A coach getting fired is usually a bad sign for a team. It usually means the team is performing poorly. After D’Antoni was fired the Knicks turned things around and look to have secured a playoff berth. There are two very key parts of the Knicks turnaround. The first is that Melo is playing amazing. The second is that Amare has been injured. Let’s take a quick look and I’ll explain more.
Highlighted are all players that have seen a change of at least 1.0 PoP per game. Landry Fields in red because he’s gotten worse.
Using the Points over Par metric (Wins Produced in points format) helps tell us what has happened. Since Amare has been out with injury the Knicks have seen a major change in performance from five players. A few of the explanations are easy:
- J.R. Smith has played better. That’s nothing new. J.R. plays all over the place. As a Nuggets fan I assure you, it was baffling to predict which J.R. would show up. For the last 12 games it’s been the good J.R.
- Iman Shumpert is young. According to Arturo’s predictions he was an ok draft pick. It’s not uncommon for young players to improve so Shumpert playing better is a pleasant surprise.
- Toney Douglas has gone from terrible to bad. He’s still hurting the Knicks, but less so. He traditionally hasn’t been this bad so hopefully he’s finding his way back to his old self.
- Landry Fields has been terrible. He started the season off poorly before getting back to form. Here’s hoping this is just a slump too.
Alright, let’s get into the Knicks two biggest “stars” and how Amare’s recent absence and Melo’s recent surge play out.
Amare off the court is better than Amare on the court
I want to stress that once Amare was a very good player. If we look at Amare back between 2005-2008 we see he was average at most things required of a center and an absolutely amazing scorer (in 07 and 08 his true shooting percentage was over 63%!) After 08 he slowly deteriorated in most aspects of the game. Then, when he got to the Knicks his great scoring left him. As a result we have a player that was once really only good at scoring, that is now just good at taking lots of shots. When Linsanity first occurred it should be noted that Amare missed some playing time. In the Knicks recent push the Knicks have played better with him out of the game. It is not a coincidence!
In the absence of Amare the Knicks have had Melo play bigger and given Novak more minutes. Both of these have worked out well. It turns out Melo is a very talented athlete but his shot selection is poor. It’s possible that one way to make him take better shots is to actually put him closer to the rim on a regular basis. This same strategy also works well to improve offensive rebounding and Melo has been doing better there as well. It’s kind of hard to gauge Novak as his playing time has been sporadic over his career. In the last two seasons he’s played well though. Swapping out Amare and giving these two players more minutes at the 4 has been very helpful to the Knicks. If they want playoff hope I suggest they leave Amare on the bench.
Melo is on a hot streak, let’s hope it continues
Wow Melo is playing amazingly. In fact, using Basketball-Reference’s new splits tool (I endorse all tools that improve game splits) we can see Melo has raised pretty much every level of his game. Since March 26th he’s been putting up 30 points a game with a 59% true shooting percentage. This is well over his career average and even his career highs. His steals and blocks are also at career highs in this short stretch, however not by much. Basically, Melo is playing amazing right now because he is shooting like everyone thinks he normally shoots. I’ve been burned too many times but I’ll say this again. If he has actually improved his shot selection then maybe Melo can finally be the star everyone thinks he that he is.
We have a twelve game sample for the Knicks and I’d be fooling myself if I said we should read too much any to anything I’ve said (although it was very fun to say it and I hoped you enjoyed reading it) I will stress that with Amare on the bench the Knicks have played better players in the PF spot. This coupled with good timing for Melo, J.R. and Iman to “surge” has helped the Knicks into the playoff hunt yet again. While I wouldn’t bet the farm on Melo and Smith staying good, I am quite ok saying Amare shouldn’t suit up. In fact, the current Knicks squad without Amare (and hopefully with a healthy Lin come next season) is very potent. I’m only hoping Dolan doesn’t listen to Isiah and ruin everything.