The November New York Knicks (who face the San Antonio Spurs tonight) were a train wreck from the very beginning -- after beating Milwaukee in their home opener, New York lost 13 of their next 15 games.
Even when they won, they didn't; the Knicks lost Tyson Chandler, the only big man capable of chewing gum and running at the same time, for four to six weeks after grabbing their second victory against the once lowly (and current sixth seed!!!!) Charlotte Bobcats. The November Knicks were outscored by eight points per 100 possessions and finished dead last in opponent free throw rate, which is a very, very bad thing.
The December Knicks were a little better. They still fouled a bunch -- a byproduct of switching most pick-and-rolls, putting them in disadvantageous positions on the glass and on the perimeter, playing Andre freaking Bargnani 30 minutes per game and habitually missing/botching rotations. This confluence of awful led to dribble penetration conducive to open shots, specifically in the corners, and high percentage shots in the paint. The Knicks don't do anything well defensively, except for creating turnovers.
The defense has marginally improved in December, but they're still terrible. The difference: They've scrapped together a league-average offensive team, an improvement from their November outfit, which was scoring 99 points per 100 possessions and making 35 percent of their 3's, down from their top five clip last year. The Knicks subsisted on 3-pointers for a third of their points last year, and though they aren't as reliant on 3's this year, they still live and die from the perimeter. The Knicks' percentage climbed to 38.8 percent in December, good for fifth, and their highest volume chuckers, Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith, made at least 40 percent of their tries from deep last month.
Chandler returning is a positive, though the Knicks' defense has been a few ticks worse with him on the floor (through just 10 games of data). They've floated the possibility of trading for often maligned Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (OH GOD STAY AWAY FROM MASAI) because Tim Hardaway, a rookie, is the only point guard on the roster with a league-average Player Efficiency Rating. Lowry, a pliable guard with some defensive chops, is an upgrade but it'll require the Knicks to mortgage their future, which is already muddy at best.
The Knicks' schedule is brutal in early January - six games against above. 600 teams in the next 15 days -- and it could put them in an ever deeper hole. Toronto is 9-3 since the Rudy Gay trade and may decide to push for a playoff berth; Chicago and Orlando are 4-6 in their last 10 games, a damn accomplishment in the East; and Boston is a good defensive team, even if they slipped a tad in December.
Yet the 9-21 Knicks, with fewer wins than Sacramento and Utah, are three-and-a-half games behind the eighth seed. The Knicks could get hot, patch together their rotations (doubtful) and snag a playoff spot -- perhaps even winning the AtlTANKTIC, and setting up a first-round matchup against either Washington, Charlotte, Detroit, Boston or another mediocre team of that ilk. Then, they'll be decimated against a real team in the ensuing round. But isn't a second-round exit, with this ravaged team, the equivalent of the holy grail?
-- New York's defense is allowing 5.8 points (per 100 possessions) more with Bargnani on the floor. Opponents are scoring 41 points in the paint per game when Bargnani plays and 35 when he sits. BARGS BARGS BARGS BARGS.
-- But Bargnani has made 53.7 percent of his catch-and-shoot 2-pointers. His percentage dips to 28.6 on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, though.
-- Among players averaging 50+ touches per game, Anthony only trails Kevin Durant in points per touch. He's touching the ball 69 times a game, and scoring 0.38 points each time.
-- Raymond Felton, averaging 5.1 assists, is creating 11.6 points per game from his assists.
-- Smith is averaging 4.5 pull up shots, scoring 0.62 points per each attempt. Philadelphia's Michael Carter-Williams is the only player shooting worse on pull ups this season.
-- Only Minnesota and Sacramento are worse at defending the restricted area (on a percentage basis).