1. Andrea BarGODi, the Hashtag Italian Mamba, Kills Everybody
I don’t want to be hyperbolic, but let me list my all-time top ten favorite Knicks.
10. Clyde Frazier
9. Patrick Ewing
8. Andrea Bargnani
7. Andrea Bargnani
6. Andrea Bargnani
5. Andrea Bargnani
4. Andrea Bargnani
3. Andrea Bargnani
2. Andrea Bargnani
1. John Starks
Dude is swaggin’ out of control. You might recall last season when Kevin Garnett allegedly told Melo that his wife tasted like cheerios, prompting Anthony to chase KG all the way back to the team bus like Hardcore Holly during a turn-of-the-century Monday Night Raw match. This year, however, the Knicks have The Spicy One, and he made short work of Garnett. Before getting ejected, Bargs blew past Garnett for an easy dunk, hit a 3 right in the dude’s face, almost ripped off his genitals, and delivered the kiss of death before whispering that he wanted to put a baby inside Mr. Anything is Possible.
Andrea Bargnani is a beautiful, Italian swerve god.
Andrea Bargnani is a mutant wildcard in the vein of Starks or Sprewell or Childs.
Andrea Bargnani is the Italian Savior we’ve been waiting for since our previous Italian Savior was jettisoned to Denver along with any other ounce of youth or hope not named Landry “I AM A PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL PLAYER (I THINK)” Fields.
Andrea Bargnani is Andrea Bargnani, and we are lucky to know him.
2. The Brooklyn Nets Are Even Worse Than the New York Knicks
I’m going to pretend that I’m writing this before the Celtics debacle this past Sunday. I’m not doing this for you. I’m doing it for me. What we learned in the Nets game is that the Knicks have the highest ceiling of any Eastern Conference team not named the Heat or the Pacers. I know that’s not saying much, especially since the East and the Atlantic in particular are historically bad. But who scares you in this conference outside of Indy and Miami? Atlanta? Detroit? Washington? A Brooklyn team lifted straight out of Cocoon 2? The Knicks will probably face one of those teams in round one–and yes, I still think they’ll get in; more on that below–and then they’ll have a puncher’s chance against LeBron or PG.
In the Barclays Center, the Knicks once again resembled the 2012-2013 squad. They spread the floor, and Carmelo kicked out of double teams to open three point shooters. In fact, Melogod had 19 points on 12 shots and chipped in with 6 assists and 10 rebounds. That’s the perfect Carmelo Anthony stat line. The team that showed up against Brooklyn, and later Orlando, is a team the Pacers and Heat would prefer not to meet in round two over the other Eastern Conference Hindenburgs I mentioned above. This is the only team that even has a shot against them now that Derrick Rose is out, and that’s what I’ve been saying all along. Unless Carmelo’s injured, we’re heading towards a 3-6 seed and a second round rematch with Indiana. And if Carmelo somehow manages to extend his traditional April lights out shooting into May, the Knicks might have an outside shot at the ECF.
1. Deja Vu
The Friday night back-to-back against Orlando was eerily similar to the Brooklyn game. The difference, however, was something that’s becoming a bad habit for the Knicks: a slow start. The Magic started the game outscoring the Knicks 15-5, but the ‘bockers righted the ship and were within 3 by the end of the first quarter. Again Carmelo was as efficient as Carmelo can be, scoring 20 points on 10 shots with 11 rebounds and 4 assists. Earl “Pipestrong” Smith JR was a +33 in 28 minutes, and Metta World Peace was +39 (!) in 25. Even Summer League sensation Toure Murry looked decent in limited garbage time.
These were the Knicks we expected before the losing streak, a team modeled after last year’s two seed with the broken-down vets and Steve Novak swapped out for Bargnani, Metta, and THJ. This was cause for hope.
When the shots aren’t falling, this team is an unwatchable abomination. Shumpert, Felton, and even my beloved Bargnani combined to shoot 1 for 19. When that happens, Carmelo stops passing and goes one-on-three, which means he only shot 33% from the field. His usage rate against Brooklyn and Orlando was 24.5 and 23.9 respectively. Against Boston, it was 33.2. This season, the Knicks are 2-10 when Melo posts a usage rate higher than 30. Oh, and let’s say you’re not into the whole advanced stats thing? Here’s a stat you can get behind. In the loss against Boston, Carmelo Anthony recorded a grand total of one assist.
That’s a joke. That’s humiliating. And how many times have we seen him do it since 2011? Hard to blame the guy though when his perimeter shooters have fallen prey to Brad Stevens’ dorky brand of analytical voodoo. Even JR Smith and his young clone THJ only shot 4 for 12 from the field. This is unacceptable all around, and I’m putting the blame squarely on Woodson. Last year, when Woody started Raymond Felton AND Pablo Prigioni–a lineup he stumbled into due to injuries–the team went 16-1. Prigioni is currently tied for 11th in overall 3pt shooting percentage, but he almost never looks for his own shot. When he’s on the floor–especially so when he’s paired with Felton–the ball whips around and Carmelo is able to catch and shoot or draw double teams.
AND YET PABLO’S ONLY AVERAGING 16 MINUTES A GAME THIS SEASON.
