Lost in the buzz of a Giants’ win and a stunning Jets loss is the fact that the Knicks are in a bit of a tailspin.
New York’s most revered pro basketball team has lost three of its last four outings, including Sunday’s afternoon affair to a Utah Jazz squad that erased a 13-point third-quarter deficit. With the NFL in full swing, the Knicks (2-4) have flown under the radar – and that’s probably a good thing right now, considering recent losses.
The most pressing need for the Knicks is to find a way to hold onto leads. The Jazz defeat was a telling sign in that head coach Jeff Hornacek still doesn’t have a solid rotation yet – or one that he trusts. New York rolls out one of the better starting lineups in the league, with Derrick Rose, Courtney Lee, Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis, and Joakim Noah. But it’s when several of the starters catch a breather on the bench when the Knicks find trouble.[tab]
Outside of backup point guard Brandon Jennings, whom Hornacek loves, there’s really no one who’s been a consistent contributor. The new head coach repeatedly lauds Jennings, and has at times even used the speedy point guard alongside Rose in crunchtime minutes – something the coach prepped for in training camp. But outside of maybe Lance Thomas, there aren’t too many trusted options to hold down leads.
Sunday exploited that void for a Knicks squad that has now surrendered at least 100 points in every game this season – and blown leads in all four losses. The lack of staying power off the bench has caused some early concern for Hornacek, as he’s still fiddling with trying to find a constant bench rotation.
“The hope is that you have confidence in your guys on the bench,” Hornacek said. “You have to have confidence in them if they’re going to go out there for a few minutes and give the starters some rest. Some nights, it’s good, some nights it’s not.”
And lately it’s not been that good. The end of the preseason featured lots of buzz about center Willy Hernangomez and small forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas and their possible expanded roles. But the coach has appeared to sour on the European imports, mainly due to their inexperience on defense. Both have very skilled offensive games, but when it comes to preserving leads, Hornacek can’t trust them just yet. The coach has lately looked Maurice Ndour’s way, as the forward is more defensive minded – and would be averaging over a block per game per 36 minutes.[tab]
The main reserves that have seen the floor more recently include Jennings, Thomas, forward Kyle O’Quinn, and guard Justin Holiday, but they had a hard time staving off the Jazz, meaning back to the drawing board for Hornacek – and perhaps more growing pains for the new-look Knicks.
The NFL season can only mask the Knicks’ bench ills for so much longer, before New York’s attention will shine back on the hometown’s preferred basketball franchise.[tab]
– The pick-and-roll is the oldest play in the book, but it’s been baffling the Knicks’ defense – and the Triangle offense may be the reason why. Lee has noted that part of the problem comes from the fact the Knicks almost exclusively practice against the outdated Triangle offense in team scrimmages, so when they’re facing today’s uptempo pick-and-roll based offenses, they’re a step behind.
“I’m assuming next practice that we have [on Tuesday] we’ll probably go over that [defending the pick-and-roll],” Lee said. “That’s the majority of the NBA, the pick-and-roll offense, trying to get the defense shifting. The more we get used to it [in practices] and the better we get at it, the better we’ll be in games at guarding it.”
– Rose said the lapses are more about talking on the floor.
“We have to figure out what we want to do with the 1-3 [point guard-small forward] and 1-4 [point guard-power forward] pick-and-rolls,” Rose said. “It’s just miscommunication … It’s about building chemistry, where if one guy messes up, the other guy may have to give extra effort on that play to stop the ball and get that guy. It’s all about covering [for] each other. We’ve got to be more detailed. Coach is doing a good job of being specific, but during the games it’s hard to adjust right away. But that’s what we’re working on and that’s what we’re working towards.”
– Anthony also sounded like he was in Lee’s camp and wants to scrub the Triangle out of practices:
“I mean, that’s the way that the game of basketball is being played these days, regardless of whether we want to admit to it or not,” he said. “That’s the game of basketball. Everybody runs [pick-and-roll]. If you can figure out a way to stop that then I think you can be successful in this league.”
– Point guard Chasson Randle (fractured orbital bone), who is not on the 15-man roster, has begun his rehab stint with D-League affiliate Westchester Knicks and is expected to be signed when he’s back in shape.