So what gives? Here are some of the perimeter defensive issues facing the Knicks:
In a perfect world, Mike Woodson would probably love to have a 6-7 defensive specialist/3-point shooter starting at the three -- like a Thabo Sefolosha type -- but he doesn't have that. Ronnie Brewer initially filled that role, but his shot disappeared and he was eventually traded to Oklahoma City.
Woodson has been going with Iman Shumpert at that position, but "Rook" is really more suited for ball-hawking duties up top, not chasing cross screens and defending post-ups. Those are areas where he's gotten exposed by bigger opponents, but when he D'ed up Jrue Holiday on Sunday, he was able to get in the All-Star's grill. That's where Shumpert was most effective last season, guarding opposing point guards who are usually smaller than him, and he should continue to get better as the season goes on. The key is his mental approach as he returns from knee surgery, because conditioning-wise he looks good.
Now that Shumpert is healthy and in the starting five, running alongside Woodson's favorite older veteran, Jason Kidd, the coach hasn't been messing with his first unit -- but smallball may not be the answer. While one could argue Woodson has spread out the offense well utilizing J.R. Smith and Amar'e Stoudemire off the bench, defensively that's not the case. Smith could start at small forward to supply defense and 3-point shooting, taking weight off Shumpert's shoulders.
Recently, Woodson has looked to shore up the second unit's interior defense by changing Tyson Chandler's substitution pattern. The center now rests toward the end of the first quarter in order to start the second. But the Knicks' bench still gets beat from the perimeter too often.
Sometimes the backups are in a tough situation defensively due to Stoudemire and Steve Novak holding down the frontcourt without much assistance around them. They get caught in poor switches and aren't great stopping the ball. George and Turner exposed them last week. During different stretches, George poured in nine points and Turner scored six -- both against the Knicks' second unit, contributing to big runs.
Where's James White to help out with those coverages? Two NBA scouts scratch their head wondering why he doesn't play. Down the road, Woodson could consider starting Raymond Felton, Shumpert, White, Carmelo Anthony and Chandler, and then going with Pablo Prigioni, Kidd, Smith, Stoudemire and Marcus Camby off the bench, with Novak and Kenyon Martin in the mix depending on health and matchups.
Overall, the long, athletic White and Smith could balance out the small forward defense.
If Kidd can recapture that early season splendor -- he turns 40 next month -- his hard-nosed defense and 3-point shooting at the start of the games would help the Knicks greatly. These days, his recent decline has led to some flaws in the team's system, and they especially need more defensive cohesion. Rotation changes to play bigger may be the answer.
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