Schmeelk: The Knicks Are Floundering, Here's How They Can Try And Right The Ship

John Schmeelk
November 08, 2019 - 11:44 am
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The Knicks are 1-7. They need to solve their problems, and they need to do it fast. Putting aside the drama that will come from playing the Mavericks twice in seven days, the Knicks opponents over the next two weeks are some of the weaker teams in the Eastern Conference.

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In addition to the two Mavericks games, the Knicks play Cleveland at home twice, at Chicago and at home against the Hornets. The Knicks have to get a couple of wins against those teams because starting on November 20th, the Knicks play 11 straight games against playoff teams from last year. After those 11 games, they play at Sacramento, at Denver, at home vs the Hawks, at Miami and they finally play on December 21st at home against the Bucs.

It is 16 games over the course of a month that will embarrass and bury the Knicks in the bottom of the standings if they do not start playing better basketball in the next ten days. Mitchell Robinson’s concussion makes things more difficult and Fizdale will have to deal with that as best he can until the big man returns.

The Knicks are floundering. After starting the year playing decent defense and struggling offensively, nothing has gone right in the team’s last two games against the Kings and at Detroit. The defense has deteriorated, and the ball movement and floor spacing both remain a problem. Fizdale continues to tinker and adjust his lineups and rotations based on matchups.

Fizdale is trying to solve all the team’s problems game to game by finding a group that can do everything. It is a bold approach that has been ineffective. It needs to stop. The Knicks have no identity. There is nothing they can lean on nightly that they do well. They need to get good at one thing they can hang their hat on and build from there. The constant shuffling of lineups and personnel is a detriment to that. 

David Fizdale
Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY Images

Right now, the Knicks do not have the players or talent to put together a high-level offensive team. A 19-year-old RJ Barrett and Julius Randle are their shot creators on offense. The former’s early-season efficiency is starting to melt away a little bit, and the latter is struggling in the adjustment to being the No. 1 option for the first time.

What the Knicks can be, if head coach David Fizdale chooses to commit to it, is a good defensive team. The Knicks have players that we know are good on that end of the floor. Mitchell Robinson is an elite rim protector. Frank Ntilikina continues to evolve into a defensive stopper on the perimeter. RJ Barrett has shown excellent defensive acumen for a rookie. Marcus Morris is an excellent, versatile defender.

Defense, of course, is not enough, and it needs to be combined with something that can help the team a little bit offensively. While they do not have nearly enough high-level shooters, the Knicks can patch together a good enough group to balance with their defensive players to form cohesive lineups that space the floor.

The base of the Knicks rotation needs to be RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, Marcus Morris, Mitchell Robinson, Frank Ntilikina, Elfrid Payton (or Dennis Smith Jr.), Kevin Knox, Taj Gibson and Damyean Dotson. All of those players provide either defense or shooting, spare Randle and Payton/Smith, who provide much needed ability to score one-on-one or make plays for others.

Bobby Portis and Wayne Ellington are supposed to be good shooters, but they haven’t been so far this season. Portis is so bad defensively that if he doesn’t spread the floor with his three-point shot he can’t play. If Wayne Ellington isn’t making his threes, there is no reason for him to play ahead of Damyean Dotson.

It’s been obvious for some time that a starting front line of Randle, Morris and Robinson doesn’t provide enough spacing to take advantage of Robinson’s ability to attack the rim, or Randle’s need for space in the paint to score one-on-one. For the time being, Randle might need to go to the bench with Kevin Knox stepping into the starting lineup.

A starting lineup of Ntilikina, Barrett, Knox, Morris, and Robinson gives Barrett a pick-and-roll partner with Robinson and enough shooting to keep the lane free to make those plays work. There’s only one weak link defensively with Knox, but with Morris’ defensive flexibility he can guard the weaker forward position on the other team.

It would leave either Smith or Payton, Dotson, Randle, Gibson and then either one of the starters or Ellington or Portis to play with the second group. Dotson and Gibson would add defense. Dotson would spread the floor, and the point guard would work with Randle on pick and rolls to create offense. Randle would have a decent amount of space and be able to get his confidence back against back-ups.

This approach might not yield immediate results, but it would at least give the Knicks something to hang their hat on. Right now, they are flailing in the deep end of the pool with nothing to hold onto as they sink to the bottom. They need a floatation device. It can be their defense. The second one can be shooting. It will get them out of the deep end of the pool before they sink and never come back up again. 

You can follow John on Twitter (@Schmeelk) for everything about the Knicks, Giants and the world of sports. You can also check out “The Bank Shot”, his Knicks podcast, on most popular podcast platforms. You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts here. He broke down where the team is with Steve Popper from Newsday. You can find that episode here.

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