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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

SDH's 2014/2015 Worst to First Countdown for the First "Slap-mester" (Oct/Nov/Dec): 29. New York Knicks

Win/Loss Record as of December 31st, 2014:  5-28, fourth place Atlantic Division, 14th Place Eastern Conference

Projected 2014/2015 Finish
Current Rank as of December 31st

Team Statistics and League Rank as of December 31st,  2014: 

  • Points Scored: 94.6(25th)
  • Points Allowed: 101.4 (21st)
  • Team FG%: .448 (20th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .461 (23rd)
  • Team FT%: .793 (2nd)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .353 (15th)
  • Rebounds per game: 39.4 (29th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 41.7 (7th)
  • Turnovers per game: 13.9 (15th)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 13.6 (16th)

Individual Statistical Leaders as of December 31st, 2014:

  • Scoring (ppg): Carmelo Anthony (24.1)
  • Rebounds per game:  Amare Stoudemire (7.4)
  • Minutes per game: Carmelo Anthony (36.4)
  • Assists per game:  Jose Calderon (4.3)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Amare Stoudemire (.558)
  • Free Throw Percentage:  Jose Calderon (1.0)
  • Three Point FG Percentage: Jose Calderon (.427)
  • Steals per game: Pablo Prigioni (1.3)
  • Blocked Shots per game: Samuel Dalembert (1.3)

Worst of the Class: Iman Shumpert

It was supposed to be a make it or break it year for Shumpert, who had spent his last three seasons on the sidelines due to his injuries and it seemed that he was headed toward a breakthrough year coming into this season. In his first nine games, Iman started the season hot averaging nearly 14 points per game, shooting .501 from the field and .453 from beyond the arc.  Unfortunately, after that nine game streak, his production took a severe decline as his numbers dropped to just 6.7 points per game at a woesome .307 clip over his next fifteen games before he fell to injury once again.  This may be the last time we will ever see Shumpert in a Knicks uniform ever again as year after year he has shown promise of being a special player only to fall flat each and every season.  With his rookie coming to an end along with a roster with is log-jammed at the shooting guard position, the enigma known as Iman Shumpert may be bidding farewell to the Madison Square Garden faithful and possibly the NBA as well.   

First of the Class: Amare Stoudemire

If there can be anything found that can seen as a shining light in this otherwise dreadful season, it has to be the play of Amare Stoudemire who has seemed to be finally over his injuries and back in playing form.  Stoudemire started the season playing every game in November and has thus far been the Knicks' leader in rebounds per game at nearly eight per game while shooting at an almost unconscious clip at .558 from the field.  Unfortunately, however, it seems as if  both his tenure in New York will be ending on a sour note as he finished 2014 missing six of the last seven games due to yet another injury.  Now he enters 2015 as major question mark on whether he will finish the season in a Knicks unform, be traded before the regular season deadline, or have his expiring contract simply be flat out bought out to finally see his tumultuous tenure in the Big Apple finally end on a depressing note.  Hopefully, he will bounce back and show not only Knicks' fans, but also the entire league that he still has plenty of basketball left and can still make a strong impact on the court; however, that may just be very unlikely as it looks like the end of Amare Stoudemire's career has already been written on the wall.   

Despite falling out of playoff contention, the New York Knicks season ended on a high note with the introduction of new front office, new coaching staff and a whole new winning attitude along with a stronger and more cohesive culture for the struggling franchise.  The organization welcomed back former player and hall of fame coach Phil Jackson as the new head of its basketball operations and he quickly made his mark during the summer by not only re-signing the team's star Carmelo Anthony, but also making very low key yet very strong moves to make the team not only smarter, but also more apt to adhere to the principles of his Triangle Offense.  The team showed plenty of progress during the Summer League as the players seemed quite comfortable with the intricacies of such a complex system as the Triangle and many projected the Knicks to jump leaps and bounds from the 37 wins that they posted last season.  In fact, with the team that they had coming into this season, the Knicks not only looked like a lock to make the playoffs in the East, but also could be a potential spoiler in the race for the top Eastern Conference.  Unfortunately, that has not come to pass as the regular season has fallen well below expectations as the Knicks find themselves at the bottom looking up with the league's second worst record and completely out of sync as well as out of the Eastern Conference race.

The regular season started well enough with the Knicks winning two of their first three game--one of those came at the expense of the +LeBron James led +Cleveland Cavaliers as they ruined his first homecoming beating the Cavs in Cleveland.  Unfortunately, what would follow after their solid 2-1 record was a seven game losing streak that saw the Knicks having the misfortune of losing three of them by a total of seven points.  In those three games, had the ball tipped their way or their foes missed their last second shots, New York would have had started with a  5-5 record instead of falling to 2-8 before finally stopping the bleeding with a 16 point home win against the +Denver Nuggets (11/16/2014).  That win was then regrettably followed by yet another heartbreaking four point loss to the +Milwaukee Bucks (11/18/2014) and by a shameful display losing to an injury depleted +Minnesota Timberwolves team by a embarrassing 16 points (11/19/2014) before quickly breaking that short losing streak with a bounce back win against the +Philadelphia 76ers  (11/22/2014). Sadly, however, the glow from that Philly win faded as quickly as it arrived as the Knicks would finish the month of November losing their last four games against the +Houston Rockets (11/24/2014), +Dallas Mavericks (11/26/2014), +Oklahoma City Thunder (11/28/2014) and the +Miami HEAT (11/30/2014).

