The Knicks started the season on fire, jumping out to an 8-1 record and then 20-8, fueled by their hot 3-point shooting and perimeter defense.
From there, they've continued to build wins, but on an inconsistent basis -- and now they enter the All-Star break with losses in three of their past four games.
"Guys just as a team need to just sit there and figure out what we're going to do, what type of team we want to be, what type of identity we want to have coming down the stretch," Carmelo Anthony said after the Knicks (32-18) lost 92-88 to the Raptors.
While injuries and players returning to the lineup have delayed their development somewhat, this can't be ignored: The Knicks' offense is too simplistic right now. Mike Woodson continues to allow Anthony, Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith to dominate the ball and the rest seems to be mostly freelance, with role players positioned beyond the arc for hopeful 3-pointers.
That has made some of Knicks feel under-utilized, one source close to the team said, because now they're just stand-and-wait-for-the-ball shooters.
"The offense is too basic and it needs some tweaking. Watching Melo do his thing gets old fast," one NBA scout said. "I think the offense needs more motion in it, so that guys' talents can be used more. I think the early success hurt them because now opponents know what they are doing and how to defend it. They truly are a 3-point shooting team, and you can't win in the long run that way. Nellie's (Don Nelson's) Mavericks teams went through that."
This season, Woodson has repeatedly said he needs to help certain role players -- notably Steve Novak, Ronnie Brewer and Iman Shumpert -- and that has to happen after the All-Star break. More of a team approach is necessary. Before the season, Melo spoke about sacrificing points for the greater good of the team. But he's now the league's second-leading scorer (28.6 points per game), and recently he hasn't had much help from his supporting cast.
The Knicks also need to come together on defense, and it starts with how they get back into formation in transition and rotate while guarding pick and rolls. Too many times recently, opponents have scored easily off screens because the Knicks' switches are off. That leads to a personnel question: Does Woodson need to juggle the starting five to include defensive specialist Brewer or James White? Brewer would likely get the nod because he played well at the beginning of the season when the Knicks went 11-4 in November.
"A possibility," Woodson said of Brewer. "Right now, I don't like the way we're starting games. We've kind of been up and down in that area. I've got to go back to the drawing board and figure out what I'm going to do in terms of who starts."
On Wednesday night, the Raptors went right at 39-year-old Jason Kidd down the stretch, and they capitalized. But where was Brewer, White or Iman Shumpert? While the Knicks are missing Rasheed Wallace's and Marcus Camby's defensive presence off the bench, Woodson needs to figure out his most balanced lineups and outline his players' roles. Novak knows his, but what about the others?
Creativity and consistency -- not confusion and simplicity -- are what need to define the Knicks after the break.
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