Head coach Mike Woodson has been pretty consistent in his assertion that injuries have held the New York Knicks back this season. The Knicks have certainly had a significant amount of injuries this year, as Tyson Chandler, Andrea Bargnani and now Iman Shumpert have all been banged up, and it is understandable that the team’s performance has taken a hit.
Yet, the Knicks are still built around a top-15 NBA player in Carmelo Anthony. The Knicks still have the second-highest payroll in the NBA. Those reasons alone mean the team should not be 14 games under .500 in one of the worst conferences ever.
The excuses continue to come from New York, and it makes another team’s efforts all the more impressive. A team that refuses to use injuries as an excuse and continues to exceed expectations. That team is the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls have been hit even harder by the injury bug. The second season-ending injury to Derrick Rose has been well-chronicled, but that has not been the only problem for the Bulls this year.
Unlike Chandler, Joakim Noah did not miss significant time this year. But he was hampered by injuries early in the year, and did not look like himself athletically for the first part of the season. He has finally been able to get healthy, and is currently playing the best basketball of his career.
Jimmy Butler just suffered another injury, and it has been a season of nagging injuries for him. He has not taken the huge step forward that so many projected for him this season, but maybe he can once he finally shakes off the injury bug.
Of course, Luol Deng was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, making the run by the Bulls all the more improbable. Kirk Hinrich has missed more time this year, and has been on a minutes limit since coming back from his latest injury.
The injuries have derailed what the Bulls hoped would be a championship campaign and, with this being the second year in a row that this is the case, nobody would have blamed the team for collapsing into the lottery.
Only that is not how the Bulls, or Tom Thibodeau, operate. Instead of letting the point-guard position go down in flames while Hinrich was out, the front office signed D.J. Augustin and Thibodeau made him look like a quality NBA player for the first time in a long time.
Meanwhile, instead of looking for a potential quality pickup to start the season, the Knicks decided to make J.R. Smith happy and sign his brother Chris Smith. Chris has since been cut, but it was a typical Knicks move to dismiss a roster spot as wasted space to keep J.R. happy.
Thibodeau has not started Taj Gibson over Carlos Boozer, but Gibson has started getting more minutes than Boozer lately, and has been playing more crunch-time minutes virtually all season. Boozer may have a bigger name and contract, but Gibson has been playing better, so he plays in crunch time.
Contrast that with Woodson’s inexplicable restrictions on Shumpert. The two-guard, still a young player with lots of potential, has had his confidence shattered as Woodson pulls him after every minor mistake and somehow justifies playing Smith six more minutes a game than him. Smith is shooting under 39 percent on the season and does not offer much other value besides scoring. Shumpert, while obviously a subpar offensive player at this stage in his career, offers the Knicks value as the best perimeter defender on the team. But, he often sits and watches the Knicks get absolutely torched on defense.
Basically, the stark contrast in how the two teams have handled adversity is a sign of the leadership in both places. The Bulls, behind Thibodeau and Noah, have rallied around a defensive, hard-nosed identity and currently sit in fourth place in the standings. Meanwhile, the Knicks, with no type of leadership, currently sit out of the playoff picture without a first-round draft pick next year and Anthony possibly leaving. And if Woodson would like to keep using injuries as an excuse, maybe he should look 8.5 games up in the standings to see that it takes more than injuries to derail a season.
Donnie Kolakowski is a writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on twitter @zenoknows.