This season started off very well for the New York Knicks. They were playing hard-nose defense, hitting a lot of three's and most importantly putting wins up on the board. However, a lack of consistency and Mike Woodson's simple approach to the offense has led to opponents knowing how to defend the Knicks' schemes and New York's victories coming at a slower rate.
There's an old saying that goes like this, "Keep it simple, stupid!" Well in professional sports sometimes simplicity is a good thing and allows teams to play without thinking and perform without distraction. However, being too simple too long in any professional sport allows the opponent to study and adjust to your style of play and prevent you from doing what you set out to accomplish. That is the dilemma the New York Knicks are facing heading into the NBA All-Star weekend.
With the Knicks losing three of their past four games heading into the break fans are now relieved that the team is in second in the Eastern Conference and coach Mike Woodson will have time to work on his schemes and rotations. The defense has become porous and the offense has become stagnant.
The team seems like it simply can not guard the pick and roll, has shown poor defensive rotations and shows little to no help defense at all. Opponents know that if they beat their man one-on-one they have the option to pull up for a wide open jumper or to drive to the rim uncontested.
On offense the Knicks are playing a watch-and-see game. The ball is given to either Raymond Felton, J.R. Smith or Carmelo Anthony and the rest of the Knicks retreat to the three point arc and watch what happens. That is a problem and something good teams can guard with relative ease.
Jared Zwerling of ESPNNewYork reports that sources claim some players feel under-utilized and that Woodson needs to change things if the Knicks wish to compete for more than an early playoff elimination.
"The offense is too basic and it needs some tweaking. Watching Melo do his thing gets old fast," one NBA scout said. "I think the offense needs more motion in it, so that guys' talents can be used more. I think the early success hurt them because now opponents know what they are doing and how to defend it. They truly are a 3-point shooting team, and you can't win in the long run that way. Nellie's (Don Nelson's) Mavericks teams went through that."
Woodson is a good coach and should be able to adjust but it must happen sooner than later. It's time for Anthony to live up to his pre-season words about sacrificing points for the betterment of the team instead of continuing to compete for the league's scoring title.
Woodson has to figure out how to get his main scorers more help from their supporting cast. That means more ball movement, cuts, screens, pick and rolls, more driving to the rim and more movement all together. It also means more defensive stops and turn overs to create easier scoring opportunities.
These are all basic concepts but when you run too much isolation and only a few players are seeing the ball it is easy for players to fall into bad habits. It's easy to become a spectator on offense and disengaged on defense because you simply don't feel involved. That is what is happening to the Knicks right now.
The good news is the Knicks still lead the Atlantic Division, are still in second place in the Eastern Conference, have options on the bench ready to make a difference and reinforcements returning from injuries in the relatively near future.
The Knicks have James White and Ronnie Brewer waiting on the bench. They are both defensive players who could help the team create turnovers and strengthen the starting lineup in place of the slumping Jason Kidd. Furthermore, the Knicks are looking forward to the returns of Rasheed Wallace and Marcus Camby sometime after the All-Star break which should instantly make the team better defensively and allow Tyson Chandler the opportunity to play without restriction knowing he has frontcourt depth behind him.
Woodson knows that the slow starts and early deficits the Knicks are getting into will only hurt them in the long run and that a change may be in order to fix it.
"A possibility," Woodson said of Brewer. "Right now, I don't like the way we're starting games. We've kind of been up and down in that area. I've got to go back to the drawing board and figure out what I'm going to do in terms of who starts."
The Knicks are a team with a lot of skill and winning-power. They've proven that already. There is little doubt that they are a team to be reckoned with and one no team will look forward to seeing in the playoffs. However, if the Knicks want to make it deep in the post-season and have the chance to compete for a championship changes are in order.
For some this weekend is about showing off. For others, it's about exposure. Some will party. Others will rest. Mike Woodson will be studying. He'll be watching film. He'll be discussing different combinations and lineups with his coaches. He'll be scheming and creating drills to help further develop skills. It's all up to him. He's off to a historic start as head coach of the New York Knicks and if he wants to quiet his critics and continue his winning ways he'll need to re-evaluate himself and his team.