Thursday, January 5, 2012

State of the Union Kickoff - New York Knicks

You know how the State of the Union addresses go, right? President goes up and speaks about how the country is kicking ass in everything. Problems during the President's term are either masked with rehearsed rhetoric or omitted from discussion in entirety. And, our favorite part: Congressmen, celebrities, and other losers get on their feet for the obligatory applause as soon as Mr. President indicates that it is the correct time to do so.

Well, and especially in the Knicks' case, you won't need to stop reading mid-blog post and clap your hands. This post will be the first in a series of irregularly scheduled posts detailing Mambino's favorite professional teams. I'll take care of the Bockers and Yankees, KOBEsh will handle Lakers and Dodgers, and Pucklius will muse on the Devils and Mets. Each prominent player will be given a number of Mambinos, on a scale of 1-5, with some biased analysis to follow. (Hey, at least we're honest.)

The Knicks are off to a 2-4 start. The team has heard boos during every single home game: losses to the lowly Raptors and Bobcats, and even during the win over the Celtics, when New York squandered a 20 point lead in the 2nd half. But relax, guys. Remember that the goal in a shortened season is to simply make the playoffs. However, that doesn't mean that the team is free of problems that need to be addressed. Let's get to it.


Before we get to the bad news, let's talk about Shump Dizzle. Last night's game against the Bobcats provided one bright spot: the Garden faithful's acceptance of Iman Shumpert into their lives. He hit shot after shot after shot. He played excellent man-to-man defense. He made smart decisions. Basically, he was everything that we wished Toney Douglas was: a real point guard who can provide a spark when necessary. When MDA inexplicably took Shump out of the game in the 4th quarter, when the Knicks were building their last comeback, the crowd begged and pleaded for his return. D'Antoni listened, for once, and is now contemplating starting the rook on Friday night against the Washington Walls.

I took an informal poll in my section last night, and not one person said they would trade Shumpert for the rookie on the opposing bench, Kemba Walker. And that's saying something. This guy has all the tools to be an All-Star one day. Consider my #21 t-shirt already ordered.


The Knicks gave up a billion points last night to the Charlotte Bobcats. Disgusting, I know; everytime B.J. Freaking Mullens hit a jumper from the perimeter, my heart asked my brain why I decided to become a Knicks fan. And expectedly, the fingers are being pointed at Tyson Chandler, the guy who was supposed to "correct" the porous Knick defense. But wait a second. He's just one man.

If you've caught a glimpse of training camp, practices, or have been lucky enough to sit close enough in the Garden, you will hear one voice over everybody else's (including the easily recognizable D'antoni Drawl): Tyson's. He teaches lessons and barks out orders to everyone, including Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. In games, he still blocks more than 1 shot a game, and alters at least 5 more. His free throw shooting has been pretty decent, and he's a nice target for lobs inside.

So why does he not get 4 Mambinos, or even 3.5? Well, those rebounding numbers are low at less than 7 per game. There are two reasons for that. First, his defensive prowess cannot physically invade the bodies of the other 4 Knicks on the floor. If a Gerald Henderson dribble pull-up is going to flatten Landry Fields, Tyson can't do anything about that. If Toney Douglas over-pursues his man and fouls him trying to recover, Tyson can't affect that either. Second, because he so desperately wants to make an impact, Chandler is amassing too many ticky-tack fouls. He gets into foul trouble, and our defensive unit suddenly looks EXACTLY as it did last year.

Tyson Chandler's presence may take a while to produce results that are visible to the naked eye. We need the other guys to stop making the same mistakes they did last year, and listen to the team concept that Chandler and Mike Woodson are teaching.

TONEY DOUGLAS: 2.5 Mambinos

If you started a pickup game and Toney Douglas was on your team, he could very well hit every shot and win you the game. He's an athletic human being. The only problem is that he chose to play basketball. Instead of playing Centerfield or Strong Safety, Toney decided to play Point Guard. And somewhere along the way, he never grasped the concept of organized ball. He makes mistakes that would never be made by college players. When he makes those mistakes, I scream at the top of my lungs and risk alienating any relationship with those who are around me.

But that's just who he is. He starts for the Bockers because Billups was amnestied and because Baron's hurt. When Baron comes back, he'll go back to being a 2nd unit guy, which is the perfect role for him. He always brings a ton of energy and that heart of his is bigger than my ego (says a lot, I know.) We're just going to have to stay the course, and do some more research on herniated discs.


