So, it’s official: the Knicks’ recent improved play was too little too late, and the club is in the all too familiar territory of missing out on the playoffs once again.
Finishing ninth is no mean feat in the West (condolences, Suns fans)…but in the laughably weak East, it’s a damning result for this expensive roster. Some have been pointing fingers at Melo or Mike Woodson, but to those able to separate media hyperbole from reality, the primary reason for the Knicks drop-off this year is clear: atrocious guard play.
The starting backcourt of Raymond Felton and Iman Shumpert has not only been hands down worst in the NBA this season, but must surely be in contention for worst of all-time.
Take a look at this graph I’ve compiled, showing the average points per game scored by each starting backcourt this season, and note the perilous Felton fall on the right hand side (you’ll also notice Splash Summit on the left, where the Warriors’ Steph Curry and Klay Thompson reside). Yes, the PPG stat isn’t perfect, but it is still a fairly reliable way of comparing the offensive ability of players.
At the end of the day, basketball requires one team to score more points than the other, and generating points from your point guard and shooting guard slots has become vital in today’s run-and-gun league. If you have one low-scoring guy in your backcourt for defensive purposes (for example Thabo Sefolosha or Patrick Beverley), you better hope the other is a great scorer (Russell Westbrook, James Harden). Just ask the Bulls how their offense was pre-D.J. Augustin, or Indiana how they’ve been traveling lately with George Hill and Lance Stephenson’s recent low production. Luckily, those teams have had all-time great defenses to keep them afloat when their backcourts have sputtered.
The Knicks have had no such thing – and boy could they have used it. Apologies to the families of Ray and Shump for harping on about their production, but they produced 27% less points than the 2nd worst Bulls, 45% less than average, and 61% less than the aforementioned league-leading Splash brothers.
This happens in a professional sports league where everyone theoretically has the same amount of time to work-out and practice. The disparity in production shouldn’t be possible in a professional sports league, and it just wasn’t getting it done for the Knicks (Ray and Shump’s efficiency was also last in the league – hitting just 38.9% of shots from the field).
I’ve watched Melo dish out of double and triple teams to these guys all season long, and they simply can’t hit open shots. It’s terrible. After these open misses, Melo gives up on the passing thing, and resorts to tough shots instead – and really, you can’t blame him…those tough shots are a far better option for the Knicks than open shots by Felton and Shumpert.
It’s tough to say for sure if these guys are the worst statistical back-court of all-time – compiling the stats from each backcourt in the history of the NBA is too tedious a task for even yours truly – but they have to be up there. Put it together with the addition of defensive sieve Andrea Bargnani (they are 19-18 since he went down, after a 15-27 start with him) and an underperforming Tyson Chandler, who has somehow escaped scrutiny for his poor play, and this whole mess of a season makes a lot of sense.
I don’t have anything against these guys. This isn’t personal. But, professionally, Ray and Shump simply haven’t tread anywhere near the level expected of them. In any other profession they would have been fired long ago – but here, of course, they’ll “keep getting dem checks” © Jalen Rose.
Felton has a player option for 2015-16, which he’ll definitely take, earning him $4 million for that season, further hamstringing the Knicks. Shumpert’s contract is expiring next season, which makes it at least semi-tradeable. Phil Jackson needs to break this backcourt up ASAP, and encourage the promotion of Tim Hardaway Jr, who seems to have been a steal for the Knicks. If he could also somehow juggle the salary cap and procure the services of free-agent point guard Kyle Lowry, things would definitely look rosier at Madison Square Garden.
Either way, something has to be done, or Melo will be thinking very carefully about his next move.
Over to you, Zen Master…