Somehow over the last month, the Knicks have slowly evolved into the league’s most complete team. Baron Davis will likely make his debut this week as the backup point guard and the Knicks future rests on how well Carmelo Anthony integrates into the new-look Knicks offense and whether his co-stars can continue hiding his glaring deficiencies on defense.
It’s too early too tell where the Knicks rank in the NBA’s elite hierarchy, but the question now has to be asked, is this the best D’Antoni coached team yet? It’s a tall order.
Seven years ago, Mike D’Antoni began his first full season as Suns head coach. Thanks in part to one of the most deepest rosters in the league, Phoenix rolled to a 62-win season and had one of the most prolific offensive seasons in league history.
That year the Suns offense averaged 110 points per game but allowed a league-worst average of 103 points per. However, the Suns frenetic offensive pace skewed those statistics. In reality, the 117 points they allowed per 100 possessions was 17th in the NBA.
Seven Knicks players currently average in double figures but the Knicks only average 95 points per game but average the second highest number of possessions per 48 minutes.
The Knicks season stats are irrelevant since Lin took the helm of the Knicks offense only three weeks ago. Even using only a nine game sample size, these Knicks are very different than the Seven Second or Less Suns. Sunday was only the seventh time in the last nine games that the Knicks scored more than 100 points. The Suns regularly scored 100 in three quarters.
Ultimately, the Suns were unable to overcome their defensive ineptitude. However, these Knicks are sixth in the NBA in defensive efficiency this season
Like Lin, Nash was able to get into the lane but Nash also had the ability to consistently pull-up and knock down a midrange jumper off the dribble. At point guard, Nash was the golden standard of D’Antoni point guards. However, Lin has been more active scoring in the paint. Whether he’ll continue averaging 25 plus a night when Carmelo returns to the lineup remains to be seen.
However, both Lin and Nash were the heartbeat to D’Antoni’s teams. After Nash injured his thigh against the Indiana Pacers in mid-December, the Suns lost five straight games in his absence. And lost a sixth to the San Antonio Spurs in his first game back. It was their longest losing streak of over two games throughout the entire regular season. Meanwhile, the Knicks have won eight of nine games since Lin took over an 8-15 team.
What most forget is that the ’05 Suns also had a young Joe Johnson, Shawn Marion in his prime, Quentin Richardson, Jim Jackson and Leandro Barbosa. JR Smith is a more athletic, better shooting version of Joe Johnson.
The only constant besides the coaching staff on both teams is power forward Amare Stoudemire. However, in 2005, Stoudemire was forced to play center in a small Suns lineup. Seven years late, Stoudemire has shifted to his natural power forward position but has been passive and incredibly inconsistent. His defense is so lazy that the Suns actually experimented with sticking 6-5 guard Iman Shumpert on 7-footer Dirk Nowitzki.
Tyson Chandler is the defensive ex-factor that D’Antoni lacked in Phoenix. Chandler attacks the boards like it insulted his momma, he’s formed a symbiotic connection with Lin on the pick and roll and he defends the paint like a bird guards its nest. Meanwhile, the most talented scorer on the Knicks roster hasn’t even suited up since injuring his groin in Lin’s first start. However, Anthony scored only 11 points in 35 minutes when Lin took over the Nets game.
Frank Ocean’s favorite NBA player, Steve Novak (cane) has also quietly emerged as a three-point specialist. While Landry Fields has been the starter for much of the season, it’s likely he’ll come off the bench in the aftermath of JR Smith’s signing. Rookie Iman Shumpert isn’t as quick as Leandro Barbosa but he is bigger, stronger and a better defender, which pretty much encapsulates the comparison between the two teams.
The Knicks don’t have the same quick strike scoring ability as the 04-05 Suns, however, the major difference is that this team has the personnel to play a half court style, which the Suns struggled to do in the playoffs for much of Nash and D’Antoni’s tenure together. Most importantly, they defend much better and are designed to compete against anyone during the grind of a seven-game series against anyone in the league. D’Antoni’s Suns teams were offensive juggernauts but couldn’t transition their style of play to the playoffs. If D’Antoni can’t make a statement in the Eastern Conference playoffs with this unit, then he doesn’t deserve to return next season.