Now obviously, Pablo’s 36, and he can’t play Melo minutes, but Woodson’s insistence that this is a defensive team that’s best served with a 1980s style Twin Towers playing style is absurd, asinine, and disrespectful to the organization, players, and fans. Last year’s Knicks won 54 games with weird lineups that put Melo at the 4 and Felton at the 2. This isn’t brain surgery. I’ve been a fan of Woodson ever since he was brought in to force D’Antoni–another failed Italian Savior–to at least utter the word “defense”, but his lineups for the first quarter of this season have been categorically insane on all levels. If the best Dolan can muster for an in-season change is Herb Williams, then by all means keep Woodson for now. But JD and the Straight Shot better be aiming for Jeff Van Gundy or Phil Jackson this summer. If you’re looking for someone to blame, it’s Woodson. Dolan’s assembled a crew that shouldn’t be losing by 40 at home to a team destined for the lottery.
2. The Worst Division in the History of the NBA
This is your Atlantic Division. The winner is guaranteed a 4 seed or better (HA!) in the playoffs, and I’m still confident that team will be the Knicks. Let’s explain why.
First, take a look at the Toronto Drakes. Even though they have the same number of losses as the Boston Celtics, they traded arguably their best player yesterday, analytics-whipping boy Rudy Gay, for John Salmons, half-a-bag of Doritos, and an unrewound VHS of Blue Chips. In a matter of months, new GM Masai Ujiri has unloaded the massive contracts of beautiful Bargnani and Rudy Gay. In 2014, they only have 41 million committed to the cap and that’s before you eliminate team options on a bunch of bad contracts including 14 mil alone on newly acquired Salmons and Amir Johnson. In 2015, they only have 13.2 committed. This is a team that’s playing for draft picks, and nothing made that clearer than dumping Rudy Gay. Just hold on, Wiggins coming home.
The 76ers, on the other hand, are only two losses behind the Boston Celtics thanks to the inspired play by leading Rookie of the Year candidate Michael Carter-Williams. However, remember that Philadelphia basically blew up the franchise this past summer in the wake of THE ANDREW BYNUM DISASTER. They traded for Nerlens Noel, the man who was supposed to be drafted number one over all, and despite most doctors predicting he’d be ready by Christmas Day, the Sixers’ front office have mysteriously declared him out for the season. This isn’t a team playing for now, and obviously they’re hoping to pair MCW and Noel with another stellar player from this year’s talented draft. That means the lottery. That means avoiding winning the Atlantic by any means necessary. Expect them to trade Evan Turner or Spencer Hawes after December 15th–that’s when all players signed during the offseason can be traded and traditionally when NBA in-season trading heats up–and don’t be surprised if MCW is held out of the final third of the season for some shady reason similar to what Golden State did with David Lee a few years back. Philly is following the OKC model, and that means you can’t get too good too quickly. Reaching the upper echelon of the NBA means bottoming out.
That brings us to the over-performing Brad Stevens. Nobody predicted that the Celtics–now without KG and Paul Pierce, and Rondo-less for the first third of the season–would be leading the Atlantic. That includes the front office who surely was hoping for a shot at the Parker-Exum-Smart-Randle-Wiggins sweepstakes. But former Butler coach Brad Stevens has made a career out of taking low talent teams and pushing them far beyond rational expectations. This is the one team in the Atlantic that could go in either direction. Brooklyn and New York don’t have draft picks. They’ve gone all in on 2013-2014. The Sixers and Raptors clearly are out. Boston is straddling the fence. I think there’s a 60/40 chance they hold out Rondo longer than necessary and trade Crawford or Humphries or any older player that doesn’t benefit them long term and could lead to more losses–and playing time for the young guys. However, that means there’s a 40/60 chance they’ll bring Rondo back and delude themselves into thinking they can compete with Indy and Miami sooner rather than later. Then they might make a panic trade that benefits them short term. That doesn’t really sound like a Boston move though. That’s a New York/Brooklyn move through and through.
And so, that brings us to the Nets and Knicks, the only teams in the division who actually want to, you know, win the division. That’s why none of this matters really. Jason Kidd looks like everything he’s learned from coaching has come from Air Bud marathons on ABC Family, and I don’t buy for a second that the corpses of KG and Pierce and Jason Terry are going to spur Deron “Coach Killer” Williams to actually play like he gives a shit. The Knicks have Carmelo Anthony. It doesn’t matter if Woodson has Encino Man-ned his way here from the 1980s. It doesn’t matter if Amar’e fades away into the ether Yoda-style. It doesn’t even matter if Earl and Iman and THJ and Bargs and Felton average 25% from beyond the arc by the end of the season. Carmelo Anthony means the Knicks go at least 30-52, and in the Atlantic Division, that gives you a shot to win the whole thing.
Next week, the ‘bockers have two road games against Boston and a spiraling Cavs team and two home tilts against an under .500 Chicago club and the Jeff Teague-led Atlanta Hawks. I don’t know what it would take for Woodson to get fired at this point. Maybe if Dolan’s spies catch him saying something negative about the Straight Shot? Otherwise, I sadly expect Shumpert to get moved shortly after the 15th. And maybe, just maybe, the imminent return of Tyson Chandler will inspire this team to play with some consistency. This week has been a tale of two Knick teams, and depending on which version we see over the course of the next four games, next time we’ll either be talking up Indy/Miami or firing Woodson and the dull specter of trading Melogod.