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5 “X-Factors” for Knicks’ Postseason Success
Posted By Tommy Beer On April 18, 2013 @ 3:00 pm In Main Page,NBA | No Comments
We know what to expect from Carmelo Anthony – the NBA’s newest scoring champ. Anthony is the clear focal point of New York’s offensive attack, and his importance is obvious to even the most causal observer.
However, there are a number of other more subtle factors that will have an enormous impact on New York’s ability to beat the Boston Celtics and advance to the semifinals of the Eastern Conference playoffs and beyond.
Outlined below are five “x-factors” that could determine the fate of the Knicks in this year’s postseason.
1. Solid Point Guard Play
Trivia question: Who leads the Knicks franchise in total postseason assists this millennium?
The answer is… Carmelo Anthony.
Back in 2004, Stephon Marbury dished out a total of 26 assists in a four-game sweep to Jason Kidd and the Nets. Mark Jackson also racked up 26 assists for New York back in 2001. The Knicks have played a total of nine playoff games over the last two years. Baron Davis and Mike Bibby have each dished out 13 assists. However, Anthony has tallied a total of 30 dimes over the last two years – tops for the franchise since the turn of the century.
This simple statistic highlights just how desperate the Knicks have been for reliable, consistent point-guard play. In 2011, Chauncey Billups was injured at the end of Game 1 in Boston and Toney Douglas was forced to handle the majority of PG responsibilities. Last year, Jeremy Lin got hurt late in the season, and wasn’t able to return for the postseason. Davis tried to step up, but he tore up his knee as well. Bibby was forced into the starting lineup in Miami for Game 5.
Since arriving in New York, Anthony has yet to play a full playoff game alongside a competent, healthy point guard who can help run the show and facilitate the offense. With Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni and Jason Kidd in the fold, that should change this time around.
Felton has slumped for stretches, but has also played brilliantly at times this season. Encouragingly, he’s been far more efficient over the second half of the season – shooting nearly 47 percent from the floor while his turnovers decreased as well.
Little was expected from Prigioni (the oldest rookie in NBA history), but he has been a pleasant surprise. His pressure defense was a spark off the bench early on, and his shift into the starting lineup late in the season coincided with the Knicks’ hot streak to close out the 2012-13 campaign. New York was 16-2 in the 18 games Prigioni started this season. (Pablo did twist his ankle in the season finale, but hopes to be okay by the start of Game 1.)
The last member of the Knicks point guard triumvirate, Kidd, has also played well of late. In the nine games Kidd played in April, he committed a grand total of just four turnovers while grabbing 43 rebounds, dishing out 27 assists and procuring 13 steals. Yes, that’s a 27:4 assist-to-turnover ratio over the season’s final month. And this time of the year is the precise reason Glen Grunwald and Mike Woodson chased Kidd so hard last summer. Kidd, who leads all active players in total postseason assists, is as comfortable on the big stage as any player in the league. He’s healthy and ready to contribute in late April, which is what the Knicks were hoping for back in October.
2. Which J.R. Smith Will Show Up?
At some point in early March, it appears a light went off and J.R. Smith flipped the switch. Smith, and correspondingly the Knicks as a whole, never played better.
Over the Knicks’ first 62 games this season, Smith averaged just 3.0 free-throw attempts per game, while launching 5.7 three-point attempts. Over the final 18 games in which Smith played, he averaged 6.9 free-throws versus 4.7 three-point attempts per contests.
Consider this: Smith played 35 games for the Knicks last season after signing with New York in mid-February and attempted a total of 55 free throws over the course of the 2011-12 campaign. In contrast, over the last month of the regular season in 2013 (18 games), Smith has attempted 125 free throws. Yes, he has gotten to the line 70 more times in 17 fewer games.
