J.R. Smith won the Sixth Man of the Year Award but disappeared in the playoffs and has become known for his off-the-court foolishness. Here’s my HoopsHabit article examining whether or not he’s worth the trouble for the Knicks.
So far, there’s only one undefeated team in the NBA this season. It’s not the Miami Heat. It’s not a team from Los Angeles. And it’s not Oklahoma City or San Antonio. The one and only team with an unblemished record is the same team that was “too old,” had “chemistry problems,” and was “the second-best team in New York.” If you had told me the New York Knicks would be the only undefeated team in the league after a few weeks, especially since they played Miami in their first game of the year, I would have laughed in your face. With wins over the Heat, Philadelphia (twice), Dallas and Orlando behind them, the Knicks are the best team in the league in the standings. But can we really take them seriously yet?
The answer is a complicated one. First of all, we have to take into account that we’re only five games into an 82-game season. The Knicks are off to an impressive start, but there’s plenty of time for them to screw this up later on (we’ll get to Amare Stoudemire soon enough). Second, we should take a look at who the Knicks have played so far. They did beat the defending champions in an impressive 20-point victory in their home opener. They also pounded a good Sixers team in back-to-back games followed by solid wins over Dallas and Orlando. In fact, the Knicks’ smallest margin of victory so far has been 10 points. New York is the second-highest scoring team in the league at just over 103 points per game and they are first in the NBA in defense, only allowing opponents 87.8 points per game. But while this all looks good on paper, there are some variables to factor in.
The convincing victory over Miami was certainly surprising, but it’s hard to take this win at face value, considering the extraordinary amount of motivation the Knicks had to win that game for a city still struggling to cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. It was an emotional and uplifting performance, but will the Knicks be able to replicate that motivation for an entire season? Probably not. Another thing to note about that performance is how well New York shot the ball, especially from behind the 3-point line. The Knicks made 19 3-pointers and shot over 52% from downtown. They’ve shot 41.6% from 3-point range on the season and shoot a large number every night. Will that high percentage continue for an entire season? Once again, probably not. And in looking at the Knicks’ other wins, victories over the Andrew Bynum-less Sixers and the Dirk Nowitzki-less Mavericks don’t seem as impressive anymore.
So what can we take from the Knicks’ 5-0 start. It’s certainly exciting for a city that hasn’t been excited about its basketball team in years (other than a month or two of Linsanity last year). But can we expect the old, veteran Knicks to be a contender in the East by the end of the year? For now, I’m not entirely convinced, but then again, why not? Carmelo Anthony is playing lights out and is leading the team with 26.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. He’s been the highest scorer on the floor in every Knicks game so far, but his increased effort on defense is what’s really made a difference for this team. When guys see their superstar hustling after loose balls and diving into the stands, that kind of leadership and effort is infectious and it’s one of the reasons the Knicks have been so good on defense. Combine that with Tyson Chandler’s rebounding and shot-blocking ability, J.R. Smith and Steve Novak’s improved shooting, Jason Kidd’s veteran poise and intelligent playmaking ability, Raymond Felton’s resurgence as a viable point guard in this league and a dash of charisma from Rasheed Wallace and you’ve got a pretty good team. After hearing all summer about how the Brooklyn Nets were the best team in New York, the Knicks have a chip on their shoulder and have set out to prove something so far.
There are a few obstacles this team will have to overcome however, and the biggest one is Amare Stoudemire. Stoudemire is a quality player that had a few All-Star season in Phoenix. But since coming to New York, he hasn’t been the same and probably won’t ever help the team chemistry on the floor. The fact is, he and Melo do not mesh well. Melo needs room to operate and he works better as the sole alpha dog. Stoudemire’s return could jeopardize this team’s chemistry and hurt them in the long run. The solution? It’s not a very popular one on paper, but as analyst Magic Johnson said, Stoudemire needs to come off the bench. It would allow Melo to have the floor open to him and it would allow Stoudemire to dominate weaker bench players and lead a team, even if it’s only the secondary unit.
So far, the Knicks are undefeated and have looked impressive. Whether their commitment to defense, their prolific 3-point shooting and their chemistry remain intact for a full season remains to be seen. The Knicks face a real test tonight against the San Antonio Spurs and it will tell us a lot about what kind of team this is. I’m not entirely convinced the Knicks are for real just yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were a contender come May.
Another day, another hundred rumors and moves of NBA free agency. Here’s everything that went down today to keep you up to speed heading into Independence Day:
Deron Williams Staying With Nets:
Deron Williams came to his ultimate decision today, choosing to stay in Brooklyn over leaving for his hometown of Dallas to play for the Mavericks. Williams’ contract is a five-year, $98 million deal that will team him up with Joe Johnson for the time being. Williams coming back is great news for the Nets, but for now, he is just a piece of the puzzle that is still missing Dwight Howard.
