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Thursday, February 13, 2014
Three ways the Knicks can turn it around

By Ian Begley

Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler
Chin up, Knicks fans! The season can be saved. Theoretically.
You already know the Knicks have been a disaster. That they're heading into the All-Star break with more losses (32) than they had all of last season (28). That they have a terrible mark (15-16) against teams currently under .500.

There’s no need to go over all that stuff again. Instead, we want to give you a break from the misery and try to be optimistic.

Below, we take a brief look at three relatively realistic changes/improvements the Knicks can make to pick things up after the All-Star break.

1. Attack the basket: The Knicks have issues on both sides of the ball. Some of those issues seem like they can be fixed; others not so much.

One thing the Knicks can try to do in the second half is attack the basket more frequently. Ideally, this would lead to more trips to the free throw line.

The Knicks are currently tied with San Antonio for the fewest free throw attempts per game (19.7) and have the fewest free throw attempts per shot. The Spurs work around their lack of free throws by leading the league in 3-point field goal percentage and shooting 49 percent from the floor (second only to Miami).

The Knicks have no such luxury. They rank 13th in the NBA in offensive efficiency, 10 spots lower than last season.

So they need points any way they can get them. Getting to the line more would certainly help. To do so, the Knicks may want to attempt to attack the paint more frequently. According to Basketball Reference, the Knicks have attempted the fifth-fewest shots in the restricted area and the fewest shots in the paint outside of the restricted area. Maybe there’s a correlation here?

If those numbers trend up a bit after the break, the Knicks may be able to pick up a few easy points from the line.

2. Augment the "switching" policy: Much has been made over the Knicks' defensive strategy on pick-and-rolls. And deservedly so. Too often, the Knicks' "switching" on pick-and-rolls leads to a mismatch or creates a crease in the defense that opponents exploit.

The proof is in the numbers: The Knicks rank last in points per play allowed to both the screener and the ball handler on pick-and-rolls.

It’s one of the main reasons the Knicks head into the All-Star break ranked 24th in defensive efficiency.

Too often, all of the switching leaves the Knicks in position to commit fouls. New York has the eighth-highest opponent free throw rate -- a measure of an opponent’s free throw attempts per field goal -- in the NBA. The Knicks have allowed the seventh-highest free throw total in the league. Those are free points that can sometimes be the difference between a win or a loss.

Switching can also leave opponents open from the perimeter. The Knicks rank 26th in 3-point attempts allowed and 27th in 3-point attempts made. Not good.

We’re not suggesting the Knicks stop switching entirely. More often than you’d think, it’s unavoidable when defending a screen. But when a switch leaves a big like Tyson Chandler or Andrea Bargnani guarding a point guard, it does the Knicks no good.

3. Stick with small ball: Bargnani’s elbow injury forced the Knicks to play with a three-guard lineup. And it has worked well.

In the 42 games prior to Bargnani's injury, the Knicks scored 101.7 points per 100 possessions. In the 10 games since Bargnani went down, that number has skyrocketed to 112.5 points per 100 possessions.

It’s unfair and shortsighted to associated the jump in production solely with Bargnani’s injury. But the Knicks seem to be a better club with Carmelo Anthony at power forward. Bargnani’s injury allowed Melo to move from small forward to power forward.

The small lineup hasn’t hurt the Knicks too much defensively. Before Bargnani went down, New York was allowing 106.1 points per 100 possessions. After Bargnani’s injury, that number dropped to 104.3.

The Knicks are 5-5 since Bargnani’s injury. So it seems coach Mike Woodson should strongly consider bringing Bargnani off the bench when he returns in order to keep Anthony at power forward.

Question: What changes can the Knicks make -- if any -- to turn things around after the All-Star break?

You can follow Ian Begley on Twitter.