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: How concerning is that the Knicks don't have a legitimate and consistent second scorer?
As good as Carmelo Anthony has been since March 26, averaging 29.9 points per game, and as clutch as he was against the Chicago Bulls, scoring 43 points, including two big 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and overtime, he won't be able to play at that level every night.
Just like Derrick Rose's scoring outbursts. In fact, as good as the Bulls have been during regular season since last year, the biggest question that haunts the team (besides D-Rose's injury situation), is who's going to be D-Rose's Scottie Pippen in the playoffs. The lack thereof hurt the Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals in 2011 against the Miami Heat.
Now, that same predicament faces the Knicks, who are without Jeremy Lin (small chronic meniscal tear in left knee) and Amare Stoudemire (bulging disk) for an extended period of time. While Stoudemire should return before the end of the regular season, the time is now for the Knicks to play their best basketball in order to solidify a playoff seed, which is still far from guaranteed. Once the Knicks have that buttoned up, the playoffs are a new season, and they can worry about that in about a week or so.
Currently, the Knicks are excelling in three main areas: they've been the second-best defensive team in the league after the Boston Celtics since March 14 (88.6 points per game allowed), they're averaging just a shade under a positive 100 points per game during that stretch and they're winning games (11-3 under Mike Woodson).
But, again, it's been a little too much Melo. After his 29.9 points per game since March 26, Iman Shumpert (14.3), J.R. Smith (12.3) and Tyson Chandler (10.3) are the next three in line. But what those averages don't show is how inconsistent Shumpert and Smith have been offensively. For Shumpert, without back-to-back 25 point performances on March 28 and 30, his average would be significantly lower. And for Smith, without jacking up 15 to 22 shots per game (like he did Sunday), his average would be significantly lower as well.
Still, Shumpert and Smith are the best candidates to help out Anthony. They just need to find their offense a bit more efficiently. Obviously against the Bulls, the second-best defensive team in the league the entire season (88.9 points per game allowed), that was harder to do, and Woodson credited them for forcing the Knicks to stall their ball movement and shoot more jumpshots in the later part of the game. In fact, the Knicks had 11 assists in the first quarter, but only six the rest of the way.
"You've got to give them credit, too," Woodson said. "Defensively, they're one of the top defensive teams in the league and they started to pick their defense up tremendously and they made it tough to move the ball. I thought coming down the home stretch we had some great looks at the bucket, but they just weren't falling and their shots weren't falling as well because of our good defense, so it was just a battle until Melo was able to break loose and make the biggest play of the night."
Anthony has been spectacular in the clutch in his career, but the Knicks can't always wait until the last few minutes for their best player to consistently bail them out. True, the Knicks have had some nice-cushioned wins recently, but the lack of a second go-to guy after Melo has led to disruptions in their offense, especially in the second half of games. Once they have a little bit more balance on offense, to match their shutdown defense, they'll be a notch better -- and that's a great sign considering the Knicks have won 11 of their last 14 games.
How concerned are you that the Knicks don't have a legitimate and consistent second scorer? Leave us your comments below.
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