In the beginning of the season the New York Knicks looked almost unstoppable. Since their historic start the team has only played .500 basketball and has struggled to hold onto its stranglehold of the Atlantic Division. With their eyes set on a goal beyond the Eastern Conference they will need to return to their winning ways or fall short of their goals.
Now that teams have adjusted to the way the New York Knicks are playing on offense it is time for Mike Woodson and his staff to make the appropriate adjustments to get the Knicks back on track. The season started off with the Knicks putting a premium on defense and ball movement. It's no coincidence that the losing has come at the same time the Knicks defense has been porous and the offense has turned into an isolation (iso) system.
Defense is a skill. Some are better than others. However, defense is largely about effort. Even the worst defenders skill-wise can play sound team defense with simple fundamentals and effort. Most players play defense with their hands. It's because of that a lot of fans think players who accumulate a lot of steals and blocks are the best defenders. However, those are often the players with the most fouls as well.
Proper defense is played with your feet. Good defenders move their feed and use their body positioning to stop offensive players and dictate where they can and can't go on the court. Good defenders fight through screens and see the ball and their man at the same time. Good defenders fill passing lanes and keep their hands up to only to widen their bodies and make it harder for opponents to see teammates. Good defenders are always ready to help teammates but never too far away from their man that they can't return to them.
Those are all thing the Knicks were doing when they were winning. It's no coincidence that when the focused changed from defense to beating their opponents and scoring that the Knicks started losing more often. Almost every interview in the beginning of the year was filled with talk of defense. The Knicks started to struggle when talk turned to outscoring others and Carmelo Anthony being a scoring champion. When that happened, Anthony's MVP talks stopped because so did his defensive effort.
Very often, as the leader of the team goes so does the team. What happened was the focus went from defense to offense. Furthermore, the offense became selfish. Instead of the team focusing on winning they started focusing on their individual numbers. That's when the ball stopped moving around the court and iso ball took over.
When the ball is flying around the floor it's basically impossible to adjust to an offense. All you can tell your defenders to is to pressure the ball carrier and cut off passing lanes. However, if there is fast ball movement the pressure can't keep up and, although some passing lanes can be cut off, fast ball movement almost always ensures an open man because the defense has to keep moving to adjust to the balls location. Iso ball does the opposite.
Isolation ball is about putting the ball in your best players hands and allowing him to chose which way he'll attack the defense. He can catch-and-shoot, hesitate and shoot, hesitate and drive, back players down, post players up, etc. However, that style of offense — which every team uses and needs — is also not difficult to defend. When it is used too often teams simply allow it to work for a little while so teammates become cold and complacent, lock in on your best player and shut him down with double and triple teams when needed.
Players used in iso situations usually become top scorers and got themselves to that status because of a certain level of selfishness. It's fairly unusual to find an elite scorer or finisher who is also an elite passer. It happens, but not often. As a result, they often chuck up contested and low percentage shots despite the multiple defenders on them and the defense gets easy stops. Even when they do pass to their teammates the chances of them scoring isn't very high because they simply haven't had the ball in their hands for so long.
That's the importance of ball movement. It not only keeps everyone involved and everyone a threat but it also makes it easier for your elite scorer as well because the ball movement makes it harder for teams to move into position to double team them. Ball movement leads to uncontested shots for everyone.
“I think teams have adjusted to our offense a little bit,” the general manager said on ESPN Radio’s “The Michael Kay Show.” “We need to evolve.”
Grunwald said he thinks the Knicks “have enough offense on our roster.” It’s just about that translating to the floor. The Knicks have lost three games in a row, not scoring more than 91 points in any of them.
“If we start to play like we did the beginning of the year offensively and the way we did defensively last year, we have the ability to compete for a champ,” Grunwald said. “We have to be lucky, healthy and play better than we have. That’s a lot of caveats there, but that’s our goal.”
Grunwald said it delicately but his words ring true. Coaches get paid to study what top teams are doing and try to adjust to it. The Knicks took a simple approach of playing little defense and trying to outscore other teams in iso ball using Carmelo Anthony's elite scoring skills. Teams adjusted, now it's the Knicks turn. This roster certainly has enough skill players to compete with anyone and be an elite team. However, this style of play actually lowers their skill level and makes them too easy to attack on both ends of the court. For the Knicks to stay on top of the Atlantic Division there are certain things that need to change.
If the Knicks are going to get back to their winning ways they have to adjust. First of all, Anthony has to take it upon himself to play tough defense again and sacrifice some of his scoring numbers to better the team. Scoring title be damned. Second, there has to be a premium on defense. Getting stops leads to easy baskets which leads to wins. It's really that simple.
Third, ball movement has to come back to the Knicks offense. Some isolation ball is fine. Iso ball can be very affective, especially towards the ends of quarters when you are looking to control the clock and get important baskets. However, becoming stagnant with the ball makes the other four men on the court observers and makes it easy for the defense to focus on one player instead of five.
Fourth, it's time for Mike Woodson to adjust. His rotations have been very poor, he's been too loyal to players who haven't earned that loyalty and he's been down right stubborn at times. His record is very impressive as the head coach of the Knicks but at this rate he's in trouble of looking pedestrian sooner than later. He needs to demand the Knicks play a certain way and if that means benching a star such as Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler or J.R. Smith in order to make an example and show he's in charge then so be it.
Fifth, the Knicks need to toughen up. Too often during the year this team has proven to be mentally weak. They are quickly rattled by physical play and poor officiating. Good teams shut their mouths and make things happen not complain and expect games handed to them on a silver platter. New York is a blue collar state and despite Madison Square Garden being located in the white collar section of Manhattan the team needs to reflect it's hard working areas mentality and stop acting like they are playing for free. They call it money making Manhattan for a reason. These players are paid very well for what they do. They need to be focused, tough and hard working and earn their paychecks.