Every weekday morning throughout the season, ESPNNewYork.com will tackle a burning question about the Knicks in our "Opening Tip" segment.
Today's Burning Question: What are the Knicks missing most without Jeremy Lin?
Friday night in Atlanta, Jeremy Lin will miss his third straight game because of his sore left knee, and head coach Mike Woodson is not sure when his starting point guard will return. However, Jared Jeffries said on ESPN New York 1050 that Lin will return next week.
The first word that's being used to describe the reason for Lin's injury is "overuse." After playing only roughly 53 minutes through the first 22 games of the season, he was thrust into the starter's role and right away began playing around 40 minutes per game. Fortunately, Baron Davis has been able to alleviate some of the pressure off of Lin.
But for now, Lin is ailing, and the Knicks will be at a loss, just like they are without Jeffries (right knee inflammation) and Amare Stoudemire (bulging disk).
Here are the three main things the Knicks are missing most without Lin:
1. Pressure on the defense. Lin's combination of feline quickness and pick-and-roll playmaking, which led to Linsanity in February, has forced his man and the help defender to come at him harder on the perimeter and occasionally trap him. That opens up the court, especially for Carmelo Anthony to maneuver more in the midrange area and for Tyson Chandler to find open seams in the middle of the court to flash to the basket. This all leads to more instinctive ball movement (rather than reactive), and more outside looks for the Knicks.
Here is one veteran NBA scout's take on this: "If the defenses are putting so much attention on Lin, that's the best news you can tell me. If I'm Mike Woodson, that's exactly what I want to hear. Remember, I'm asking for situations to put pressure on a defense, and if that means that the defense is getting extra attention to someone, whether it's Lin or Carmelo or whomever it is, that's exactly my job as a coach. To me, as an X's and O's guy, your job is to create mismatches, force the defense to adjust and when they adjust, make them pay for it. That's the whole point of everything I diagram.
"With defenses now jumping Jeremy Lin on pick-and-rolls and really paying a lot of attention to him, wonderful. That's not bad, that's great, because that means Jeremy Lin has to give the ball up, has to know when to give it up, he has to give it up on time and he has to get it to the right guy. And normally, if I put him in a pick-and-roll with Carmelo or Amare, then that's immediately one pass is most likely going to lead to a good shot. Whether you're doubling Carmelo or doubling Amare or trapping Jeremy Lin on the pick-and-roll, that's what I want to hear."
2. Pick-and-roll defense. During the Knicks' 8-1 stretch under Woodson, the interim head coach has applauded the team's pick-and-roll defense. And he specifically has complimented Lin on anchoring the perimeter protection, not allowing the opposing point guard to go off. That's been a big credit to Lin doing less switching, fighting through screens and his teammates behind him communicating better. Previously, when the Knicks lost six straight games in early March, Lin and the team were culprits of allowing Rajon Rondo, Jason Kidd, Tony Parker, Brandon Jennings, Jrue Holiday and Derrick Rose to have big games, points and assists-wise.
While the Knicks completely disseminated the Magic Wednesday night, the only real wizardry came from point guard Jameer Nelson, who scored 11 points in the first quarter alone off pick-and-rolls. Davis has shown improvements on the defensive end, but he's still a step slow to consistently keep up with all of the young and explosive point guards in the league today. He even admitted that he won't be playing at full health all season, so Lin should be able to provide that extra firepower when he returns. And that's especially important to start the game, in order for the Knicks to control tempo. Under Woodson, the Knicks know that it starts off defense, and more stops will lead to better offense.
3. Consistency from the starting five to the second unit. This may be the most important thing. With Davis now starting, Woodson is using Mike Bibby as the backup point guard. But Bibby, at this point in this career, is really more of a glorified shooting guard who doesn't put pressure on the defense with his quickness and pick-and-roll playmaking.
There are some who are surprised Woodson is not giving Toney Douglas a shot. Instead, not only is he going with Bibby, but he's also asking J.R. Smith to run the team at times. While Bibby and Smith have made some plays, the Knicks are obviously missing a reliable point guard off the bench who can maintain what Lin or Davis establishes in the first unit on offense. That has been keeping the defense on their toes through the pick-and-roll, and penetrating and making smart passes in the paint and out to shooters on the perimeter. What's happening now is that the second unit is relying a bit too much on isolation, especially through Smith, and their assists have gone down. When Lin returns, Davis will give the bench what they need.
What do you think the Knicks will be missing most without Lin? Leave us your comments below.
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