We’re constantly reminded throughout preseason basketball that “It’s just preseason” — try not to overreact. Real basketball begins on the first day of the regular season. Preseason basketball is a time to let teams get acquainted with each other, establish their offensive and defensive principles; perfection is a far-away thought as teams just want to get warmed up.
Nonetheless, if preseason has been any indicator, the New York Knicks have a bit of a problem defensively. When Tyson Chandler sits out, there just doesn’t seem to be any form of rim or paint protection, nothing to deter drivers from setting cruise control to the rim. Though it appears the Knicks would have gotten better in perimeter defense, through four preseason games it hasn’t appeared to have much impact.
The problem when Chandler sits, of course, is that the Woodson has gone to Andrea Bargnani as a center, moving Carmelo Anthony to the four. While on offense, the effect has seemed OK — there is spacing abound — but the defense has been noticeably porous. Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal reported on the Knicks’ defense, stating that the Chandler-Bargnani-Anthony front-court the Knicks have started this season has been allowing 101 points per 100 possessions in 42 minutes of play — a very solid number. When Chandler sits, that number drops to 134 points per 100 possessions. Although that second number comes in just 16 minutes of play, anyone who has seen the tandem operate defensively knows just how lackadaisical its been, as demonstrated by the Washington Wizards first-quarter feeding frenzy when Chandler sat down this past Thursday.
The Knicks have yet to play Kenyon Martin in the preseason, however, and one would imagine that he could make an impact off the bench. In Martin’s 30 regular season games last year, the Knicks’ defensive rating was 101.4 with him on the floor. Likewise, Martin brings rim protection that the Knicks just seem to lack. Chandler, for all of his defensive greatness, is an average shot-blocker. Oddly, Amar’e Stoudemire, who is mostly counterproductive on the defensive end, is a solid weakside shot-blocker.
Stoudemire also presents an interesting case in the Knicks’ front-court make-up. As mentioned, Stoudemire provides a need on the team in terms of shot-blocking, despite his other numerous flaws on defense. If the Knicks move Anthony to the four and insist on playing either Stoudemire or Bargnani at the five (something that may be necessary if Martin can’t be relied upon), Stoudemire may be the better option for defense. He’s a better shot-blocker than Bargnani, slightly more mobile, and despite his own poor rebounding, still a better on the boards than Bargnani. However, Stoudemire-Anthony pairings have been historically disappointing. Last season, in over 200 minutes played together, the STAT-’Melo combination had a -3 net rating, giving up 110 points per 100 possessions to their 107 points scored per 100 possessions. The Knicks seem intent on providing spacing on the floor by playing Bargnani at the five, and Stoudemire doesn’t provide that to the same degree, so it will be interesting to see which end of the floor Woodson optimizes, especially if the Anthony-Bargnani pairing continues to give up points at such an astounding rate.
If the Knicks are aiming to be a top-10 defensive team, they’re facing an uphill battle. They have enough defensive talent on the wings to accomplish that feat, especially when the play Chandler, but there are several other non-impact players, defensively, on the squad that hurt their chances. Chandler has proven to be unreliable when tasked with huge minutes, and the Knicks will likely try to preserve him for the postseason. So if Chandler isn’t able to go 36-40 minutes a night, the Knicks and Mike Woodson will have to make adjustments when he sits.
It’s way too early to even think about trades, but if there’s one to be made this season, it’s for a back-up center. Martin doesn’t seem reliable based on his highly limited action in training camp and preseason, and none of the other candidates like Cole Aldrich or Ike Diogu figure to be impact players. As of now, the defense looks woefully weak when Chandler sits, and it doesn’t seem to be a problem that will go away without being addressed.
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