Tyson Chandler currently holds the hopes of the struggling 7-17 New York Knicks, who eagerly await his return. But a look back to last season, when the Knicks went 12-4 in Chandler’s absence, might suggest that there are other problems at play here. Then, the Knicks kept their game plan in place when Chandler went down; this year they changed their entire approach and have gone 6-14 while Chandler has been recuperating. The Knicks, in other words, have a lot of problems that Chandler can’t fix.
Like ball movement. This only gets worse with starting point guard Pablo Prigioni going down with a broken big toe that will keep him out of action for several weeks. He was replacing starting point guard Raymond Felton who went down with a hamstring injury and will also miss the next few weeks. Third-stringer Beno Udrih will be heaved into a starting role, while D-League call-up (and younger brother of Knicks sixth man of the year, J.R. Smith) Chris Smith will be called upon for backup minutes. Guards Iman Shumpert and end-of-the-bench man Toure Murray will also be asked to handle point guard duties.
And this is to say nothing of the fact that when it comes to the Knicks, Carmelo-Anthony-style isolation play just took on a new meaning. The Knicks atrocious fourth-quarter basketball has lost them at least 11 winnable games (games they’ve lost by fewer than ten points) so far this season. Without the presence of a playmaking point guard, the Knicks stand around and hope Melo will play hero-ball and win the game for them on his own. But not even LeBron James can do that night in and night out.
So Chandler will help on the defensive end, yes, but who will keep the ball movement alive throughout the game? And who in the fourth quarter will have the ability to call off a play for Anthony?
The Knicks were successful last season because of their secure ball movement, which resulted in them committing the fewest turnovers in the league by a wide margin. They lead the league again this season in fewest turnovers but are just 7-11 in games in which they commit fewer turnovers than their opponents. Their lack of turnovers has much to do with their pace, which is among the league-low for a second straight year. When the Knicks turn to isolation ball, coupled with a slow pace, the opponent’s defense can relax and play one-on-one against Melo, and rarely do they give up second-chance points to the Knicks. (The Knicks are dead last in the NBA in offensive rebounds thanks to their stagnant isolation offense.)
If Chandler can step onto the court and be more of a leader on offense than Melo, the Knicks have a fighting chance. Andréa Bargnani, Shumpert, Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr. won’t get their shots because Melo is setting them up — someone has to step in and make that happen. And that guy is not Tyson Chandler, as vocal as the veteran can be. Perhaps Jason Kidd had more of an effect on the Knicks last season than anyone gave him credit for.