Trade Could Still Bring Dwight Howard to Brooklyn:
According to league sources, the trade for Joe Johnson didn’t quite put the Nets out of contention for Orlando superstar Dwight Howard. A possible trade that would send Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, and first-round picks in 2013, 2015 and 2017 to Orlando in exchange for D-12 is being discussed although nothing is set in stone. The Nets are looking for a third party to facilitate the trade, but the Magic are also looking into possible trades with the Lakers, Hawks and Rockets. The Mavericks are also in the running to get Howard, but only if he waits to explore free agency next year. If the Nets were able to swing Howard down to Brooklyn, they would be giving up a lot, but they’d be looking at a potential nucleus of Howard, Deron Williams and Johnson as well as Gerald Wallace, who signed a four-year extension for $40 million, according to league sources.
Eric Gordon Wants to be a Sun:
The Suns have offered Eric Gordon a four-year deal for $58 million and after visiting Phoxenix, New Orleans’ star point guard feels that it is the place for him. The Hornets can easily match the offer as they have been saying they would if Gordon received any max offers, but Gordon’s comments about wanting to play in Phoenix might mean that New Orleans chooses to let him go. Gordon was supposed to form a solid nucleus with rookies Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers, but it remains to be seen what the Hornets’ plan of action will be.
Jason Terry Agrees to Three-Year Deal with Celtics:
Jason Terry and the Celtics reached an agreement to a three-year deal worth $5 million annually. Although the deal certainly strengthened the bench with a wily veteran sixth man, Boston remains adamant about their desire to resign Ray Allen and Brandon Bass. The Mavericks can match Boston’s offer, but might not do so if they continue to look into point guards and the possibility of Dwight Howard next year.
Ray Allen to Visit Miami, LA Clippers:
Boston free agent Ray Allen will be visiting the Miami Heat this week as he continues to take his time with his options. The Celtics are committed to resigning their 3-point shooting veteran and can offer him a two-year, $12 million deal. However, the lure of winning another championship is certainly going Miami’s way after LeBron James and the Heat defeated Boston in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals before winning the title. Allen will also visit Los Angeles this week to hear offers from the Clippers, who view him as a starter. A few other teams are also still pursuing Allen, including the Grizzlies, Mavericks, Timberwolves and Hawks.
Jeremy Lin to Visit Houston Rockets:
A few weeks ago, it was very likely that Jeremy Lin would be returning to the New York Knicks. Now, the breakout star point guard is heading to Houston for a visit. The Knicks are certainly looking to resign Lin, but were unsure they’d be able to match other teams’ high offers and said they planned on playing it by ear. Other teams interested in Lin include the Raptors, Nets and Mavericks, although he is seen as a backup for each of these teams.
More Point Guard Activity:
Now that the Mavericks failed to get their hands on Deron Williams, Dallas is looking for quality point guards, turning their sights on Steve Nash and Jeremy Lin. The Mavericks still haven’t made up their minds about Goran Dragic, who is reportedly having problems working out a contract with the Rockets and visited the Phoenix Suns Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers have also taken an interest in Nash, while free agent Jason Kidd has narrowed his decision down to either Dallas or the New York Knicks.
Raptors Offer Landry Fields Three-Year Deal:
The Toronto Raptors have verbally agreed with Knicks’ guard Landry Fields to a three-year deal for nearly $20 million. Fields cannot sign a new contract until July 11 (when all free agents can sign new contracts), but the Knicks can still hold on to him if they match Toronto’s offer. It remains to be seen whether or not New York would spend that kind of money on a role player with Carmelo Anthony, Jeremy Lin, Amare Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and J.R. Smith all potentially coming back, however.
Pacers Agree to Five-Year Deal with George Hill:
Indiana point guard George Hill signed a five-year extension to stay with the Pacers, though details of the deal were not disclosed. The Pacers will also be looking to keep Roy Hibbert, who was offered $58 million in a four-year deal with the Blazers. Indiana will have to match that offer to retain their All-Star center. However, if they don’t match, league sources say the Pacers will pursue Denver’s JaVale McGee and New Orleans’ Chris Kaman.
Nets Add Bosnian Forward Teletovic and Reggie Evans:
The Nets have verbally agreed to a three-year deal with Mirza Teletovic worth just under $16 million. Teletovic, a Bosnian forward at 6’9″, averaged 22 ppg and six rpg in the Euroleague this season. Since the Nets gave away almost their entire bench to get Joe Johnson and would have to give up even more for Dwight Howard, this signing could prove to be a very helpful addition if his game can translate decently into the NBA. The Nets also acquired the Clippers’ Reggie Evans from the Clippers in exchange for a future second-round pick. Evans was signed to a three-year, $5 million deal.
