There are impatient rumblings at Madison Square Garden, where the “deeee-fense” chant originated, because the Knicks under coach Mike D’Antoni are simply not deee-livering as they should.
Well, let’s just examine that statement a bit further. Especially the part about “as they should.”
Really, now: Should they? This is a team that hired a coach in D’Antoni who specialized in a quick-strike offense while in Phoenix, which won a lot of games but no championships. And this is a team that broke the Brinks for Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, a pair of hired guns who can score a bunch but often give up a bunch, too. And finally, this is a team that surrendered some decent defenders in the trade to get ‘Melo last season, a trade that never should’ve been made in the first place.
So yeah, that’s why we must ask: Should they? Or rather, can they?
The Knicks surrendered 118 points last night to the Bobcats, a team that usually needs two games to reach 118. It was surreal, seeing the offensively-challenged Bobcats shoot 55 percent, to see burly “center” Boris Diaw looking svelte as he tore through the Knicks for 12 of 15 shooting and 27 points, to see Gerald Henderson torch the Knicks’ backcourt for 24 points.
“We didn’t defend enough,” said D’Antoni, stating the obvious.
But how well can the Knicks defend, anyway?
With the exception of Tyson Chandler, there’s nobody on the roster who made their reputation with terrific D. Therefore, it’s hard to be a great defensive team when you lack great defensive players. Yes, the Knicks looked fine the previous game against the Raptors. And yes, defense is more an effort than an art form, and professional basketball players should at least give that effort on the other end. However, the Knicks as constituted paint a worrisome picture for New Yorkers, who see solid defense being played in Chicago, Boston and Miami, places where the Knicks must travel through to have any chance of reaching the NBA Finals anytime soon. The Knicks are giving up 99 a game, fourth-worst in the league, this early in the season.
Writing for the Daily News, here’s what Frank Isola said:
When the chant of de-fense, de-fense fell on deaf ears, the Garden crowd began calling for Iman Shumpert, who has instantly become a fan favorite. And if you listened closely enough there was a brief Phil Jackson chant before the mass exodus began. So for Mike D’Antoni perhaps the only positive thing to come out of Wednesday’s embarrassing 118-110 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats is that no one was calling for his head. but if the Knicks continue to perform poorly at home, that derisive chant is coming soon. And it will be loud.
Others are begin to wonder if it’s time to think about the future of the man on the bench in New York writes Adrian Wojnarowski‘s of Yahoo! Sports:
The Knicks don’t have a playmaker, and D’Antoni still doesn’t have a team that can defend consistently. D’Antoni has also come to the final year of his contract, the $24 million free-agent booty the Knicks gave him to escape a frugal owner and a GM, Steve Kerr, who tried to tell D’Antoni something he never wanted to hear: Defense mattered, and eventually it had to be important to him.
Back-to-back losses to the Toronto Raptors and Bobcats at the Garden dropped the Knicks to 2-4. It didn’t matter that the Bobcats had been obliterated by 74 points in three straight losses, that 24 hours earlier Cleveland had blown them out and Diaw had gone scoreless and owner Michael Jordan had one more mess on his hands.
“You’re talking about an NBA team,” D’Antoni said. “They’re good.”
Come on, Mike. Stop it. The Knicks will get over these losses, but this isn’t the way a lame-duck coach needed to start the season in New York. Bad week for the Knicks, but worse in the long run for the coach’s staying power on the job. This is a no-excuse season for the Knicks, and D’Antoni won’t be negotiating a contract extension without winning a round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
This isn’t simply D’Antoni’s fault. There are too many holes, and maybe too many parts that don’t fit together. The Knicks are counting on Baron Davis’ back to heal, Anthony and Stoudemire to learn to play together, and a Spartan bench to make serious contributions.
It doesn’t matter that management made D’Antoni hire a “defensive coordinator” for his coaching staff, a term he resents. D’Antoni didn’t want that kind of an assistant when Kerr tried to get him to hire Tom Thibodeau for the Suns, and he didn’t want it here.
The Knicks hired Mike Woodson, the former Hawks coach, to bring a defensive mindset, but how’s that working out? Not so well, if you listen to what ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian Bagley has to say:
Bottom line: the Knicks are 2-4 and have put together just one strong defensive performance through six games [they held the Kings to 36 percent shooting last Saturday].
So far, they’ve allowed opponents to shoot 45 percent from the field and nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc. They rank last in the league in rebounds and are getting out-rebounding by nearly ten per game.
Of course, it’s early. But if Wednesday night is any indication, the Knicks have a long way to go before they can compete on the defensive end.
They talked all training camp long about improving on the defensive end.
“We’ll get there,” Carmelo Anthony said. “It just a matter of when.”
So far, that’s all it’s been — a bunch of talk.
Oh, about that ‘Melo trade. Donnie Walsh, the former Knicks’ GM, argued fiercely against making it because he thought the Knicks were giving up too much. The reasoning then was the Knicks would simply hold onto their assets, wait for ‘Melo to become a free agent last summer, then sign him. But Walsh was over-ruled by owner Jim Dolan, and besides, ‘Melo wanted his money pronto. Supposedly there was the danger of losing ‘Melo to the Nets if the Knicks hadn’t swung the deal when they did, but the Knicks could’ve called that bluff. How would they look now if they had signed ‘Melo, re-signed free agent Wilson Chandler, and still had Ray Felton, Danilo Galinari, Timofey Mozgov and the rest? Better defensively, for sure.
With a high-priced front line, steep expectations in Gotham and a bloodthirsty media on the trail, the Knicks find themselves under a bit of pressure. Especially D’Antoni, who’s inching closer to the end of his contract. The team had little to nothing when he arrived (Walsh hired D’Antoni over Mark Jackson, who had no bench experience until he joined the Warriors this winter) but now D’Antoni has a pair of All-Stars and another player who won a championship in Dallas last summer in Chandler. Whether the demands are reasonable or not, the Knicks must begin to play the part of a contender soon. Or else the arena won’t be the only thing undergoing a makeover.