The New York Knicks were not expected to be successful this season, despite Phil Jackson returning to the team as President of Basketball Operations and bringing with him Derek Fisher as first year head coach. Superstar Carmelo Anthony re-signed with the team as well. There was good reason for skepticism, however, as change takes several seasons to take hold. This seemed to be obvious when Anthony and the Knicks were steamrolled by the Bulls in their opening game of the season with a score of 104-80.
Now, the Knicks have lost their first five games, producing a record of 2-7, only ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers (0-7) in the Atlantic Division. Even though there has been excitement around the new triangle offense, it has been more of the same for the Knicks. The Carmelo Anthony era has been plagued by a lack of ball movement and a reliance on Anthony to create offense by himself. So far this season, Anthony is averaging about 10 more attempted shots per game than anyone else on the team, but is only averaging 39.1 percent from the field. The team is second to last in total points per game (91.1) and has been outscored by 7.3 points on average, which is fourth-worst in the league.
As bad as the offense has looked, defense is currently the top problem for the Knicks. Problems with defensive rotation and covering perimeter shooting have stifled the team. Opponents are averaging 41.8 percent from beyond the arc against the Knicks, which is the highest percentage in the league. New York is also giving up 108.7 points per 100 possessions—fourth worst in the league. If the Knicks do not clamp down on the defensive end, this season may quickly become a lost one.
Big man Andrea Bargnani is set to return later this month, as well as guard Jose Calderon. Bargnani will give Fisher more depth down low, while Calderon’s shooting ability should spread the court, allowing Anthony more open opportunities.
With the team at full strength, New York’s role-players will find their niche. Quincy Acy and Jason Smith will play for a majority of their time as power forwards, providing solid scoring and rebounding. J.R. Smith, although not a first-team defender, has the potential to provide prolific scoring at the shooting guard or small forward position.
Then there is Anthony. If New York has any hope at a playoff berth, their star will need to look for better shots, as his current average of about 20 points per game will not be enough to do the job. A healthy team supporting him will hopefully make shooting a bit easier for him.
The Knicks are a work in progress. Even “The Zen Master” Phil Jackson himself cannot turn everything around in just one season. The year is still young and players are still recovering. Although the Knicks up to this point are a painful reminder of last year’s team, they may be able to improve with time. It may not be this year, but soon enough the Knicks will be relevant again in the Eastern Conference.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Nov. 13 print edition. Email Michael Thompson at [email protected]