As it was the case with the previous seven game losing steak, that four game slide would be equally frustrating for both the Knicks and their fans as three of them once again came down to the wire and end with New York holding the short end of the stick.  The Houston game was lost by just five points due to twelve point clutch performance in the final five minutes by +James Harden while the Mavs outpaced the Knicks in overtime after a heroic last second shot by JR Smith tied the game at the end of regulation.  Grabbing those two games would not only have certainly given the Knicks a boost in their collective self esteem beating two elite teams on the road, but would have softened the blow of their near thirty point humiliation in Oklahoma City which followed.  They would have had another chance at redemption with a home win against the Heat and certainly could have beaten Miami as they held the Heat to just 86 points; however, Miami manged to hold the Knicks down to just 79 points thus continuing their downward spiral.  What would subsequently follow was a six game slide to start the month of December where New York would once again suffer the sting of a potential win as they would lose four of those six by a total of 14 points--two of which came down to one last second shot.

For Knicks fans, it would have been bad enough to watch their team lose by double figures and constantly get blown out like the league's other cellar dwellers such as the Sixers and the Timberwolves; however, to lose a total of eleven games by very close margins have to sting even more.  Those could have been possible wins that could have catapulted the Knicks up among the NBA's elite instead of wallowing at the very bottom just one game shy of the worst record of the league which is currently held by the Philadelphis 76ers.  As 2014 drew nearer to a close, there would be even more games that would be even more excruciatingly painful to watch not so much because they were simply overpowered by their opponents, but the simple fact that they simply slipped through their fingers.  After a much needed win against the +Boston Celtics on the road (12/12/2014), the Knicks would lose another harsh one at home in overtime against the the +Toronto Raptors by just five points (12/14/2014) and after being completely bludgeoned by Mavericks (12/16/2014) at the Garden they would head off to Chicago where they would come just six points short to the Bulls (12/18/2014).  To continually watch your team have one victory stripped away from them after the other must be the equivalent to witnessing someone getting repeatedly get kicked in the groin for an extended amount of time--a sight that can be equated to torture.

In a post game interview after the Christmas Day loss to the +Washington Wizards, Carmelo Anthony summed up his team's troubles quite eloquently:

"The fans are dying, we’re dying. We’re out there, we’re not producing. We didn’t expect, I didn’t expect to be sitting at 5-26," he said. "So as much as I feel for the fans, I feel for us going through it, too. I don’t expect nobody to feel sorry for us, I don’t expect nobody to feel sorry for me (12/25/2014)." 

Nonetheless, one cannot help but feel sorry for both him, his team, and their fans as the past three months have simply been an exercise in frustration and despair.  Despite their best efforts, the Knicks continually found themselves at the losing end having certain victory snatched up right from under them and it is little wonder why the team have collapsed after one heartbreak after another; yet, despite the sour taste in their mouths and their rotten luck, they still managed to pick themselves up to give it another try.  Head Coach Derek Fisher must find it even more difficult with every passing game trying to keep his players motivated as they stare down a 5-29 record with 48 games left in the regular season with the bulk of those games being lost by such a small margin that it hurts even more than getting blown out by their opponents.  And although his boss, former coach and current mentor Phil Jackson reassured fans in a tweet that things will be better in 2015, his optimistic words sadly do not reflect the ominous reality that his team faces as his players limp, stumble, and drag their battered limbs through the next three months.

It is really quite a shame because the team's record does not reflect the actual quality of their play as even through the most difficult of circumstances, they still try their best to execute the Triangle offense in which both Jackson and Fisher pride their all their past success on.  Had the Knicks started the season at full strength instead of having several of their key players sidelined with injuries at the opening tip off, then perhaps the situation would have been much different.  Had Jose Calderon, Pablo Prigioni, JR Smith, and Andrea Bargnani been suited up and ready to go on opening day instead of sitting on the bench in street clothes, perhaps the Knicks could have at least won half of those close calls making them seem far more respectable than they are now.  By the start of January, they could have been 10-24 or even 15-19--records that may not have been too great, but would still give Knicks fans something to cheer about or even give the team a sense of accomplishment and motivated enough to push for a playoff berth in the second half of the season.  Unfortunately, it seems as if it is too late for this hard luck crew to even make an effort to salvage their season as all their competitive fire and fighting spirit have been virtually sucked out of them leaving them an empty husk of a team.   

Not even the promise of having a chance of getting the number one overall pick in the draft or the significant amount of cap space it will have once the season ends will relieve the sting or remove the scars that have been put upon the back of the team, its players and their fans because none of this was supposed to happen.  This was supposed to be the season where they were supposed to bounce back from their disappointing season with a fresh new outlook and silence any doubters who had them falling apart come opening tip off.  Instead, they are now seen as a laughing stock who may have to scrap this season up for a loss, tear the whole thing down and start up again from scratch in the off season where they will not only have potentially the number one overall pick, but also oodles of salary cap space to lure prospective free agents.  Carmelo Anthony may have had high expectations coming into the season when Phil Jackson convinced him to choose to stay in the Big Apple instead of leaving to Chicago, Houston, Miami, Dallas, or any other place where he would have been on an instant contender.  Now he will just have to settle with being stuck on a team that seems to be heading for rock bottom and wondering when will he get his chance to taste even a hint of the championship glory that his longtime rival Lebron James has enjoyed so far.