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Knicks Struggles Extend Far Beyond Carmelo Anthony

Hector Gabino/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

On Friday, Rob Dire wrote about how Carmelo Anthony isn’t playing like the superstar the New York Knicks need him to be, but unfortunately for the team, its problems extend far beyond the highest paid player on the roster.

Sure, it really hurts that over the Knicks last 10 games – which they’ve lost eight of – Anthony’s shooting just 38 percent from the field and 32 percent from three.  And yeah, when you look at Anthony’s splits in wins and losses, he’s noticeably better (shooting 43/38/86 with a +6 net rating in wins, and 37/31/81 with a -8 in losses, per Basketball Reference) in wins.

Yes, it’s annoying that he’s complaining about not getting foul calls down the stretch of games, but he legitimately gets nitpicked on both ends by the referees while not getting similar/more obvious calls in his favor. All of that said, the team is only 0.6 points per 100 possessions better with him off the floor this season, and he’s still second on the team in win shares (1.8) despite his early season struggles.

I know that picking on Anthony is the juicy story anytime the Knicks do something bad, but I think Knicks fans forgot too quickly just how far away the team was from resembling an actual competitive NBA team heading into this season. And as much as Kristaps Porzingis is far more capable of contributing in a big way than anyone could have expected, almost everyone else on the roster has been average if not disappointing through the teams first 24 games, specifically, its last 10.

Here’s where I’ll say nice things: Porzingis is probably in the lead for rookie of the year as I type this. He doesn’t seem to have many holes in his game, and his shortcomings are mainly due to not having the body or conditioning to play 30+ minutes over an 82 game schedule as an NBA center. It’s been incredible seeing how much of a difference maker the 7-foot-3 rookie can be on the defensive end, and he really is as smooth and skilled as advertised on the offensive end, where his shooting numbers have been steadily improving to a respectable line of 45/35/84. And he’s exciting to watch!

I also want to take a minute to say Jose Calderon’s been better than most expected him to be. I still don’t know that I’d go out of my way to say he’s been “good” as he’s posting a -5.8 net rating per NBA.com, but he’s doing what the team needs him to do, shooting 40.5 percent from three, and protecting the rock (Calderon ranks sixth in the NBA in assist to turnover ratio, per ESPN.com). The team also scores 3.4 more points per 100 possessions with Calderon on the floor, per Basketball Reference.

Langston Galloway and Lance Thomas have also been better than most would have expected, and Arron Afflalo and Robin Lopez haven’t necessarily been bad,  but to further illustrate why Porzingis is the only player on the team worth gloating about, he’s the ONLY rotation player on the team with a positive net rating, according to NBA.com. This is why I say Anthony complaining about late game calls is almost comical, as the team’s general inefficiency has been displayed through the team being down by at least 19-points in the third quarter of each of their lost four games (all losses).

Yes, the Knicks are improved on both offense and defense, but improvement is relative! I always talk about patience with this team and their rebuild, so even though it’s below average to have the 22nd most efficient offense and 17th most efficient defense in the league, they’re up from last season’s marks of 29th and 28th.

Alright, positivity’s going away now, we’re talking about a 10-14 team that’s playing its worst basketball of the season. Let’s focus on what the team’s been doing poorly over the last ten games: You already know that Anthony’s been struggling to find a groove offensively, but this is a team-wide problem. Posting a 98.6 offensive rating on the season, the team is down to 94.6 points per 100 possessions over their last ten games, which on the season is second-worst to only the Philadelphia 76er’s, owners of an awful 91.7 offensive rating, per NBA.com.

Shooting just 30.9 percent from three over this stretch is a direct reflection on the teams lack of perimeter talent. Again, Calderon’s doing his job from deep, and somehow Galloway is still shooting an incredible 43.2 percent from deep, but those two players combine to take just over six three-point attempts per game.

Spacing has been an issue for this team because they don’t have more three-point shooting threats, as even though Porzingis and Thomas are both over 35 percent from deep, they combine for less than five attempts. I think this is where coach Derek Fisher feels Sasha Vujacic can be of help, which he must think as he continues to go through stretches of ignoring rookie Jerian Grant in favor of the 31-year old Slovenian, even though Vujacic is shooting an embarrassing 21.4 percent from three.

As bad as Vujacic has been from deep, Grant’s been worse, posting a team-low 19.2 percent three-point percentage. Even though Grant’s looked more and more hesitant to shoot as the season’s progressed, he wasn’t brought in to be the teams savior from deep, rather someone who could disrupt defenses and help find easier shots with dribble penetration.

On the season Grant’s still posting a +4.4 on-off rating for the team, which is second among players with 100 or more minutes played, and he has the highest free throw rate by a large margin among all of the team’s guards. While Grant has his flaws, I just don’t see the point in ever playing Vujacic over him, especially considering he was brought to the team to be the point guard of the future, and The Machine was out of the league for three of the last four years prior to signing with the Knicks.

I think it’s fair to question Fisher’s rotation decisions, but at the same time, he isn’t necessarily working with much. When the team goes down early in games, and they need a scoring spark, it’s hard to bring in Derrick Williams, who seems capable of creating offense, but has the worst net rating on the team, which is supported by him possessing the lowest offensive rating. The team has more two-way players this season, but they don’t have the depth needed to win consistently.

The positives are that the starting lineup is still outscoring the opposition by 1.6 points per 100 possessions, Anthony and Porzingis are in the teams two best three-man lineups, and the duo makes up the second best two-man lineup on the team. Remember, this is a rebuilding team that was projected to win 31 games this season; there will be more downs than ups. The key is keeping the ups in perspective and not screaming about trading Anthony every time he and the team struggle.

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