After looking flat and failing to sweep the Knicks at Madison Square Garden in Game 4, LeBron James and the Miami Heat left nothing to chance and dominated New York at home with a 106-94 victory to end to close out the series in five games. Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 35 points and eight rebounds, but didn’t get enough help on the offensive end from his teammates, and New York exited the playoffs immediately following their celebrated Game 4 win that snapped an NBA record 13 consecutive playoff loses.
LeBron James led Miami with 29 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. James didn’t shoot the lights out, but he got to the free throw line 15 times and only missed two to add to his total. The Heat jumped out to a lead in the first half and never let it go after that, taking an 11-point advantage at halftime and extending it to 14 by the end of the third. James led the way for the Heat, but it was an all-around team effort from Miami that prevented the Knicks’ defense from getting the stops they needed to win the game. With Baron Davis out with a severe knee injury, Mike Bibby moved into the starting lineup. Miami took advantage of Bibby’s inability to defend their guards as Mario Chalmers had 10 points and Mike Miller chipped in three 3-pointers for nine points off the bench. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh had 19 points apiece to complement James, once again overwhelming one-dimensional Knicks attack with the balance of Miami’s big three and some contributions off the bench. For the Knicks, the one-handed Amare wasn’t able to duplicate his impressive 20-point, 10-rebound performance from Game 4 and finished with just 14 points and four rebounds. Tyson Chandler grabbed 11 boards but had just seven points. And J.R. Smith, who was once a huge contributor off the bench, continued his abysmal shooting streak with a 3-of-15 night off the bench.
For the Knicks, the series was a disappointing end for a team that entered the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the East. But despite being knocked out of the first round in just five games, New York has a bright future and shouldn’t hang their heads about their performance; after all, they were playing without quite a few key players that would have definitely made them more competitive. Jeremy Lin wasn’t on the court because of a knee injury, Amare Stoudemire missed a game after slicing his hand open, Iman Shumpert tore his ACL in Game 1 and Baron Davis tore ligaments in his knee in Game 4. The injury-depleted Knicks never really got a chance to gel this season because those injuries kept their three best players (Melo, Amare and Lin) off the court at separate times. They dealt with a coach who wasn’t a good fit for the team, they battled rumors about Melo’s interest in playing in New York and they handled all the attention that Linsanity brought. This was a team with high expectations put on them by the media and the fans, which is why being dismantled by the Heat seemed so disappointing. But in reality, Miami was and still is the favorite to win the Eastern Conference, while the Knicks never had sufficient time to build chemistry and were missing a number of key players.
For the Heat, this victory was dominant but nothing that we shouldn’t have expected. Miami was supposed to win this series convincingly, especially with no Lin, Shumpert and Amare (for one game). LeBron James put on impressive performances and the Heat’s big three proved to be too much for the Knicks’ lone superstar. The Heat now face a much better team in the second round in the Indiana Pacers, who have been convinced all year they are destined for more than what people expect out of them. The Pacers are my sleeper team, but a matchup with the Heat definitely favors Miami in every area except in the paint (thanks to Roy Hibbert). But the one area of concern that could show up in Miami’s future playoff games is how they handle crunch time in a close contest. With the game on the line in Game 4, LeBron James was stuck in a corner while Dwyane Wade dribbled around, lost the ball and hoisted a fadeaway 3-pointer at the buzzer. If this is the extent of Miami’s last-second strategy, they will fall short of winning a championship for the second year in a row and could possibly even fall to the Pacers if they don’t take them seriously. Erik Spoelstra has to recognize that this is LeBron’s team now, and despite the fact that the sports world has completely condemned his ability to perform with the game on the line, LeBron can get to the rim easier than anyone in the league and should be given the ball in a potential game-winning situation. If the Heat develop a pattern of not giving the ball when things get tight against an easier competitor like the Knicks, what’s going to happen when they face a title contender or even the dangerous Pacers and the pressure is on? Time will tell, but unless LeBron is given an opportunity to build his confidence with the game on the line, we could see another disappearing act when the going gets tough.
The New York Knicks ended an NBA record 13-game playoff losing streak and avoided a first round sweep by edging the Miami Heat in a 89-87 Game 4 victory today. Carmelo Anthony finally had an efficient shooting night, shooting over 50 percent to lead the Knicks with 41 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. Amare Stoudemire, who played with padding on his injured left hand after missing Game 3, notched 20 points and 10 rebounds in his return.
