At 21-8, the New York Knicks enter Friday second in the Eastern Conference and fifth in the NBA. Amar’e Stoudemire isn’t expected to make his season debut until New Year’s Day at the earliest and Iman Shumpert isn’t expected to return to the court until sometime after mid-January.
There wasn’t a 50-point showing – heck, there wasn’t even a 40-point outing! – on Christmas this year, but the NBA provided a quintuplet of matchups that helped to put things in perspective through nearly two months of the season.
SheridanHoops had an eye on the tube at all times. Below is an observation regarding the 10 teams who participated in the holiday’s hoops festivities:
Boston Celtics: They might be hovering around the .500 mark through the first quarter of the season, but this is a team that, as we pointed out weeks after the season began, is fighting to find its identity while keeping its veteran star power healthy and integrating newer pieces into the equation. Paul Pierce (34.5 mpg) and Kevin Garnett (29.5 mpg) need to be monitored for the long haul, regardless of what the team’s situation is in the current moment. On Christmas, the Celtics unwrapped their gifts from under the tree in the form of rookie Jared Sullinger’s efficient 16 points (6-7 FG) and 7 rebounds and Jeff Green’s 15 points (5-8 FG), 3 rebounds and 2 assists. Brandon Bass has been in a funk lately, struggling to get into a rhythm of any kind. But the Celtics will continue to make a concerted effort to get their role players in rhythm, especially at the offensive end.
Brooklyn Nets: They seem to be confused and it’s showing at the offensive end. They appear to be transitioning their lineup to be able to play more small ball to space the floor and run more of a motion type of offense, and whether it’s to appease star guard Deron Williams or not, it’s tough to implement a new offense over time, let alone seemingly overnight. That’s part of the reason the Nets shot just 40.6 percent to go along with 14 assists and 20 turnovers. Surely, Brooklyn’s Christmas wasn’t as pleasant as some imagined it could have been about a month ago, when they were in rhythm and there were folks out there who thought they would be able to keep up pound-for-pound with that other New York team in the Atlantic Division. The Nets obviously have a talented group, but whether they can put it together again and make something of their talents as a collective unit on both ends of the floor appears to be an uphill battle right now.
New York Knicks: Speaking of that other New York team … When Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton don’t
have it working in the pick-and-roll, the team struggles a little bit more to get in sync on the offensive end. On Tuesday afternoon, Chandler had trouble catching Felton’s passes in what are normally routine dunks or lay-ins near the hoop. Compounding this deficiency was Felton’s inability to knock down jumpers from the perimeter. More pressure was put on Jason Kidd, Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith to operate offensively, and down the stretch it took its toll on the team overall. For all those people wondering about whether the Knicks will be better off with Amar’e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert, I can tell you one thing: They would’ve had even more options down the stretch against the Lakers if they had the power forward and combo guard, and I think that’s what every team strives for.
Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers didn’t freshly unwrap Steve Nash on December 25th, but he performed as if he were planted under the tree for the Lakers against New York. Nash had 11 assists and scored 16 points, but the most important thing he did was take ball handling duties away from Kobe Bryant and Co. Bryant was free to gun for 34 points (ninth straight 30-point game) and didn’t have to worry as much about creating offense for his teammates thanks to Nash’s presence. Nash also helped get Metta World Peace (20 points) open shots through his screening off the ball. The MVP caliber point guard showed more than his fair share of flash from the past and was crucial to Los Angeles’ success against New York. Even with Nash’s arrival, the Lakers still have work to do defensively, where they are allowing 50.1 points and 13.2 assists for opponents’ top three wings and guards (to be discussed in a later piece).
This is a guy that was once touted as the best point guard in the league during his tenure as a Jazz.
Clearly, that sentiment was still strong over this past summer when he was heavily pursued by teams, before the coveted guard chose to sign with the Brooklyn Nets for nearly $100 million.
Is it a simple case of a lack of effort for the guard, who has been handsomely paid? Or is it, like he said, the difference between a system that works for him and one that doesn’t? Williams is averaging 16.8 points and 8.2 assists – very solid numbers for most point guards – but he’s also shooting 39.6 percent from the field and 29.4 percent from the 3-point line, all well below his career averages.
The only man to ever shoot over 70% from the field for an entire season is Wilt Chamberlain, who made 5.2-of-7.1 field goal attempts, good for 72.7%, with the Lakers during the 1972-73 season, the finale of a statistically ludicrous 14-year NBA career.