The Knicks are still atop the Atlantic Division, and almost have their full roster, but there are still areas of concern — most notably on the defensive end.
While the return of point guard Raymond Felton has sparked the offense again, he and his brethren have had difficulties defending quick point guards all season. 76ers point guard Jrue Holiday baptized Felton in his first game back since Christmas by registering a career-high 35 points on Saturday night. Then Hawks point guard Jeff Teague followed that up with 27 points in Sunday’s tilt.
“Our effort on the ball, guarding one-on-one, it’s been awful,” said head coach Mike Woodson. “We were taking pride [in defense] at the start of the season, so we’ve got to get back to that. We don’t always have to depend on Melo [Carmelo Anthony] to bail us out.”
Shooting guard J.R. Smith was honest in the personal assessment of his defense. The electric scoring talent said he has been working daily in the film room and on the practice floor to better himself on the other end of the floor.
Smith has never been known as a defensive stopper, despite having supreme athletic ability, but added he’s been improving on the defensive end.
“I’m not going to lie, it hasn’t been easy, but I’ve been watching a lot of film and I have great coaches who help me,” Smith said. “With the guys we’ve got, like J-Kidd [Jason Kidd] helping me out, it’s been a process, so I’m just trying to get better at it. We still have room to improve and I think we’ll get better as guys are starting to get healthy.”
» Rasheed Wallace’s impact has been so impressive that he’s arguably been the best big man reserve on the roster. The 38-year-old power forward hasn’t played since Dec. 15, and has yet to begin working out with the team, which is a cause for consternation for a team that was already undersized heading into the season. There is no timetable for Wallace’s return, although team officials don’t think they’ve seen the last of him. Many within the organization think Wallace will begin running again within the next week or so.
But just in case, the rumor mill has been churning as reports have surfaced over the past couple of weeks that the Knicks are looking for a possible replacement for Wallace, who was coaxed out of a two-year retirement by Woodson.
Wallace and Woodson worked together when the coach was an assistant with Larry Brown on the Pistons’ 2004 championship team.
“You miss him a lot,” Woodson said. “That was one of the reasons of bringing him to New York. I know what he brings to the table, [and] it’s very effective. His communication is so contagious that when you’ve got one or two guys that are talking all the time and in your ear when you screw up things, the others follow suit. You do miss him. … We still consider him day-to-day.”
» Despite the coaching staff and team officials being hopeful for Wallace’s return, there’s a void in the rotation that needs filling. That probably explains the Kenyon Martin rumors. Martin, who took a gamble over the offseason by holding out for any team’s mid-level exception, misplayed his hand and hasn’t played yet this season. But recent reports say the bruising power forward is willing to come to terms on a prorated veteran’s minimum deal with any team that needs his services.
Martin makes sense for the Knicks on multiple levels as he has prior connections with many people within the organization. Jason Kidd was Martin’s first point guard when the two were a dangerous 1-2 punch during their Nets days. Martin also played with Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith and Marcus Camby on the Nuggets. The 6-foot-9 enforcer was quoted earlier this month saying he’d even be willing to accept a 10-day contract “to get the opportunity to prove my value to the Knicks.”
While the Knicks aren’t there yet, they may need to hurry to fill their big man void, because they are just 9-10 without Wallace. When he was in the rotation, the Knicks were a stingy defensive unit, allowing just 93.6 points per game. Without him, they’ve allowed teams to surpass the 100-point plateau nine times.
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.