The New York Knicks haven’t made the playoffs in almost a decade. Although they have taken positive steps forward this year, they have a long way to go. Some think they are one or two players away from being a championship team. That’s just not true. The Knicks are much further off than that. They are an entire mindset away from being contenders; they need to make a commitment to defense.
We are supposed to learn from history. Recent NBA history tells us that defense is the way to win championships. Just look at the NBA finalists for the last 5 years1. On average, NBA finalists rank in the top 8 in points allowed and top 6 in field goal % allowed during the regular season. Three years ago, the Boston Celtics ranked 2nd and 1st in these categories respectively. They went on to beat the Los Angeles Lakers in the finals. Four years ago, the San Antonio Spurs gave up the fewest points per game during the regular season and were 4th best in field goal % allowed. They ended up sweeping the Cleveland Cavaliers in the finals. So if you are serious about building a championship contender, you better have a good defense. This is something the Knicks haven’t had in years.
In fact in the last 5 regular seasons, the New York Knicks are 25th in the league in both points allowed and field goal % allowed. Needless to say, they missed the playoffs during this stretch. This season, the Knicks are 2nd worst in points allowed, but a somewhat respectable 15th in field goal % allowed. So what does that mean? Well it looks like this is a matter of playing style. The Knicks play an up tempo style. They have potent weapons on offense, so they are very comfortable playing games that score into the 100s. But they do try to make it a little difficult for their opponents to score. They are playing some defense. But it’s not enough. With 16 games left in the season, the Knicks are just 2 games above .500 and are clinging to the 6th spot in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. This is good news for Knicks fans, since it looks like they will make the playoffs. The bad news is that they are not going to go very far in the playoffs because of their defense.
One reason why the Knicks have been successful this year is their offense. They currently rank 2nd in points scored. But since they are also 2nd in points allowed, they cannot win with any consistency. When the offense is hot, they win. But when it’s cold, they lose (even to bad teams). Their .500 record is a function of the fact that they score just as easily as they give up points. This will not work in the playoffs. Sure, when their offense is hot they can beat anyone. But what happens when their offense goes cold? That can easily happen in the NBA playoffs, since playoff teams typically have good defenses.
That’s why defense is so important. Offense can slump, but defense does not. Nothing can stop you from playing solid individual and team defense. While it is not possible to stop an opponent’s every shot, it is possible to consistently make it difficult for them to score. That’s the definition of defense.
Until the Knicks make a commitment to defense, there is NO championship in their future.
1. YAHOO! SPORTS, “NBA Stats”, http://sports.yahoo.com/