Carmelo Anthony recently admitted that he sometimes looks around the locker room at the assembled talent on his team and wonders why it isn’t working. The last three months have been a nightly exercise in trying to pinpoint a problem that goes beyond skill or even will.
But if you listen closely, the answer lies in their words.
“Tonight was simple,” Derrick Rose said after the loss in Detroit. “We didn’t guard anybody.”
Melo, too, opened with the same theme.
“We had to figure out who to stop first,” he said.
Rookie Chasson Randle, who was here in the optimistic dawn of the preseason and returned under the clouds of an early dusk of the season, saw it clearly as well.
“You need that focus and intensity, every single time, down the floor on the defensive end,” he said. “That helps your offense.”
The players continue to talk defense, while Phil Jackson and the media keep talking offense. Earlier in the season, Jeff Hornacek harped on defense and questioned his team’s ability to play it — or having the conditioning to play it — but after the loss in Detroit, he pointed to the offense and the fact that his team spent most of the game shooting jump shots, and scored just 26 points in the painted area compared to 50 by the Pistons. He also pointed to 18 turnovers that led to 26 points for Detroit.
Jackson took the court with the guards on the team last week for an impromptu tutorial on the Triangle Offense, which has re-emerged as a top priority after the All-Star break. The team spent a bulk of training camp focused on the offense and on playing a higher tempo and that came, as we’re learning now, at the expense of team defense and defensive focus.
The results are evident as the Knicks have a 108.7 defensive rating, which is tied with the Kings for the fifth-highest in the league.
There is no further evidence to show than the team’s slow starts to games. The Knicks have allowed 28.2 points per game in the first quarter, which is the fifth-highest in the league. Since Jan. 1, they’re allowing 29.4 points per game in the first quarter, which is the highest in the league. [The Nets are right behind them at 29.2 points per game in the first quarter, which suggests Sunday’s matchup at the Barclays Center could have a high-scoring start].
Offense has not been an issue for this team, especially at the start of games. Since Jan. 1, they’re averaging 27.7 points per game in the first quarter, which is the seventh-highest in the league. The issue, as Rose pointed out, is when the offense faces a tough defensive team or goes through a drought, they can’t recover.
And sometimes, their defensive play has a negative impact on their offense.
“Offensively, we don’t have things rolling and that’s one thing. But, I told you, I think defensively it effects us,” Rose said. “It starts from defense.”
But all the talk has been around offense. More specifically, the Triangle Offense. So what has come of this re-emphasis on the Triangle?
Before the All-Star break, the Knicks were averaging 106.1 points per game with a 54.4% assist percentage and a pace of 99.39, which was 12th-highest in the NBA.
After the break, when the Triangle was re-prioritized, the team is averaging 101.2 points with a slightly better 55.8% assist percentage and a slower pace of 97.27.
So scoring and pace of play has gone down, passing has gone slightly up. You know what hasn’t changed?
The Knicks had a 108.7 defensive rating before the All-Star break and have the exact same number after it.