Poets on Sports

#KnicksTapeNationWeekInReview: Our Season of Self-loathing Begins!

By Salvatore Pane

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Bucks (83) at Knicks (90) 10/30/2013 

1. A Microcosm of the Jim Dolan Era

The 2013 Knicks home opener was the kind of roller coaster we’ve come to expect from the orange and blue. Blues singin’ owner James Dolan debuted his Skyfall-esque Chase Bridges suspended from the legendary ceiling of Madison Square Garden, and despite being up by more than 20 at halftime, the Knicks barely survived with a win against the fringe Milwaukee Bucks. Not a heartbreaking opener by any means, but it was a far cry from shellacking the Heat at home like last season.

2. The Reemergence of Tyson Chandler

One of the storylines that was swept under the rug during the 2012-2013 regular season was the apparent regression of Tyson Chandler. He no longer resembled the 2011-2012 Defensive Player of the Year, and although part of that was due to the Knicks being a stronger overall team, fans had to wonder if Tyson was regressing in a way reminiscent of Larry Johnson or, heaven forbid, Amar’e. Those problems were exacerbated in the playoffs when Roy Hibbert abused Chandler like a rag doll. But in the first two games of the season, especially so in the first, Tyson looked like his old self. Netting 6 rebounds, 5 blocks, and 10 points, Tyson Chandler once again was the best player on the team.

3. A Wild Bargnani Appears!

MIN FGM-A 3PM-A FTM-A OREB DREB REB AST STL BLK TO PF +/- PTS
Andrea Bargnani, PF 17 3-9 0-3 0-0 0 2 2 1 1 0 3 2 -11 6

Yikes.

Knicks (81) at Bulls (82) 10/31/2013 

1. Garbage Lineups vs. Crunch Time Lineups

Here’s a game where Coach Woodson might have stolen a statement win on the road on the second night of a back-to-back against one of the top three teams in the conference, but instead, he experimented with some truly baffling lineups. Bargnani was inserted into the starting lineup, and like against the Bucks, he posted a dismal plus/minus at -9. Bargs played better than the previous night, especially in the second half, but the lineup that really allowed the Knicks to claw themselves out of a blowout and back into the game was the crunch time unit of Felton, Hardaway JR, Shumpert, Melo, and Tyson. This was a bit of surprise from Woodson who professes to want to play bigger, yet the most success he’s had with the Knicks is when he plays some weird iteration of small ball–either playing two point guard sets with Felton and Prigioni or playing two shooting guards alongside Felton like he did here. Obviously, when JR Smith’s done serving his weed suspension, he’ll be the one playing Hardaway JR’s end-of-game minutes, but guys, the rook looks good.

2. The Percolating Neophyte

Tim Hardaway JR. was a relatively controversial draft pick last summer. However, I’ve never really understood the hate. He has the potential to be a JR Smith-lite, and I guess the detractors find him redundant on a team that’s already flushing $20 mil down the toilet thanks to Amar’e’s powder dust bones. But after losing many of our three point shooters during the offseason–mainly Steve Novak and Jason Kidd–Hardaway JR has tremendous value if Woodson goes back to what worked so well last season. THJ posted a +7 in 27 minutes of play, and it’s easy to get excited about a two-guard rotation for the 2016 New Look Knicks involving a Shump-in-his-prime and a Hardaway JR on the rise.

3. Stagnant Offense on Both Sides

If you only caught the highlights, Derrick Rose was credited for winning the game on a decisive final second shot. But in reality, DRose didn’t look too hot, and Chi-town and the ‘bockers relied way too much on isolation plays for their mega stars down the stretch. The Bulls have had the Knicks’ number for a few seasons now, but there’s cause for hope. Dieng was really the Melo-stopper of the game, not unlike how the Clippers deployed Grant Hill last season in limited meetings. But we all know how cheap the Bulls are, and are they really going to pay the repeater tax–a penalty for being above the luxury tax threshold twice in a row–with this roster as currently constructed? My prediction is Dieng will be shipped out of Chicago right before the trade deadline, and if this game was any indication, Rose will have to play himself back into shape over the next few weeks and/or months ala Iman Shumpert last season–although, obviously DRose will play a ton more minutes. That’s going to help the Knicks in the standings longterm IF Woodson figures out the lineup issues that seem so obvious to Knicks Twitter.

Timberwolves (109) at Knicks (100) 11/3/2013

1. Lineup Woes Continue

Woodson continued smashing his face against the rock of a big lineup and again started Bargnani. This game resembled the previous in that the Knicks went down early while relying on their “big” lineups, and then the small ball crew came out and clawed the team back before losing in heartbreaking fashion. Bargs’ shot looked more on point against Ricky and T-Wolves, but he was a -11 over 19 minutes. More worrisome was that after Melo netted two quick fouls in the opening quarter, Woody subbed in Kenyon Martin to play alongside Tyson Chandler Twin Towers-style. This was the lineup that allowed the Timberwolves to get up by 20, and despite a heroic effort from Felton, Pope Pablo, Shump, Melo, and Chandler, the Knicks were doomed right from the get go by the coach. This also marked the second game in a row where Beno Udrih earned a DNP, and until he somehow works himself into the lineup–which seems unlikely considering the play of THJ and the impending return of JR Smith–you can forget about any extended time for the two point guard sets which seem to be the Knicks’ strongest lineup.

2. Is Woodson’s Job in Jeopardy?

Before the season, I couldn’t really envision Mike Woodson being the coach of the Knicks at the start of the 2014-2015 campaign unless he led the team to the conference finals. But if things continue the way they are now, and the Knicks find themselves at .500 at Christmas, I wouldn’t be shocked if Dolan pulled the trigger even earlier. It’s not a decision I agree with, but Dolan is nothing if not unpredictable, and Woodson’s lineup choices dating back to last year’s playoffs have been insane. He’s committed to a style of play that’s practical extinct in today’s NBA and doesn’t play to the strengths of the current roster. I love Woodson. I love his beard. I live in his hometown. But I’m worried and upset.

Next Week

The Knicks have two bouts with the Bobcats next week before getting the Spurs in the Garden on Sunday. If the Knicks don’t come out of that stretch 3-3 or better, expect major panic from the New York media outlets. JR looked good in his brief play during the preseason, so here’s hoping he sparks the team next Sunday.

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