A lot of people are giving Melo the blame for the Knicks' poor start. Most often, they point to his poor shooting and his propensity for hogging the ball. These are decent arguments: when a team does not meet expectations, the star player gets the business. But that's not the whole story. To put it simply, Anthony is the only player on the roster not named Iman Shumpert who has presented some semblance of offensive genius, however small. His repertoire is full of moves that still get him all the open looks that he has been getting his entire career. These shots will start to fall, and they'll fall sooner rather than later. Surprisingly, Melo has shown flashes of defensive intensity on the perimeter. Sure, it always occurs in the 4th quarters of games that haven't been decided, but it's still there. Has he performed like a superstar in the first 6 games? Of course not. But he is the one player on this team that you can count on to improve, 100%. He will have a big year for this squad and will be the reason they'll ultimately make the playoffs and win a first round series.


Imagine you're the smartest kid in your 2nd grade class. You ace all the tests. You almost always do your homework on time. And when other kids display their stupidity in class discussions, the teacher relies on you to pick up the slack. Now imagine that a new transfer student has taken the school by storm. You get a perfect 100 on the next test, but New Guy over there gets a 101 because the little bastard wrote his answers in cursive. Your diorama is then dwarfed by his PowerPoint presentation for Show and Tell. And those class discussions? Well, the teach has signed New Guy up for the Debate Team.

Every possible chance you get, you're going to try your hardest to outshine the New Guy. You'll stay up past your 8 p.m. bedtime to try reading at a 4th grade level. You'll spend your weekly allowance to buy the teacher a nicer apple. And maybe, just maybe, you'll THINK about taking New Guy out back and shooting him in the face.

Okay, that was a bit much. But Amar'e Stoudemire is floundering since the Knicks acquired Carmelo. I won't even begin to lament about his absurdly inept defense; it's bad enough I saw first-hand that a 500 pound Boris Diaw took STAT to school last night. But on offense now, Amar'e is playing as if actually ripped those super stylish goggles off his face, and poked his eye, clean out of the socket. He's taking off balance jumpers, he's been retreating behind the 3-point line, and he just doesn't know where to stand, run, jump, or shoot. His talent is far outweighing his production, merely because his head is not in the game. Amar'e is struggling to become the 2nd banana.

This happens to a lot of players. When Karl Malone went to YOUR Los Angeles Lakers, he assumed the role of enforcer while Shaq and Kobe took care of the important stuff. When Kevin Garnett was traded to the Boston Celtics, he re-created his legacy by becoming one of the most fierce defensive players in NBA history. Amar'e? Well he hasn't spent time on the defense. And that's just something we'll have to come to grips with. What we can't forgive him for is his play on the offensive end. I said before that Melo would come around. Amar'e should too, but there has to be a systemic change in the works to help STAT out. Which leads me to...

MIKE D'ANTONI: 0 Mambinos (if you expected even 1 Mambino then I don't value your opinion for anything)

This guy is the bane of my existence. I really don't have anything to complain about in life. The times I am enraged with the fury of 10,000 Tom Coughlins are always because of Michael D'Antoni.

He's an offensive guru, right? Like the Mike Martz of the NBA, right? Well, his offense is genius, as long as you abide by two requirements: a pass-first point guard and only ONE ballhog. We don't have a healthy pass-first PG, and we sure as hell have two guys that need to be involved in isolation plays from time to time. Carmelo, as the team's best player, will always get his, but Amar'e is off in the woods looking for two sticks to make a fire. D'Antoni had all summer to find a way to change up the plan. There aren't enough slip screens to house the shots that these two superstars need, and Mikey dropped the ball here. He spends the entire duration of games making this face or this face, failing to solve this problem.

As Mike 'Antoni (there is no D) goes, so do the Knicks. But we're not necessarily in a bad spot. If the Knicks continue to play like this, 'Antoni will be fired by March. If he miraculously figures it out, then we'll be back in contention. My prediction? He won't figure it out, but the talent of the players will carry him to the playoffs. His contract won't be renewed, which would allow me to start breathing fresh air once again.

TEAM: 1 Mambino

Starting 2-4, they're lucky to get 1. While everybody panics, I'm still holding steady. But sooner or later, I'll join the gen pop, if things don't change.

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