Ranking the Biggest Disappointments for the NY Knicks So Far
Injuries have played a role, but that's not an excuse for this kind of breakdown. This is simply a team underperforming, with disappointments throughout what is, on paper, a pretty talented roster.
For anyone who's been watching the Knicks, there's been plenty to point to as disappointing this season, but let's take a look at the top-five biggest ways the Knicks have failed to meet our expectations.
The Knicks have been a joke defensively this season, and Tyson Chandler's injury is no excuse for it.
While Chandler is clearly the Knicks' best and most important defensive player, the reality is that most teams in the NBA don't have a player as good as him in the middle. In other words, if everyone pulled their weight, losing him wouldn't make the team one of the five worst in the league on that end of the floor.
The main culprits for New York are on the perimeter. Raymond Felton and Beno Udrih have been unable to stop anyone at the point, while J.R. Smith is still inconsistent and even Iman Shumpert has looked shaky at the best of times.
The result is an unnecessary amount of pressure being put on the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Andrea Bargnani and Amar'e Stoudemire in the middle, who aren't exactly known for their ability to clean up their teammates' mistakes on defense.
Having Chandler back gives the Knicks some help in that regard, but he can't turn the unit around on his own. He needs help from everyone in the rotation and, at the moment, is getting that from very few of them.
4. The Weak Division/Conference Has Made No Difference
If you told me before the NBA season that the Eastern Conference would be significantly worse than it was last year and the Knicks would be out of the playoffs at Christmas, I would have laughed in your face.
The narrative over the summer from most basketball outlets was that, while the Knicks have improved, a stronger conference following the return of Derrick Rose and the Brooklyn Nets' active offseason was going to lead to them falling down to around the fifth or sixth seed.
Instead, every team in the conference other than the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers is severely flawed (whether due to age, injuries or a complete lack of talent), and New York has proven to be one of the worst of the bunch.
Fortunately for the Knicks, the conference is so weak that they are still very much in contention for any seed outside of the top two and they are still only four games out of first in the Atlantic. As we've learned so far, though, weak competition doesn't guarantee anything for the Knicks.
3. Woody's Rotations
While he can't be held accountable for the quality of this roster or the performance of unreliable players, the one thing Mike Woodson has failed to do this season is find a rotation that makes sense.
It's unclear whether this is because of his own ineptitude or influence coming down from James Dolan and the front office, but either way, it has been disappointing to see the Knicks fail to capitalize on what worked for them last season.
Carmelo Anthony is no longer playing at power forward and, while it seemed possible that playing Andrea Bargnani alongside him would replicate the same kind of spacing we saw last season, that hasn't materialised on the court.
Instead, Bargnani has shot just 29.9 percent from downtown, with the majority of his scoring coming from mid-range jump shots—Anthony's bread and butter.
With either Tyson Chandler or Kenyon Martin playing alongside them, the paint has been congested.
2. Raymond Felton
Raymond Felton was the worst defensive starting point guard in the NBA last season and has done very little to change that in 2013-14.
News of his weight loss in the summer gave fans hope that this would help him stay in front of his matchup, but he continues to struggle, and it has only been made worse by his failings on offense and inability to stay healthy.
Felton was redeemed somewhat by his contributions on offense last year, but that's no longer the case now that he's averaging career lows in points, assists and field-goal percentage.
While Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler are the Knicks' best and most important players, their success over the last three years has ultimately come down to point guard play. They were horrible with the likes of Mike Bibby and Toney Douglas, great during Linsanity as well as Felton's resurgence last season and have now reverted to the former with Felton being unable to produce.
This season has been almost identical to the 2011-12 season before Jeremy Lin's emergence, and it's easy to see why. Even with five point guards on the roster, there's no one to penetrate and break down the defense, and it's unlikely we're going to see that any time soon.
1. J.R. Smith
From the moment he signed his new contract over the summer—which at the time looked like a fair deal for the reigning Sixth Man of the Year—J.R. Smith has been a complete disaster for the Knicks.
He has always been inconsistent, but this season that hasn't been the issue. Now Smith is just consistently bad, shooting a career-low 35 percent from the floor and eclipsing the 18-point mark (his average in 2012-13) just seven times.
Smith's performance on its own is bad enough, but his immaturity only adds to that. Picking up a five-game suspension over the summer just weeks after being caught partying on game nights during the playoffs is inexcusable. It's all fine and well if you're contributing on the court, but questionable decisions and underperformance aren't a good mix.
While it isn't on the same level as Amar'e Stoudemire's $100 million deal, Smith's contract is quickly starting to look like the worst signed by any team over the summer, and that doesn't bode well for the Knicks. It's very possible that he's simply a player who only performs in a contract year, and he won't be in that situation again until 2015.