By John Schmeelk
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Every year we like to take a look and see what the Knicks should ask to find in their stockings to become a better team. Last year there was only one gift that could fix the mess they were in: a whole new roster.
This year, with Derek Fisher's club hovering near .500, the needs are more specific, but not any less important. In the spirit of the holidays, here are 12 things the Knicks need moving forward:
On the 12th day of Christmas … more Jerian Grant
During a loss to Orlando on Monday, the rookie point guard was thrown in over his head. In the final minutes, his inexperience showed. But his play earlier in the game showed how his ability to drive, pass and finish can ignite this team. The Knicks want to play with more pace and Grant can provide that. He isn't ready to start or carry the team, but the more he plays the better he will be. All young point guards having growing pains and this team should be no different.
On the 11th day ... less Jose Calderon
Despite a hot-shooting stretch at the beginning of the month and again against the Cavs on Wednesday night, Calderon tends to hurt this team more than help it. His defense is nonexistent despite an honest effort on that end. The Knicks play better when he is on the bench than they do at any other time, as evidenced by their plus-2.3 scoring advantage per 100 possessions. The team is outscored by more than four points per 100 possessions when he plays. He just doesn't have the lateral quickness to play prominent minutes anymore.
On the 10th day ... a more prominent role for Langston Galloway
Calderon is still playing more minutes than Galloway and that needs to end. Calderon runs the team better, and is a better spot-up shooter, but Galloway plays faster and is eons ahead of him as a defender. Galloway should be closing every game, when teams often feature their point guards in pick and rolls and try to get penetration from the top of the key.
On the ninth day ... a consistent finishing five
I understand Fisher has been trying to mix and match based on performance and matchups, but he would be much better off figuring out who the best five Knicks are on the floor together and sticking with them in crunch time every night. That's how continuity builds and a team gets consistent. It should be Galloway, Arron Afflalo, Lance Thomas, Carmelo Anthony, and Kristaps Porzingis.
On the eighth day ... Melo finishing late in games
Anthony has been playing much better team ball, and over the last couple of games that play has continued into the final few minutes. In the past, including earlier this season, he has forced hard isolation shots rather than moving the ball and finding his teammates during crunch time. It has been better recently, and it needs to continue. Melo is moving the ball great for wide swaths of games, one of the reasons the team is better than expected.
On the seventh day ... a consistent nine- or 10-man rotation
Fisher seems to be getting there. He knows that Galloway, Thomas, and Kyle O'Quinn will play every game. Derrick Williams, though used less, seems to play every game too. He still seems to be vacillating between Sasha Vujacic and Jerian Grant. Hint: see Day 12.
On the sixth day ... more screen and roll
Even though Calderon can't break down a defense he can still shoot off screen rolls and find teammates. Too often, the Knicks go to post players (ahem, Robin Lopez) that can't do anything with the ball and use large periods of the shot clock with no activity. They need to execute more screen and rolls early with Calderon or Grant, and get some movement early in the shot clock.
On the fifth day ... more rebounding and running
The Knicks are in the bottom quarter of the league when it comes to defensive rebounds. They've played good defense during possessions, but haven't finished enough of them by securing the defensive rebound. Rebounding better on that end could also lead to more runouts and transition opportunities. Fisher has been all over his players to continue to run and they need to keep doing it. The team doesn't have enough elite offensive performers to expect to score efficiently in the half court. Getting easier shots in transition will help dearly.
On the fourth day ... more post-ups for forwards
Afflalo, Anthony, Porzingis and even Williams should be getting ALL the post-ups. Lopez and O'Quinn don't do enough with the ball in the block to merit being featured as a would-be scorer or a playmaker. Let the offense run through the other four guys down there, primarily Afflalo and Anthony. Either those two or Porzingis need to be in the game at all times. Afflalo posted well again on Wednesday night against Cleveland until Iman Shumpert got the best of him a couple times late.
On the third day ... a trade for a PG
If they want to take that next step, the Knicks needs a real point guard that can make good decisions, penetrate and defend. How they will get this player is a different question, but Phil Jackson needs to work overtime to get it done prior to the trade deadline.
On the second day ... more designed plays for Porzingis
I'm convinced that Porzingis would be shooting better if he got the same types of shots more consistently from the same spots. The Knicks do not take advantage of his size against small power forwards in the post. They also don't run him off any screens off the ball for catch-and-shoot jumpers when he is guarded by plodding centers. They also don't use him as a screener enough where he could be deadly in the pick and roll/pop. He seems to get his shots offensively randomly from game to game without being featured at all. With Anthony out Wednesday night, and Porzingis needing to carry more of the scoring load, he stepped up big time (until the team decided not to give him the ball the final six minutes of the game).
And, finally, on the first day ... a win in a close game against a really good team
The Knicks have come close a bunch of times, but they still haven't figured out how to win games late. Case in point: Wednesday against the Cavs. This team has to learn how to finish. Santa always gets down the chimney to deliver the presents. The Knicks need that type of consistent offense late in games.
For everything Knicks and Giants, please follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk
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