The Pacers were a contender until Danny Granger went down. They seem to have used the Spurs' template for building their roster; rather than signing big-time free agents, they have drafted well and picked up the right kind of complementary role players. Roy Hibbert is a monster, David West has been consistently good for years, and they have a lot of depth across the board. The Knicks can beat this team, but they shouldn't take this game for granted. This is a quintessential trap game - coming off two road wars and an early Sunday game.
The Knicks are the better team and Indiana is without its best player [Danny Granger], but after two exhausting efforts I am curious to see how New York plays today. Things I am looking for include Woodson's personnel packages and how in-shape the Knicks are. That being said, its important to remember that its early in the season and you don't want the core guys to play too many minutes too early on in the year.
Indiana has a very deep roster stacked with grinders and are much tougher than their 4-6 record indicates. The Pacers rank second in the league in rebounding and the Knicks are getting killed on the boards just about every game. Melo can grab rebounds and is a tough, gritty player, but he's not a prototypical 4 and its harder for him to box out bigger players. With the way the Knicks are using Tyson Chandler on defense - blitzing and at the top of the paint - they could use another a real big to close out possessions by grabbing defensive rebounds. Memphis hung around with the Knicks through the first-half before going on that run in 3rd quarter. Indiana has similar personnel; David West and Tyler Hansborough have the ability to get some offensive rebounds and second-chance points, which is why Woodson should play Rasheed Wallace more today. I like Woodson's starting 5 for now, but Woodson should play Rasheed 25-30 minutes off the bench. His versatility (he's able to play the 3, 4, and 5 on offense) will be extremely valuable all season for two reasons:
- He can sub in for Tyson and the Knicks don't lose too much size on defense
- He can play the 3 when he, Tyson, and Melo are all on the floor. This allows Melo to play the 3 or 4 on offense depending on the personnel match-ups.
The more games I watch, the more I am starting to appreciate the veterans that Grunwald/Woodson recruited and the amount of versatility this roster has. In games like today's, the Knicks can go big with Melo, Wallace, and Tyson. If Camby can play, they sub him in for Wallace and Chandler at times so the Knicks can play a big line-up for 75% of the game, which is critical against a big team like Indiana. Additionally, The deep perimeter rotation - Felton, Kidd, Brewer, Melo, Pablo, Smith, and Novak - are a very complementary group on offense and defense; Woodson can throw out a lot of different lineups depending on the personnel of their opponents and who needs rest.
SAME OLD KNICKS?
This is a trap game for the Knicks. Here are the facts:
- In recent years, New York has tended to lose their focus after losses and things have spiraled out of control. Last year, they weren't able to make any type of playoff run because they had two 6 game losing streaks in a shortened season and it screwed them into a bad seed in the playoffs.
- AGE: The Knicks have to be exhausted at this point, coming off back-to-back gritty games against great Western Conference opponents on the road. One day off with an early game today isn't exactly what this team needs right now.
- Rasheed and Camby haven't really had training camps to get into shape; although I expect these guys to be key role players for the Knicks this season, they are both in their mid-to-late 30s. Its (a) going to take a while before they can contribute for 20-30 minutes each every game and (b) they will not be able to recover from back-to-back games with just a single day off. I expect Rasheed to play big minutes today because the Knicks have another day off tomorrow, but I doubt Camby can be effective for more than 10 minutes at this point.
- Melo has been playing lots of minutes and getting hammered on every play by the likes of DeJuan Blair and Zach Randolph. He could use a little rest. Felton has been playing a lot too and has been taking a beating when he goes to the rim (which has been extremely effective). Woodson needs to manage minutes effectively because it is only the beginning of a long season.
- OFFENSE: The Knicks rely on two of the streakiest scorers in the league for too much of their offense. I think Melo is playing great and needs to keep shooting the rock to get in a groove. JR is an improved talent and has been great up until two night's ago; the guy can make tough shots but he has to learn that when he's not hot, the Knicks can't afford to let him shoot himself out of a slump. If they don't incorporate the pick-and-roll with Felton and Tyson, the offense becomes stagnant and these guys don't have any room to operate and are taking heavily contested shots. I think Woodson knows this and will gameplan around getting Carmelo good match-ups and running the pick-and-roll with either Kidd or Felton and Tyson Chandler. Chandler obviously needs to continue his role as the defensive focal point, but he needs to be more involved in the offense so the Knicks remain balanced.
As a result of these facts, GM Glen Grunwald and Coach Mike Woodson have stacked the roster with veteran depth. They brought in glue guys like Kidd, Wallace, Camby and Thomas to give emotional players like Melo and Smith perspective. A loss in Memphis - who has won 15 straight home games - isn't exactly an indication that NY is a "pretender". Here's an opportunity for the Knicks to prove they are elite. Indiana was a better team than the Knicks last season and have size, which is something that the Knicks lack with Melo playing the 4. Let's see what kind of effect that these old guys can have on the team from a mental point of view; I expect the Knicks to win today, as they should.