
(7.6 PPG | 2.2 APG | 31.8 FG% | 23.5 3P%| 6.35 PER)
Toney, Toney, Toney has done it again! And again. And again. And again. And by “it,” I mean a mind-numbing play on the basketball court that leaves anyone watching to choose between sticking their hand in a blender and tossing themselves from the nearest freeway-overpass. To be fair, and as I reported some time ago, sources within the Knicks organization have revealed that Toney is dealing with personal issues that have left him distracted and unable to compete at his usual level. As such, Douglas isn’t in D’Antoni’s doghouse, per se — this isn’t a Starbury situation, mmm, Vaseline — but it’s fair to assume that the guy who set the Knicks’ team record with nine three-pointers in a game won’t be getting much burn the rest of the way.
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