New-look Knicks have a ways to go before realizing their potential
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The Times Square ball wasn't the only thing to drop in New York City on midnight of the New Year, as some 2.8 million locals lost television coverage of their beloved Knicks because of a cable controversy that might not be resolved anytime soon.
The timing couldn't be any more perfect.
It's probably best that the Knicks' fretting fans tune out for at least the next few weeks, at least if they planned on seeing the sort of action that offers a true indication of this team and its potential. Between the challenges that are universal (short training camp and preseason) and unique (the Baron Davis-less backcourt, knee injury to rookie standout Iman Shumpert and a nagging ankle injury for Amar'e Stoudemire), there won't be enough credible evidence to analyze for quite some time.
That was certainly true on Saturday night, when the formula to fix New York's offensive woes (they had scored 78 and 82 points, respectively, in their last two losses to Golden State and the Lakers) wasn't exactly the kind of winning mix that they'll be repeating anytime soon: second-round draft pick Josh Harrellson was a worthy stand-in for the hobbling Stoudemire (14 points, 12 rebounds), Carmelo Anthony didn't hit his first bucket until midway through second quarter as their lead grew to 15, defensive-minded center Tyson Chandler had 22 points after scoring 22 in the first three games combined, and the 2-2 Knicks toyed with a 1-3 Kings team (that has its fan base in panic of all its own) for a 114-92 victory. There's simply nothing to see here just yet, and anyone who is thirsting for coach Mike D'Antoni's seat to heat up at this early juncture will likely have to wait until February at the earliest to be satisfied on that front.
The latest sign that there is still rudimentary work being done with this club took place in Friday's Knicks practice, when Chandler -- the former Dallas big man who was brought to the Knicks as a free agent, in large part, to change the woeful defensive culture and is being given plenty of freedom to do so -- said the Knicks spent much of the session implementing the sort of defensive principles that typically get set in stone during camp and preseason. The Knicks -- with the help of first-year assistant and former Hawks head coach Mike Woodson and Coach Chandler, as he might as well be called -- are in the process of becoming a much more aggressive defensive team and breaking the bad habits that led to their atrocious standing in opponents points allowed last season (27th) as well as opponents field-goal percentage (26th).
"We put in (defensive) stuff just yesterday, so it takes a while," Chandler said as he put his player-coach hat on to discuss the changes. "In the past, they played pick and roll a different way, but now if we're going to be aggressive then we're going to show and be down in the traps, then our weakside is just as important as the ballplay.
"The previous games, our weakside was used to hugging up (on pick and roll defense) because I think they're used to going under (screens) and stuff like that, so they stayed with their own man. Because of that, we gave up so many layups. And then it's deflating (to the team), and we allowed that to (affect) the other end (offensively). And this team, we should be in the 130s every night."
For all the talk of the Chandler addition making the Knicks an elite team in the Eastern Conference, it speaks volumes about the unpredictability of this bunch that the defense is hardly the only question mark. New York gutted the team in last season's deal with Denver for Anthony, and the Knicks have nary a true point guard in the lineup as it currently stands with Toney Douglas and Landry Fields starting in the backcourt. The recently-added Davis will be expected to be some sort of savior when he returns from a back injury (likely in February), and that will be their last hope unless the Knicks somehow find a way to land Phoenix's Steve Nash via trade like they've wanted to for so long (not that Nash is the answer with how he's playing thus far this season, averaging 8.3 points and 8.3 assists per game while shooting 31 percent).
For D'Antoni, early progress can be measured by the number of times he uses the word "awful" in assessing his team's play after the latest game. He didn't use it after the latest outing, meaning that tally will stay at two for the time being. Otherwise, Knicks fans should wait for the MSG Network and Time Warner to settle their television battle before deciding whether or not they're worried just yet.
"I think honestly that it will take like 20 games or so (to know who the Knicks are as a team)," Chandler said. "I know that sounds like a lot -- and don't get me wrong, we're going to win basketball games -- but as far as really clicking and being on the same page, it's going to be up in the 20s."
Now if the win total winds up being in that range by the time it's all over? Feel free to tune out on this Knicks program.