Forget about Carmelo Anthony‘s team-focused progression, Amar’e Stoudemire‘s revamped post moves and Mike Woodson’s defense-oriented coaching style. Carmelo Anthony is Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire is Amar’e Stoudemire, and Mike Woodson is happily along for the ride. That is to say, neither player will ever play defense. And don’t worry about offense, either. Because on a team with Melo and STAT, offense takes care of itself, somehow and eventually.
Take a look at 2012 Team USA, giving up 100 points in 40 minutes to Spain, with Marc Gasol largely a non-factor due to foul trouble. They say that defense wins championships, but we’re not in the business of convenient cliches. Defense is half the equation. Team USA just couldn’t lock up Spain, despite a handful of first team All-NBA defensive players. One weak link in the chain, one instance of non-effort, and a possession is squandered. Extrapolate that over four quarters and a heady bravado to underestimate your opponent, and there we have it. Spain scores 100 points.
Jose Calderon is a nice player, Pau and Marc Gasol are very strong players, and Rudy Fernandez is alright. But what was the real difference between the teams? Team USA didn’t lock up until it had to. It all worked out in the end and the gold medal came home because Team USA turned on the engines when it mattered. Because, in truth, Team USA didn’t need to turned on the engine until the fourth – no team, including Spain, was capable of pulling away from the Americans.
Except in the NBA, there are multiple superstar teams, and most of them have figured it out. Defense, that is. And those teams lock up for 48 minutes because the NBA has taken on a new kind of offensive explosion – let Russell Westbrook run free for four minutes and find yourself down 12 points. He’ll run you out of the gym in eight. That’s the high-octane nature of the game these days. And the Knicks have yet to adjust.
In a basketball vacuum, the Knicks are one of the top five teams in the NBA. That is, if every player is playing up to potential, the ball is shared and defense is played. Are they championship caliber? Probably not. But they do have the DPOY in Tyson Chandler, and a rising defensive star in Iman Shumpert.
There were games last season when Shumpert would randomly harass his man for 94 feet, or deny his man the ball just because. Slap the floor. Clap his hands. Dive for loose balls. It’s all menial, in the larger sense of basketball, but defense is inspiring. It’s an interesting dynamic in basketball, offense and defense. Say ‘Melo scores seven straight points and he comes down the court for another possession. He takes a few dribbles across half court, no passes, and pulls up from three. We forgive these “momentum” shots as some sort of excusable byproduct, that a successful past somehow forgives a selfish future.
Then, on the defensive end, Iman Shumpert’s harassing defense causes the point guard to dribble the ball of his foot and out of bounds. On the next possession, he sticks his hand in the passing lane and goes the other way for a dunk. What happens on the third, fourth and fifth possessions? Now the rest of the NY defense is engaged. Amar’e skies for a block. ‘Melo draws a charge. You know how it is. Great defense inspires great defense.
This the role the Knicks need Iman Shumpert for next season. He might be coming off a torn ACL and is not expected to return until January, but they need great defense to inspire more great defense. Tyson Chandler is only successful as a rim protector if his perimeter guys don’t just funnel players his way. As we saw last season, it lead to foul trouble too many times. He needs to be on the prowl, helping and intimidating and pounding his chest. No more of these one-on-one battles at the rim, with perimeter players skying in untouched, forcing Chandler to combat their aerial assaults. They need to be already off-balance in the lane, with Chandler there to clean up the mess.
This is the New York Knicks that can compete. This is the New York Knicks James Dolan envisioned. Sadly, this is the New York Knicks that needs inspired defensive play. This is the New York Knicks that needs Iman Shumpert.
How important will a healthy Iman Shumpert be for the Knicks next season?
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