The 2012-13 New York Knicks rode an explosive offensive attack to their best season in more than a decade. That team’s biggest weakness was on the defensive end, where the Knicks were just 17th in the NBA in defensive efficiency. Their offense will continue to produce at a high level, but with the Eastern Conference now tougher than it has been in years, the Knicks will have to improve on defense if they hope to make a deep playoff run.
Of the newly-acquired players that will receive major minutes, only one (Metta World Peace) is a consistently good defender. His versatility will definitely be helpful and if, as rumored, he’s inserted into the starting lineup in place of Andrea Bargnani, his ability to guard both small forwards and power forwards will help ensure that the Knicks can “hide” Carmelo Anthony on their opponents’ weakest frontcourt scorer. Metta’s a veteran with good instincts, quick hands and plenty of brute strength to handle post players.
The Knicks’ defense was able to stay afloat last year mostly because of their ability to force turnovers and their surprisingly strong defensive rebounding rate (4th in the league in both stats). They should still be able to force plenty of turnovers, especially with the addition of Metta and more minutes from Iman Shumpert, but their defensive rebounding could take a hit with Bargnani getting a lot of playing time and Amar’e Stoudemire making his return to the rotation.
With such strong numbers in rebounding and forcing turnovers, why was the Knicks’ defense below average last year? Well, they simply couldn’t stop opponents from making shots. They gave up the sixth-most threes in the league last year while also allowing the 8th-worst effective field goal percentage and the 7th-worst free throw rate. Other than Iman Shumpert, the Knicks are short on athletic defenders on the perimeter, so it’s not particularly likely they’ll defend threes that much better. It’s also possible that they play too many poor defenders to have a stout defense against opponents’ field goal attempts. While the starting lineup (if Metta and Shump are in it) could be pretty good with three strong defenders, the bench could be a mess on defense. Beno Udrih, Bargnani, STAT and Tim Hardaway Jr. are all poor defenders. Bargnani and Amar’e are two of the league’s worst, and J.R. Smith is still inconsistent. Pablo Prigioni and Kenyon Martin are the only good defenders off the bench who are set to see regular minutes. The Knicks will have to score a ton of points to make up for that kind of defense. There’s only so much a coach can do with personnel like that.
Much of the Knicks’ defensive improvement will have to come from within. Finally having a fully-healthy Tyson Chandler will be huge for them. He was strong defensively last year, but there were times where he clearly wasn’t himself, and his impact wasn’t as great as it was when he won Defensive Player of the Year in 2011-12. They’ll be counting on him to attack pick-and-rolls while serving as the Knicks’ sole rim protector for the vast majority of the minutes he plays. If he regains his old form, the Knicks may be able to field an average (maybe even slightly above-average) defense for the season, but it’s unlikely their ceiling is much higher, given the players on the roster. Despite Mike Woodson’s wishes, it’s not safe to bet on them becoming a top-10 unit, the kind of defense needed to compete for a title. The hope here is that when the playoffs roll around and the starters earn the lion’s share of the minutes, the defense is good enough to advance a few rounds.