Defending D’Antoni

In an interview with Stephen A. Smith, Charles Barkley said the New York Knicks “may be the worst defensive team in the history of basketball.”

While I won’t go that far, let’s look at the stats:
  • Last 5 games: giving up 113.8 points a game
  • Rank 25th in defensive rebound rate
  • Rank 25th in field goal percentage defense
  • Rank 29th in team defense giving up 106 points a game
  • Gave up a combined 59 points on 65% shooting to Tyler Hansbrough in back to back games, both losses.

Right now, it is easy to go after Mike D’Antoni’s defensive schemes. Actually, it would be difficult to go after his schemes because they are nonexistent. Stephen A. Smith brought up a good point when he noted that Mike D’Antoni coached teams have never averaged less than 100 points a game defensively. I’ll give D’Antoni the benefit of the doubt here and say that the lack of practice time coupled with new players, along with playing enough games for opposing teams to scout and exploit their defensive weaknesses, have created the perfect storm of crappy D over the past five games.

This may be a stretch, but bare with me.

According to Hoopdata.com, the Knicks rank 6th in defensive play rate (15.4/100 possessions). What’s this mean? It means the total number of blocks, steals and charges per 100 possessions. It means the Knicks have the players to get defensive stops and create turnovers if they put in the effort. They can get steals from Fields (1.08/gm), Billups (1.67/gm) and Melo (.97/gm) and blocks from Turiaf (1.10/gm) and Amare (2.02/gm). Turiaf  and Jeffries have the right defensive mentality to take charges too. The Knicks have shown they can play defense when in the right frame of mind. I point to the Miami Heat game in which they held James and co. to 86 points, giving up only 52 points in the last 3 quarters. They also forced 20 turnovers which tied Miami’s season high.

Sure, the Heat game was sandwiched between losses to the Cavs and Magic in which the Knicks gave up 115 and 116 respectively, but the point is, the Knicks have the personnel to get stops. D’Antoni can emphasize defense all he wants but until the Knicks embrace the defensive end, they will not go anywhere in the playoffs. This is where the Chauncey Billups’ on court leadership will be key. From everything we hear from players, coaches and sportswriters, Billups will hold his team accountable. Defense is not just about mindset, but accountability. That falls on the players.

I expect Carmelo Anthony to take more of a leadership role on the defensive end in the playoffs as well. He got the trade. He got the money. He wanted the spotlight. It’s time he shows he can help lead a team on both ends of the floor.

Can the Knicks play hard on the defensive end every night in the playoffs? Only if D’Antoni and his team fully embrace it. Despite the ugly stats saying otherwise, the Knicks  have the pieces to be a decently defensive team.

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