The Knicks' off-season is catching up with them
The Knicks' off-season, which has yielded superb results so far this season, seemed to catch up with them on Christmas Day, when they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers, 100-94.
You'll remember, of course, that the Knicks first chased after Steve Nash, the point guard with a long history of dominance who considered signing with New York in July. Ultimately, Nash's children live in Phoenix, so Nash chose the Lakers over the Knicks.
"I’ve been back four times," Nash said of Phoenix on Monday. "The kids have been out here twice. That’s more than I could have gotten from New York to Phoenix in the whole season.”
After a broken fibula delayed his season, Nash showed the Knicks, Lakers and everybody else how momentous a decision that was. The Knicks simply couldn't keep him from penetrating into the paint, allowing him to score 16 points and distribute 11 assists from comfortable pockets within the defense, and even grabbed six rebounds.
The Knicks had a backup plan to Nash's established veteran brilliance, and his name was Jeremy Lin. But the Knicks got angry with him after he received an offer from Houston and he's with the Rockets now.
Those Rockets faced the Bulls on Christmas Day, a team that twice bedeviled the Knicks in recent days. Lin's new team crushed the Bulls, 120-97, with Lin scoring 20 points, handing out 11 assists, and turning the ball over just twice in 34 minutes.
When the Knicks turned away from Lin, they were left with Plan C: Raymond Felton. And that has increasingly become a problem.
Felton's effort for the Knicks can't be faulted; to his credit, he has been playing with stress fractures in both hands. The problem is that it's not clear how much his performance will improve even after he's gotten over his injuries. That's because his numbers so far comport with who he's been over the duration of his career, now in his eighth year.
His shooting is a problem, at 39.6 percent, but his career norm is only 41.1 percent. Same with three-point shooting, at 35.3 percent this year, 33.1 percent for his career. The thing that has changed is Felton's attempt to make up for his misses with volume, with a usage rate of 27 percent not only higher than his career rate of just over 20 percent, but significantly higher than scoring point guards like Chris Paul and Deron Williams.
Essentially, Felton's play is now threatening the fragile ecosystem in which the Knicks' early season blossomed.
Jason Kidd, brilliant in his limited role, is being pressed into heavier point-guard duty, taking him away from his role as designated shooter. That, in turn, leaves less space for Carmelo Anthony, and means that when both Kidd and Steve Novak are on the floor, defenses don't need to account for both of them spotting up. (They don't have to account for Felton either.)
Add in the inevitable shooting regression of Ronnie Brewer, and suddenly the Knicks' perimeter game, for much of the time, is J.R. Smith or bust.
After the game, Felton's new hand injury—a sprained pinky—was described as possibly keeping him out of action Wednesday night in Phoenix. He ought to sit. Getting healthy is the only play here; there's no changing who Felton is, fundamentally, as a basketball player.
On a night when a previously self-inflicted Knicks mistake from long ago came to haunt them again—selecting center Frederic Weis in the 2000 N.B.A. Draft over Ron Artest, now Metta World Peace, who blanketed Anthony on defense like few others can—the price of their off-season arrangement at point guard became clear.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
Facing a Boston Celtics team with problems of its own, the Nets were dominated on their home court Tuesday, 93-76.
Kris Humphries, who was benched Sunday and described as healthy, isn't.
Austin Romine might not hit, but he sure can catch.