And it’s not only his offensive aggressiveness that raised eyebrows around the NBA, it’s a flourishing all-around game that has vaulted Smith into front-runner status for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award. Coming into this season, Smith had never averaged more than 4.1 rebounds per contest, but he pulled down 5.3 rebounds a night in 2012-13. He’s also dishing out a career-best 2.7 assists per game. He is also one of just six players this season to average at least 17 points, five rebounds and 1.3 steals (Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, Rudy Gay and Kevin Durant are the other five).
Can Smith carry this style of play into the postseason, or will he revert to his old habit of settling for ill-advised jumpers? With Smith playing aggressively, yet unselfishly and under-control, New York can compete with the NBA’s best teams. When Smith is at his inefficient worst, they have a very difficult time scoring enough to hang with the rest of the league’s elite. Is this current stretch an anomaly and just a blip on the radar, or are we witnessing the initial stages of something more permanent? To a certain extent, the Knicks’ playoff hopes may be determined by the answer.
Smith is a true “x-factor” for New York. When he is efficient and effective on the offensive end, it is often a fantastic barometer for his team’s success. Since signing with New York last season, the Knicks are 32-4 in games in which Smith shoots 50 percent or better from the field.
3. Tyson Chandler’s Health
Anthony is certainly the Knicks’ most popular player and clearly the “face of the franchise,” but Chandler has been the heart and soul of the team since the day he arrived in NYC.
His intensity and commitment to defense immediately changed the culture in New York. It is literally impossible to overstate his importance to this team’s success.
In order for the Knicks to make a serious run, it is imperative that Chandler is healthy and relatively unencumbered by the bulging disk in his neck that has sidelined him for the better part of a month – Chandler sat out the final six games of the regular season, after missing the final 10 games in March. The Knicks have (unsurprisingly) issued limited status updates, so we will have to wait until Game 1 to see just how healthy Chandler is. And, just as importantly, how his body responds to the physicality of a playoff game versus KG and the Celtics.
4. Can Steve Novak and/or Chris Copeland Chip In?
After exploding onto the scene last year, Novak has had a disappointing second season. His accuracy has dropped off and his scoring average has decreased despite playing more minutes. Still, there is no denying he can change the momentum of a game if he catches fire from behind-the-arc. It’s not cliché to say that the Knicks will “live or die” by the three-pointer, considering the fact that New York was last in the league in points in the paint, and second in the NBA in three-pointers attempted as a team. Thus, it stands to reason that they may need Novak to get hot at some point. Furthermore, the numbers support the theory that having Novak on the floor helps stretch opposing defenses: The Knicks are 23-3 in games in which Novak attempts at least six three-pointers. The key word in that last sentence is “attempts” – even when Novak’s shot may not be falling, it seems that his presence puts enough pressure on opposing defense to impact the outcome of games.
Copeland is similar to Novak in the sense that he brings very little to the table other than offense. However, Copeland has proven he can be a dynamic scorer in spurts this season. If Novak is cold, Copeland will likely get an opportunity to kick start the Knicks offensive attack. Cope scored over 30 points in each of New York’s final two games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only two other Knicks rookies have registered 30 or more points in consecutive games: Willis Reed in 1964-65 and Bill Cartwright, who did it twice in 1979-80.
5. Can K-Mart Contribute?
An afterthought at the start of the season, when no team was willing to offer Kenyon Martin even a 10-day contract, New York shockingly finds itself in a position where it may need to rely on K-Mart. This is especially true with Rasheed Wallace’s recent retirement, and the questions surrounding Chandler.
With Martin on the floor this season, the Knicks allowed 104.2 points per 100 possessions, compared to 107.2 points per 100 possessions with him off the court. And what the numbers themselves don’t account for is the intimidation factor K-Mart brings every time he checks in. The “No Lay-up Rule” is clearly in effect when Kenyon is on the court. Competing against a warrior such as Kevin Garnett, this mentality and aggressiveness becomes increasingly valuable. Carmelo, meet your bodyguard for the next two weeks.
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