Of all the endless Twitter memes, “#TooSoon?” is undoubtedly my favorite. Whether in reference to the latest celebrity overdose, political sex scandal, or even a tragic natural disaster, the phrase — only when used sans malice and with impeccable comedic timing — lends humor to what might otherwise be a negative, shocking or disturbing narrative.
Sorry, Peyton, I just couldn’t resist.
As I watched an all-too-familiar Knick-screenplay unfold in Dallas last night — you know the one: Team X falls way behind, then stages improbable, yet exhilerating comeback, only to suffer a gut-wrenching and morale-crushing defeat — I couldn’t help but think that maybe, just maybe, it really is “#TooSoon” to pass judgment on these Knicks (18-20).
If we are to be fair in evaluating the team’s performance this season, we should take into account the totality of what has happened — and when.
We started this Jekyll and Hyde journey under the auspices of the big, bad lockout, which meant an abbreviated training camp (for the one NBA-team that needed as much time as possible to learn how to play with one another), a condensed schedule (which meant limited practice time and abridged recovery times in between games), and a bright, shiny “amnesty clause” (which led the Knicks to entrust their point guard position to someone whose tuchus is now permanently soldered to the bench).
The team’s self-proclaimed leader and de-facto superstar, Carmelo Anthony, has missed almost a third of the season due to every sort of injury imaginable. When he has suited up, he’s suffered through the worst statistical season of his career, not to mention a degree of fan and media scrutiny rapidly approaching ARodian proportions.
The club’s other “Alpha Dog,” Amar’e Stoudemire, has also played the worst basketball of his career — in varying degrees due to age, rust, lingering injury, and along the way, the tragic loss of his older brother. He’s been criticized, too, for everything from his vertical leap (or lack thereof) to wearing the same goggles as that old guy in the robe from Ocean’s Eleven.
While the Knicks’ two $100 Million Dollar Men floundered (mmm, flounder), Jeremy Lin inexplicably emerged from the throes of relative obscurity to become the most popular player in the league. Though his abilities rank somewhere between those of God himself and the D-League’s best point guard, those who assumed there would be a seamless intergration or immediate assimilation must not have gotten the memo on managing expectations.
Surprisingly, despite the early season stumbles and amidst the mid-season “Linsanity,” one constant had been the play and leadership of team-stalwart, Tyson Chandler. Until recently sustaining what ultimately may end up being diagnosed as a
season-killing, coach-killing, serious wrist injury, Chandler was the team’s rock. Now, we are left with murky descriptions — do the Knicks share medical personnel with the New York Mets? — of what’s wrong with him, and despite Tyson’s statements to the contrary, one gets the impression that surgery lurks in the off-season.
Of course, who could forget the emergence of waiver-pickup Steve Novak, whose long-range prowess now draws inevitable comparisons to some of the best caucasian snipers the league has ever seen. Seriously, is there anything better than the moment you realize that Novak is the team’s most reliable scorer? Well, if you’re coach Mike D’Antoni, there are probably better things.
Oh, and somewhere along the way, the Knicks added two guys in Baron Davis and J.R. Smith whose reputations as big shot-makers remain eclipsed only by the stories of their malcontentedness.
So where does that leave us?
Heck if I know!
It’s beyond the limited scope of my mental acuity to diagnose everything that ails this team, but my instinct tells me that the one missing ingredient here is time. Time to fit the now-incongruous puzzle pieces in their right places. Time to evaluate the attributes and limitations of everyone on the roster. Time to let things breathe and develop organically. Time to let losses foster the resolve and determination necessary to avoid more losses. Time to breed the sort of trust and chemistry that
championship-caliber winning teams always demonstrate.
But as we all know, excuses are tools of the ignorant, and those who partake in them are fools. These Knicks — and in particular, their oft-embattled coach — don’t have time. And if things don’t turn around — like, immediately — D’Antoni’s meme won’t be “#TooSoon?,” it will surely be #TooLate.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
- Stoudemire (26 points, 7 rebounds) said yesterday that he’s lost 10 pounds in 10 days, and his goal is to drop another five before he’s done. I’m not sure if he’s trying to fit back into his favorite strapless black dress in time for wedding season, but Amar’e sure did look a lot more explosive against the Mavericks last night. Yes, #1 took several horrendous shots in the second half, but he also played commendable straight-up defense against Dallas’ best player, Dirk Nowitzki, for most of the night. If STAT is rounding back into form — and that’s a big if, considering most of his damage was done while ‘Melo was on the bench — the Knicks will be in good shape down the stretch.
- I don’t even pretend to be unbiased about it — heck, I called for the Knicks to draft him before anyone else did — but Iman Shumpert (5 points on 2-of-4 shooting, 3 steals, 3 assists) is my favorite player on the team. He always plays hard and his athletic ability is seemingly limitless. If there are five better perimeter defenders in the NBA right now, that’s all there are. Though the rookie only played 23 minutes last night, his defensive energy keyed the Knicks’ second-half comeback attempt, and it’s going to be very hard for D’Antoni not to give Iman major minutes going forward.
- The Knicks played another basketball game and Steve Novak drained more three-pointers (4-of-8 from long-range). I could really do without the “discount double-check” business, but as long as he keeps sinking treys, he can pretend he’s Roddy Piper and pile drive Toney Douglas from the scorer’s table for all I care.
WHAT WENT WRONG:
- The Knicks cannot shoot. They couldn’t shoot last night (38.1 FG%, 26.1 3P%, 65.2 FT%) and they haven’t been able to shoot all season (43.3 FG% and 30.7 3P%). Seriously, 30.7% from long-range?! That’s fourth-worst in the NBA, folks. And when you’re giving up the seventh-most 3PM in the league (6.7-per-game), it becomes a recipe for disaster. I realize the Knicks cannot practice as often as they’d like, but there is NO REASON for the percentages not to have shown improvement, especially with the offensive talent on this roster. Part of the problem is no doubt due to the team’s spacing issues, which leads to bad shots attempted, but come on now.
- The Knicks turned the ball over 16 times — amazingly, that’s a decent number for them of late — which led to 20 Maverick points. You just cannot win games when you don’t take care of the rock. Period.
- Who stole ‘Melo (6 points on 2-for-12 from the field, 4 FTA 8 rebounds and a -18 plus/minus) and how do we get him back?! Can we offer Mike Bibby as ransom? On the season, Anthony is now shooting just 39.6% (29.7% from 3-point range) and he often looks disinterested, disengaged and downright unathletic. Though he was undeserving of the criticism levied upon him after Sunday’s loss in Boston, last night’s in-game effort and (temporary) post-game disappearing act warrants the negative press. Some have questioned why ‘Melo doesn’t seem to contribute anything else when his shot is not falling, and that is probably a fair criticism, especially when he is supposed to be the team’s leader. I will leave it to others to dissect, but it sure feels like something awful is brewing.
- Jeremy Lin is tired. It’s obvious. He’s getting routinely torched on defense, and his decision-making on the offensive end has become extremely suspect. Unfortunately, Baron has also has his share of brain-lock problems, and he probably cannot play more than 20 minutes a night at present, so it is what it is. It sure would be nice if D’Antoni could figure out a way for Lin and Anthony to play off one another every once in a while.
- Tonight the Knicks face the San Antonio Spurs (8:30 p.m., MSG) in the second of a back-to-back. Considering the schedule, they need to call upon whatever pride and fight they have left, and somehow grab a win.
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Photo by Tony Gutierrez / AP