By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks are an absolute mess offensively right now. There's no other way to put it. The reasons are numerous, and not simple. Anyone laying it at the feet of Mike D'Antoni because of some kind of fatal flaw in his offensive system is wrong.
That being said, a lot of the problems can be traced back to the team's decision to release Chauncey Billups in favor of Tyson Chandler. In robbing Peter to pay Paul, they released their only point guard to get a long term solution to their center problem for years to come. Even with the current struggles, it was the right move. Billups was never going to be back after this season, and he wasn't a perfect fit for the offense anyway, often looking to shoot long jump shots before distributing. The move to go with Chandler will help this franchise for years to come.
Of course, the Knicks have Baron Davis recovering from his back injury, and once back he should be able to give the team something similar to what Chauncey Billups did. With a real point guard that can handle the basketball and get the team into its offense, everything will look a lot better. Davis has his own problems (over-dribbling and off-balance threes, anyone?) but he will help things get better for Amar'e Stoudemire, who has started the season extremely slow.
Unlike most 6'11 forwards, Stoudemire has never been great at isolating in the post and creating his own shot. Too often, those face up opportunities turn into ill-advised shots or turnovers. He's at his best when receiving the ball on the move towards the basket off plays like the pick and roll. Right now the Knicks don't have one player on their roster that can do that consistently. Mike Bibby is washed up, Iman Shumpert is really a two-guard, and Toney Douglas is a terrible passer. That weakness was exploited by Memphis on Thursday night with their bazillion steals.
It hasn't helped that Stoudemire's jumper has been off the mark to start the season, and it appears the increased weight on his frame has taken away a little bit of his first step burst. He has also struggled learning how to score against opposing power forwards, who have a better chance of staying with him on the perimeter than the centers that have guarded him the last two years. It doesn't matter what happens elsewhere, unless Stoudemire gets it figured out, the Knicks aren't going anywhere.
Carmelo Anthony is a part of the problem as well, albeit a small one. His assist numbers are up and he has shown a willingness to pass to cutters and open teammates, but too often he grinds the offense to a screeching halt. At this point, however, he has little choice with no guard able to get him the ball in a good position to score any other way. He has also proven to be the best player on the roster at running the pick and roll, a huge indictment of the guard play so far this year. I'm still convinced the Knicks will find a way to use Anthony's talent in their motion system, but at the ends of games, his one on one skills are invaluable.
An improved pace would help the team too, getting much easier shots in transition, rather than working so hard for everything in the half court. A better point guard would help but even without one pushing the pace is possible. Hitting a few open shots would also help. Right now the Knicks are 22nd in the league in shooting from behind the arc, and it comes down to their support players. Neither Landry Fields nor Toney Douglas have been able to hit the broad side of a barn, and Iman Shumpert's reputation as a poor shooter is starting to show. No one other than Bill Walker and Tyson Chandler are shooting over 45%. Simple odds say that won't continue.
Of course, it all comes down to ball movement, which is the entire key to Mike D'Antoni's system. Seven seconds or less is nice, but as long as the ball moves crisply and finds the open man, everyone is going to get better shots in rhythm and shoot a better percentage. That's the key to his system. The argument can be made this harkens back to the lack of a true point guard, and to a certain extent it does, but there's no reason the ball can't move better with the people currently out there.
Until these problems get solved, the offense is not going to improve. The return of Baron Davis will help, but it's not everything. It goes deeper than that. With more time in practice with Mike D'Antoni, it should get better, and it must if the Knicks want to make some noise in the Eastern Conference.
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