Knicks' 2011-12 midseason report card
Linsanity's been great, but it's not enough to block out the Bockers' obvious flaws
The New York Knicks were 8-15 and had lost 11 of 13 entering play on Feb. 4. Many believed Mike D'Antoni's job was on the line before that night's game against the New Jersey Nets. Because of a pending contract deadline, the coach decided to insert Jeremy Lin with three minutes to go in the first quarter, and it changed everything.
New York reeled off seven straight wins, providing D'Antoni with a modicum of job security and breathing new life into a season that started with high expectations.
But Linsanity didn't mask everything for these Knicks. They were handcuffed by poor point guard play before Lin's arrival, they've struggled to knock down shots throughout the season and Amare Stoudemire is in the midst of the worst year of his career.
With all of that in mind, here are our first-half grades for the Knicks.
Knicks' position-by-position report card
PG Jeremy Lin
Lin has done nothing short of save the Knicks' season in the first half. He emerged from an end-of-the-bench afterthought to the talk of the NBA, leading the Knicks to seven straight wins. He's the first player since the NBA-ABA merger to average at least 20 points and eight assists in his first 10 starts. The Harvard grad's grade suffers a bit because of his high number of turnovers (67 in his first 11 starts).
Pre-Lin, this grade would have been a D. The Knicks' front office gambled that Toney Douglas, Mike Bibby and Iman Shumpert could replace Chauncey Billups at point guard. And they lost. Badly. Prior to Lin's arrival the Knicks ranked 24th in offensive efficiency, 26th in turnover percentage and 25th in assist percentage.
SG Landry Fields
Pre-Lin, this would have been a C, because Fields was struggling early on. Through most of the first month of the year, Fields resembled the same player who'd lost his way after Carmelo Anthony came to town, averaging just nine points and four rebounds in January. And that was after a strong close to the month. But Fields has emerged in February, averaging 11 points and 5.5 rebounds.
SF Carmelo Anthony
Give Anthony some credit for playing through pain earlier this season. But he ended up hurting the Knicks. In the six games Anthony played after returning from right ankle and left wrist injuries in January, he shot 32 percent (40 for 126). The Knicks went 1-5 during that stretch and were in the midst of losing 11 of 13. Making matters worse for Anthony, he sat out seven games in February with a groin injury and the Knicks went 6-1, led by the emergence of Lin.
PF Amare Stoudemire
Stoudemire is in the midst of one of the worst shooting seasons of his career. It's even more alarming considering the MVP-like numbers he put up last season (25.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 50.2 percent shooting). This year, he's dropped to 17.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and a 44.5 shooting percentage. It was widely assumed that Stoudemire would pick things up with Lin running the show. But he's topped 20 points just twice in seven games sharing the floor with Lin.
C Tyson Chandler
Chandler has been as good as advertised, worth every penny of the $52 million contract he signed in the offseason. He's averaged 11.7 points per game and 9.6 rebounds, provided invaluable leadership in the locker room and helped turn around a Knicks defense that was laughable at times last season. Last season, D'Antoni's crew ranked 21st in defensive efficiency. This year? New York is sixth.
For much of the season, you could point to the Knicks' bench as a weakness. Simply put, New York lacked a sixth man -- or a seventh or eighth man, for that matter. Aside from Shumpert and, at times, Josh Harrellson, they had little firepower off the bench. Douglas was ineffective, Bill Walker was inconsistent and Jared Jeffries made little impact. But Steve Novak emerged as an effective perimeter threat in early February, Baron Davis finally got healthy and J.R. Smith signed a free-agent deal. The bench should be a strength in the second half.
Coach Mike D'Antoni
Looking big picture, it's hard to believe that a team with Chandler, Stoudemire and Anthony is 17-18 entering the All-Star break. So, it's easy to point to the coach when looking for someone to blame. Of course, D'Antoni did not have a point guard to run his system before Lin emerged and his two offensive stars have been either unhealthy or ineffective for much of the season. Still, the coach has not made the proper adjustments to maximize his talent, particularly those which would allow Anthony and Stoudemire to mesh.
GM Glen Grunwald
Interim GM Grunwald (and assistants Mark Warkentein and John Gabriel) surprised many when they landed Chandler in the offseason. Most assumed they'd focus on going after Chris Paul. But netting Chandler proved to be a shrewd move (see above). Grunwald & Co. also landed Smith and Davis, whom they hope will prove to be capable backups in the backcourt. Does Grunwald deserve credit for Lin? Sure, though Lin was nearly cut by the Knicks. One mark against Grunwald's front office was its inability to find a suitable point guard before Lin's emergence.
Knicks' midseason awards
MVP: Lin. He is the first player since the NBA-ABA merger to average at least 20 points and eight assists in his first 10 starts. He led the Knicks to seven straight wins.
Defensive MVP: Chandler. He has been the key to the Knicks' improvement from 21st to sixth in defensive efficiency.
Biggest surprise: Lin. Emerged from the end of the bench to lead the Knicks to a 9-3 mark since he started playing significant minutes.
Biggest disappointment: Stoudemire. STAT's averaging 17 points and shooting just 44 percent from the floor -- career lows and a sharp drop-off from the MVP-type numbers he put up last year.
Best coaching move: Turning to Lin on Feb. 4 against the Nets after he hadn't shown much the night before against the Boston Celtics. Without that move, Linsanity never happens.
Worst coaching move: Stoudemire's lack of participation in the pick-and-roll game and the decision to allow Carmelo Anthony to play point forward.
Best offseason acquisition: Chandler (Lin was signed in-season). Chandler has scored 11 points and grabbed nine rebounds per game -- as good as advertised.
Worst offseason acquisition: Bibby. When they signed him, the Knicks hoped Bibby could contribute significant minutes at point guard. That never materialized. The 33-year-old is now stuck on the end of the bench.
Biggest concern: Will Anthony hurt the offensive cohesion established by Lin? The offense under Lin was predicated on ball movement; Anthony thrives in isolation.
Key to the second half: D'Antoni's ability to integrate Anthony, Davis and Smith into the offense that Lin had established during the Knicks' seven-game winning streak.