Predicting the Knicks Fate During Tyson Chandler’s Absence
We can all agree that Tyson Chandler is the New York Knicks’ most important player for his tireless rebounding efforts on both ends of the floor, especially those tap-outs on the offensive glass, and his presence as the anchor of the team’s defense.
There is no denying his absence due to injury will be tough for the Knicks to overcome since their defense will undoubtedly suffer a bit.
In the two games played without Chandler, the Knicks are 1-1 with a fairly inspired win over the Bobcats on the road and a blowout loss to the Spurs, a perennial Western Conference contender. The outcome of both games was a clear reflection of their defense and thus the Knicks were not awarded the rare opportunity of saying their offense was the culprit in the losing effort to the Spurs.
Their defense was adequate in Charlotte and horrific at home against the Spurs, which is being very kind.
Is this small sample an indicator of what we will see for the Knicks in the next four-to-six weeks without Chandler? Beating the mediocre and bad teams while losing, maybe even quite handily, to the good teams? It’s certainly possible but let’s take a look at the schedule for that timetable and let’s also address certain elements coming into play including J.R. Smith’s return.
The schedule during Chandler’s absence runs up to December 21 in case of any minor setbacks or precautions taken to ensure he is fully recovered and able to play at or near 100% when he returns.
Atlanta (A), Houston (H), Atlanta (H), Detroit (A), Indiana (H), Washington (A), Portland (A), Clippers (A), Denver (A), New Orleans (H), Brooklyn (A), Orlando (H), Boston (H), Cleveland (A), Chicago (H), Boston (A), Atlanta (H), Washington (H), Milwaukee (A) and Memphis (H).
Looking at the schedule, the immediate response is disappointment at the fact that Utah is not even on the docket once.
This string of games would be an excellent test to see what kind of team the Knicks really are this season. Without Chandler however, we will not see that for quite some time. What we will see is the character of a team that is forced to play without one of the league’s most irreplaceable players.
We can see that Knicks coach Mike Woodson is still doing his due diligence to figure out the lineup situation which has been further complicated with the return of Smith. Does he start him or have him come off the bench in the sixth man role that he excelled in last season?
Whose minutes will be cut in order to give J.R. the time on the court that he needs to provide the offensive spark he is very capable of doing? Iman Shumpert? Pablo Prigioni? A collection of minutes from back-ups like Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Metta World Peace?
A quick comparison of the stats from last season and this season reveals a couple things. Some of the stats may not hold up under a larger sample size or due to Smith’s return and Chandler’s leave, but they are nonetheless very intriguing.
The major observation is that the Knicks are attempting almost five less three-pointers per-game and making over five percent less on their attempts as well. Part of this trend hinges on the fact that the Knicks traded away one of their best shooters, Steve Novak, in the deal to acquire Andrea Bargnani. Novak attempted a little over four three-pointers per-game last season while making 42%.
Bargnani is making only 35% on a little over three attempts per-game in that category this season, but his percentage has been on the rise in the past few games.
The retirement of Jason Kidd, whose improved shooting stroke helped spacing and broken plays last season also adds to the lack of efficient outside shooting this year.
The softened emphasis on outside shooting has led to a decrease in adjusted field goal percentage and points-per-shot this season. Via ESPN and the Elias Sports Bureau: the Knicks’ adjusted field goal percentage from last season, 51.5%, would have them in the top ten in the league this year while they currently sit 21st at 47.7%.
Their number value in points-per-shot has gone down from 1.23 to 1.12 which puts them 27th in the league.
In short, their offense has suffered mightily to start this season. They are down seven points from their average of 100 points-per-game last season to 93 this season.
The addition of Smith will eventually help the team regain some rhythm on offense, but his shot selection still causes headaches to many who watch him play. The positive to come out of this is that Smith does hoist a lot of three-pointers. Last season, he was averaging about 5.5 per-game including playoff games and making almost two of them.
The influx of three-pointers Smith will take might help the offense see a bit of an uptick.
Another noticeable element in this outside shooting conundrum is that Carmelo Anthony is taking far less three-pointers per-game this season. Now, while it’s true that Anthony is shooting a bit worse this season compared to last from just about everywhere on the court, there has either been a loss of interest in taking shots from behind the arc or simply more emphasis on playing in the post.
Anthony was averaging 5.96 attempts from behind the arc last season and shot even better than Smith did, at 36.9% including playoff games. This season? Anthony has taken only 22 three-pointers in six games for an average of 3.66 attempts while shooting 31.8%.
Shooting more threes will open up the floor for Anthony and allow him to drive to the rim a bit more as well. The idea of sticking him in the post every possession limits his offensive ability and makes the offense as a whole less efficient. The three-point shot has become so much more valuable in today’s game that the lack of emphasis this season is a bit surprising for how well the Knicks used it last year.
The final major problem so far this season has been the start of games. The Knicks rank at the bottom of the league in both first quarter scoring and first quarter defense. They allow an average of 28.7 points for a ranking of 29th while scoring an average of 22.0 for a ranking of 27th .
These slow starts might also be improved on the offensive end with the introduction of Smith to the starting lineup, but until that changes they remain an indicator of their struggles so far this season.
Taking all this into account, let’s give a prediction for how these 20 games without Chandler will play out. There will be three categories: optimistic, pessimisstic and realistic.
Optimistic: 12-8 record. Anthony and Bargnani continue their hot scoring streaks. Smith rounds into form quickly and has his share of games in which he goes ballistic on opponents. Bargnani has enough games capably rebounding besides Anthony. Felton’s play improves closer to his play last season. Shumpert, Prigioni and World Peace continue to be pests on the defensive end causing turnovers and keeping the Knicks in games against their tougher opponents like the Pacers, Rockets, Bulls and Grizzlies. The team is above .500 with their big man coming back to sure up the defense and rebounding.
Pessimistic: 7-13 record. Anthony struggles to shoot more efficiently while Bargnani runs more cold than hot. Smith struggles to regain his previous form and hurts the team with poor shot selection and defensive deficiencies. The lack of a rebounding presence allows opponents to feast on the offensive glass racking up second-chance points. Felton continues to struggle getting into the lane and finishing while Shumpert loses minutes and confidence. Amar’e Stoudemire is forced to play more minutes and continues to look overmatched on both ends of the floor. They are blown out by the good teams and barely beat weaker teams like Milwaukee, Boston and Orlando. Playoff chances are in serious jeopardy.
Realistic: 10-10 record. Anthony picks up the slack while Bargnani plays fairly well in half the contests. Smith provides enough scoring to help win some games late while still gambling too much on defense. Felton’s level of play improves some but without a traditional pick-and-roll partner, his impact on the game is still not what it needs to be. However, his pick-and-pop game with Bargnani works enough to stretch defenses and open up the offense a bit more. Shumpert stays on the court for 28-to-34 minutes a night and continues to progress as a player due to Woodson’s faith in him. The Knicks tread water until Chandler comes back and they can make a run as a full, healthy team with a clearer identity.
If there is still any uncertainty on what kind of team they are when Chandler comes back, they might end up missing the playoffs or be embarrassed by Miami or Indiana in an ugly first-round exit.
One thing is for sure; with Chandler gone, the next four-to-six weeks will be interesting to watch as coach Mike Woodson tries to figure this all out.