After a poor first half, Melo and the Knicks made a third quarter run to enter the final period with a three point lead. The Heat didn’t exactly look like they had the killer instinct to put New York away and the Knicks capitalized on it, even though no one other than Anthony and Stoudemire scored more than seven points. J.R. Smith, who scored those seven points, had an appalling 3-for-15 shooting night and Baron Davis went down in the third quarter in the middle of New York’s run, dislocating his right kneecap. Thankfully, Mike Bibby stepped in and hit a few big 3-pointers to keep the Knicks on top. But even though it was a much-needed win for a franchise that hasn’t had much to celebrate over the years, the likely reality is that the Heat will advance in five games. With the series shifting back to Miami and the Heat wanting to get as much rest as possible before the second round, they should return to their business-like mentality and play much better in Game 5.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh led their team in Game 4, but lacked the championship mentality to put this inferior team away and get some extended rest time with a sweep. James and Wade came alive in the fourth quarter, but by then it was too late. But even with the Heat’s lackadaisical Game 4 performance, even with Melo dropping 40 and even with Amare back on the court and playing well, the Knicks still only won by two points. So as happy a moment as it was for New York to win a playoff game and avoid being swept by LeBron and the Heat, all signs point to an absolute blowout in Game 5 in Miami. Just because Melo finally shot the ball well doesn’t mean he’ll do it again; just because Amare meshed well with Melo and was able to contribute while favoring one hand doesn’t mean it’ll happen again; and just because the Heat failed to come out with a finisher’s mentality doesn’t mean they’ll do so at home.
Miami should have swept this series. Not to take anything away from the Knicks, but there’s little excuse for letting Melo go for 40 and allowing a one-handed Amare Stoudemire to put up 20. There’s no excuse for losing the a New York team without Jeremy Lin and Iman Shmpert. It’s true that the Knicks had a lot more to play for and benefitted from an enthusiastic and victory-hungry home crowd, but if LeBron James wants to become a leader for a championship team, he needs to elevate his game in potential series-clinching moments like these. LeBron has worked hard to prove naysayers wrong and in today’s game he actually played well in the fourth quarter to keep Miami in it. But what should have been LeBron’s moment to take over, win the game and send the entire Madison Square Garden home empty-handed and heavy-hearted was stolen by Dwayne Wade’s ridiculous 3-point attempt at the buzzer. At the beginning of the season, I could understand why the Heat would stick LeBron in the corner and leave the last-minute duties to D-Wade. But LeBron has become the leader of this team with an MVP-caliber season and was playing much better at the end of this game than anyone on the floor for Miami. Believe it or not, Wade should have given the ball up to LeBron and let him decide the fate of the game. But the fact that LeBron didn’t demand it is a little worrisome; he seemed perfectly content with Wade’s decision and shot selection afterward. In a close game, the way LeBron failed to rise to the occasion and allowed his team’s fate to be decided by someone else could come back to haunt the Miami Heat against a better opponent.
The Knicks were ready to play in Game 3 and looked like they were going to take a game and show everyone they could compete with the Miami Heat in the first half. But LeBron James and the Miami Heat would not be denied, blowing the game wide open in the fourth quarter to win 87-70 and take a 3-0 series lead.
Despite an absolutely wicked J.R. Smith windmill dunk on the Heat in the fourth quarter that pulled New York within eight, the Knicks couldn’t sustain enough momentum to counter the offensive onslaught of LeBron James. James scored eight straight points to start the quarter after struggling with his shot and foul trouble in the first half. Carmelo Anthony continued to be the Knicks’ high scorer and best offensive option, but he was once again nowhere near as efficient as LeBron, shooting a poor percentage and requiring 23 shots to put up just 22 points. Tyson Chandler played well in the first half and finished with 11 points and 15 rebounds, but J.R. Smith and Steve Novak struggled to contribute. Aside from LeBron James taking over, Mario Chalmers hit a few 3’s in the fourth to extend the lead and finished with 19 points. For a Knicks team without Amare Stoudemire, Jeremy Lin and Iman Shumpert, a guy like Chalmers can’t score that many points.
The Knicks offense went stagnant in the second half after heading into the locker room with a four point lead. In a game where Chris Bosh didn’t do much and LeBron James actually struggled (for the first three quarters, that is), the Knicks needed to take advantage and build a sizable lead. But they were unable to do so and LeBron and company turned what was a close game into a blowout in a matter of minutes. Melo wasn’t clicking offensively and neither was anyone else as the Knicks were outscored 51-30 in the second half.
In their defense, New York hasn’t been able to develop team chemistry because Melo, Amare and Lin have all been injured at different times and the Knicks are missing two of their best three players for the postseason. But what could have been a very competitive playoff series has turned into quite the disappointment. Melo hasn’t been able to compete with LeBron’s efficiency so far and New York hasn’t come close because of it. Credit Miami for their stellar defense, high-flying transition offense and of course, LeBron James for not giving the Knicks any hope. New York has now lost a league-leading 13 consecutive playoff games. Unless everyone shoots lights out in Game 4 in Madison Square Garden tomorrow, the Knicks will extend that streak to 14 and be swept by the extremely business-like Miami Heat and their MVP LeBron James.