AP
AP

Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks get blown out by the Chicago Bulls, 108-81. The lack of defensive integrity continues for Derek Fisher’s squad.

New York Knicks 81 (15-19)
Chicago Bulls 108 (19-12)
NBA, Final Game Box Score
United Center, Chicago, Illinois

By Robby Sabo

Tonight – a night that fans around the city would love soon forget – the New York Knicks shot just 31-of-84 (36.9%) from the floor in an embarrassing blowout loss to the Chicago Bulls at the United Center.

Despite a two-day layoff, it was Chicago, not the Knicks who seemed energized from the get-go. And while on the surface it seems the lack of consistency from the offensive end was the major culprit, it turned out to be the exact opposite, like it usually is.

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Derek Fisher’s Knicks suffer from a complete lack of defensive integrity.

At first glance it would seem that tThe offense would be i issue No. 1. New York is averaging just 97.5 points per game (24th in the NBA), while it’s yielding 99.7 PPG (11th in the NBA). The Knicks FG percentage offensively sits at a very porous 43.2 percent (26th in the NBA), while it’s defensive mark stands at a pretty solid 43.5 percent (ninth in the NBA).

How in the world can anybody argue that defense is detriment No. 1?

Well, quite frankly, this team isn’t ready yet. What Fisher is trying to do with this squad is build a strong foundation. This means while shooting can struggle from time-to-time – especially with a young 20-year old from Latvia – if a defensive integrity was present the squad could start the building.

Unfortunately, the personnel just isn’t there.

In such a point guard heavy league, the Knicks simply cannot defend the perimeter. Kristaps Porzingis is currently seventh in the Association with an astounding 2.0 blocks per game. Couple his underneath, free-roaming presence with the play of Robin Lopez, and the idea that the Knicks aren’t stout down low is a tough one to sell.

The problem comes when point guards are penetrating on the Knicks guards, namely Jose Calderon.

Phil Jackson and Fisher just need to face facts. Their starting point guard is 34-years old and he just cannot keep up with the younger show-runners of the league. Though he’s shot better in recent weeks, his complete lack of defensive awareness not only hurts the Knicks, it compromises their integrity on that end of the floor.

And if the athleticism isn’t there anymore for the older guy, awareness better be present. We know it’s not in Calderon’s case.

Exhibit No. 1:

Trailing by 11 points with just over six minutes remaining in regulation, the Knicks needed to cut the deficit to under 10.

Langston Galloway commits a terrible turnover. While it’s painful, it’s something you’ll have to live with from time-to-time.

What a coach cannot live with is this example of the worst transition defense you’ll ever lay eyes on:

Instead of acting as the last line of defense, since he’s the last man back on the break, Calderon takes his man as he creeps out to the wing. Nikola Mirotic runs the floor (quite well for a big man) and finds rookie Bobby Portis for an all-alone jam.

To top it off, Galloway didn’t hustle back prior to the Mirotic pass.

Exhibit No. 2:

Backup guard E’Twaun Moore of Chicago fades to the corner after dishing it to the top. Calderon gets completely lost in space and doesn’t see “ball-you-man.”

The result ends with Moore just abusing Calderon for an easy two strong to the hoop.

Exhibit No. 3:

Finally comes this Jimmy Butler example.

Admittedly, it’s a tough cover for any point guard in the league to match with the much taller, stronger Butler. Still, the defense needs a much better effort than this reaching half-hearted one which saw Calderon stop halfway down the lane.

To top it off, Carmelo Anthony just stops and stares at the action instead of injecting himself into a help scenario or looking to clean up on the glass.

Obviously our target here is Jose Calderon.

Fair or unfair, he’s a major issue right now. Of course we understand there are a plethora of issues with this squad, but this cannot go on from game-to-game.

For one, ranking dead last in the NBA in transition points (8.3) is killing both ends of the floor. Never does the offense get an easy bucket, and to top it off the defense actually spends less time expending energy because the Knicks are such a ball control team. So their solid defensive numbers could be a tad misleading.

The Knicks are such a slower team with Calderon on the floor as opposed to Jerian Grant, that it dumbfounds many why Fisher doesn’t split up the minutes more evenly. Confidence is low with the young Grant at the moment. The only thing that’ll help that confidence is playing time.

Mix into the pie that the Knicks are 24th in the league in assists per game with only 20.1, the point guard position garners even more negative attention. Calderon’s lackluster 3.9 assists a contest doesn’t help his case.

Too drive the figurative nail in the coffin, Calderon’s +/- is sitting at -2.7. This means the Knicks are down 2.7 points when Calderon is on the floor. In comparison, Jerian Grant’s number is at -0.6.

Here are some other notable Knicks +/- marks:1knicks2

  • Langston Galloway -0.7
  • Carmelo Anthony -1.2
  • Arron Afflalo -0.6
  • Robin Lopez -1.6
  • Kyle O’Quinn -0.7
  • Kristaps Porzingis +0.8
  • Lance Thomas -0.6
  • Derrick Williams -1.4

It’s remarkable to think only one Knick has a positive +/- mark, but it’s reality. And don’t under-appreciate this stat. It’s a true mark of how well the team does on the floor while that person is in the game, and as you can easily see, Calderon’s at -2.7 is by far the worst of the bunch.

Porzingis and Lance Thomas have been the two most pleasant surprises on the campaign, and not coincidentally they are leading the charge in this category.

Scoring is no doubt a fantastic attribute, but it’s only fantastic if the shooter is putting up points at an efficient clip. Because the Knicks will be so hit-and-miss on the offensive end of the floor – as they try and find themselves with such a new group – the personnel needs to fit what Jackson and Fisher want to see on the defensive side of things.

Let’s be honest: It always starts with defense, hustle and intangibles. Without those things, no young team can ever come of age. A defensive unit is only as strong as its weakest link. This simply means as of right now New York’s defense is poor.

Without a real professional starting point guard to speed things up offensively and be the backbone of the defense, Phil Jackson’s vision for this franchise won’t come true.

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Founder of Elite Sports NY---Former strong safety, point guard and 400-meter hustler. Remembers Matteau, the Dunk, the Yankees on MSG, Mr. Conn Smythe Leetch and Chrebet's fearless ways. E-Mail: robsabo10@elitesportsny.com