By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks' loss to the Pacers on Wednesday night was a disgrace.
For New York to come out of the All-Star break, against a team right on its heels in the Eastern Conference, and throw up a zero is unacceptable. Everything was bad, from the effort to the execution.
Mike Woodson should punish the team in practice Thursday, and the entire club needs to take stock of this season. They need to understand why they used to be great, and why they are struggling so much now.
Early in the season, when the Knicks played their best basketball, a big deal was made about the team's renewed defense; Mike Woodson and accountability; Carmelo Anthony becoming a great player on both ends, a true leader; JR Smith being a sixth man of the year contender; great ball movement leading to great three point shooting; and Jason Kidd finding the fountain of youth. At this point of the season, are any of those still true?
The Knicks are a .500 team since mid-December, and are playing like one below .500.
The Knicks' defense stinks, and has since the third week of the season. Since November 21, the Knicks are ranked 18th defensively, and that's not including the 125-point debacle last night. The toughest part of the schedule is yet to come, and the defense is getting worse, not better. The effort isn't there, and there doesn't seem to be a coherent scheme either. Their personnel isn't the best in the league in terms of defense but it isn't as bad as recent performances. With all their other problems, this is the biggest one. But it's not insurmountable. If the players commit to a proper scheme, they'll be fine.
Where's the head coach in all of this? Besides a few screams, are players really being held accountable for not putting forward the appropriate effort? Wasn't that supposed to be Woodson's thing? Has anyone besides Iman Shumpert been benched even for short stretches? The team is much worse defensively than they were under Mike D'Antoni last year. Where is the defensive-minded disciplinarian Woodson was sold as? He said maybe the team took off when he was hired last year because they were afraid of him. That fear is gone. Maybe laying some people out in public is the next step.
Anthony is the same player he has been his entire career. He's stopping the ball again. His field goal percentage is dipping. He's playing iso-ball. He leads the league in field goal attempts and is filling up the points column in the score, but where is the rest of his game? He isn't giving the requisite effort on defense and he certainly isn't leading or inspiring this team. If Anthony is really the team leader, he never shows it on the floor or in what he says to the media. According to his words, everything is fine with the Knicks. That's far from the truth.
If everyone wanted to give Melo credit for how the season started, it is only fair to lay him out now. Throw Tyson Chandler into the mix for the lack of leadership too. This team has had none.
Smith has fallen off the cliff. Right now he is careening off the side of the mountain as he tumbles horribly toward the bottom. He bailed on the Knicks by getting ejected early in the second half against Indiana. He is shooting under 40 percent since November. Sixth man? Not happening.
Anthony and Smith have played a large part in stopping the great ball movement that lifted the Knicks so high in the first month of the season. The Knicks are 29th in the league in assists per game, and though that number can be deceiving, it isn't for them. The ball isn't moving and the Knicks aren't getting the wide-open threes like earlier in the season. You wonder why everyone's three-point percentages are dropping? That's why. Steve Novak isn't even getting looks.
Neither is Jason Kidd, who has looked his age over the past few months. But much like Novak, Kidd will look a lot better if his teammates are playing well on offense and on defense. You see his passing when the ball moves. You see his smarts on defense when the team is trying hard and rotating properly. No one is doing any of those things so Kidd looks a lot worse than he is actually playing.
So are the Knicks done? No. These problems have a lot more to do with execution and effort than some fundamental flaw. For that reason, fans shouldn't overreact to some bloated loss to the Pacers, but at the same time they shouldn't be running around saying "everything is fine" either. If there's a trade to improve their team, the Knicks need to do it. But making a trade for its own sake is not the right solution either. If the Knicks can find a move to help with their perimeter defense or ball movement they should do it. None of the trades rumored so far would do much to help either, spare the Luke Ridnour move.
The best help the Knicks can get is from within. Woodson needs to live up to his reputation. Anthony needs to lift this team up, and not by scoring points. Chandler has to hold his teammates accountable on defense. Felton has to guard someone on the perimeter. Smith has to think drive-and-dish rather than step-back jumper. They need to play together within a coherent defensive scheme.
All are possible if the team is willing to commit to doing what is necessary to win a title. It sounds like coach-speak, but with this team it is true. The Knicks have what it takes. We'll see if Woodson can get what he needs out of this group, and if these players are able to give it to him.
The Knicks' season sits on a precipice with the toughest schedule in the NBA on the horizon. The time to turn it on is now.
You can follow John on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York sports.
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