Puzzles kind of suck.
There is almost no reward as you are putting them together and there is really no point. I guess you could say it’s a test of will, recognition and patience but you could also just as easily say it’s a complete waste of time. The problem with puzzles is there is nothing to display once it’s done. It’s not like you can frame it or keep it on your coffee table.
While you’re putting it together, everything starts to blend together and all of the pieces begin to look the same. Sometimes, you can’t even tell if something fits into the appropriate cutout because it looks just close enough that you assume the company who made it wouldn’t screw with your head like that. The reward of finishing such a task is knowing you completed it, but if there is nothing to show for it, does it even really matter?
That’s the great thing about putting together a championship puzzle in professional sports. Once it’s completed, you don’t have to just awkwardly display the puzzle for when people come over and you show it to them, hoping to elicit a response other than pity. You don’t have to just immediately take it apart and have that be your little secret between you, your dog and the Roseanne marathon you watched while completing the puzzle.
You get something tangible to show people. You get rings, a parade, commemorative DVDs, a banner, and the ability to complain to the media about how you’re still not respected enough after nobody believed in you and disrespected you before you won. There is no fruitless reward or only being stuck with the feeling of a job well done.
Constructing that championship puzzle is much like throwing together an actual puzzle. You have to put together the border of the puzzle and get all of the outside pieces in place before you can fill in the middle. It’s much like trying to get your franchise guys before you put role players around them.
When Mike D’Antoni was coaching Phoenix a few years ago, it seemed as if he didn’t quite have the border of his puzzle completed. Steve Nash, Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire were the foundation. And they tried to fill in the middle with guys like Joe Johnson, Quentin Richardson, Leandro Barbosa, Boris Diaw, Raja Bell, and Kurt Thomas, but nothing ever quite seem to truly work around their own “Big Three.”
It’s possible the third member of that Big Three just wasn’t the right fit. Marion’s defense was instrumental, but they never had a big guy who could protect the rim. Outside of Nash, they didn’t really have a guy who could create on the perimeter. They surrounded Nash and Amare with shooters, but the lack of shot creation away from Nash and being devoid of an inside defensive presence seemed to keep that puzzle from ever becoming complete.
After a lot of scrutiny despite not having anything remotely close to what his system would need to be successful, Mike D’Antoni might finally have all of the pieces he needs to complete this puzzle. Before you start freaking out and thinking I’m overhyping the Knicks after a handful of games, we have to stop remembering the bumbling franchise of the past decade and start looking at what they’re potentially building toward the future.
Don’t believe in Jeremy Lin because of the hype, the improbability of his rise and the turnover rate? That’s fine. Don’t believe Carmelo is capable of being part of a great offensive system? That’s cool too. Do you think Amare Stoudemire is done and JR Smith is still too shot happy? I’m good with those thoughts too.
There is nothing wrong with thinking the Knicks are still the Knicks and incapable of doing anything resembling championship level play. There are plenty of holes in their history and plenty of things that could go wrong with this current construct. But to ignore the fact that the potential of these pieces could end up being something special in a year or two just seems wrong to me.
Jeremy Lin is definitely not anything close to Steve Nash. He doesn’t come close to the efficient scoring or the passing of what Nash can do. But that doesn’t mean Lin isn’t capable of running D’Antoni’s system at an extremely high level, much like Nash did in his two MVP seasons in Phoenix. Amazingly, the numbers of Lin so far this season and Nash in his two MVP seasons are eerily similar.
Assuming Lin can continue to score with a high percentage of made field goals (and the high free throw attempts), D’Antoni finding his point guard for the pick-and-roll heavy system has been the biggest get the Knicks could have fallen into. Next, you need someone for Lin to pick-and-roll with and lucky for them they still have Amare Stoudemire.
I know what you’re thinking – isn’t Amare Stoudemire terrible now? I’ve never really been an Amare kind of guy, but he is still all kinds of deadly in the pick-and-roll. Yes, his numbers are down across the board this season, but he’s still 16th in the NBA in points per possession as a PnR man (making 57% of his shots) and he’s 36th in the NBA when cutting to the basket. He’s also eighth in the league at scoring off of offensive rebounds. Basically, find ways to get Amare around the basket and good stuff will still happen.
Playing off of that pick-and-roll, the Knicks need shooters to help space the floor and give Lin and Amare room to operate. Ever since Lin has emerged as the point guard of the Knicks, Steve Novak has soared into perimeter prominence with this team. With Lin on the floor, Novak is shooting 53% from 3-point range, as opposed to the 34% he’s shooting from deep when Lin is on the bench. He knows how to move without the ball and adjust to moving to where the help defense has a blind spot.
Adding J.R. Smith to the mix gives them the potential to use someone like Landry Fields less as a shooter and more as a slasher from the weak side. Smith’s ability to get hot from the outside gives them bucket loads of spacing capabilities, but he also has the capability of submarining an offense by taking all of the shots available to him.
Tyson Chandler fills the role of Shawn Marion for this team, while also filling the void of the defensive big man in D’Antoni’s prior engagements. Chandler is not only instrumental to their spacing on offense but he’s also the guy that covers them completely on defense. He’s doing the play calling of where screens are, how to play them and where the ball is headed. He can’t cover perimeter guys like Marion used to give the Suns, but they do have Iman Shumpert, who is more than capable of being a pest to opposing wing scorers.
The big question is Carmelo Anthony. I’m not the first to wonder if Carmelo can fit into the attack and I certainly won’t be the last. But I might be one of the few non-Knicks homers who believes it’s very workable for D’Antoni and his crew. In fact, it almost seems entirely too easy to fit Carmelo into the offense if he’s willing to stick to the gameplan.
Carmelo is the second best scorer as the PnR ball handler this season. He’s also fifth best scorer in the post this season. Having the ability to run a PnR with Lin and Amare on one side, have it be stopped and then kick it to Carmelo for a quick PnR with Chandler on the other side seems all kinds of deadly to me. Knowing you can dump it down to Melo on the low block to keep shooters and slashers waiting in the wings seems deadly too.
It’s not that Melo’s skillset doesn’t fit the offense at all because I believe it does. It’s getting his shot selection to fit the puzzle and realize that he’s not the initiator; that’s the key to getting him to fit in. In the traditional sense of what the NBA has mostly been about, the Knicks don’t have the right pieces to go in place, but in terms of what Mike D’Antoni’s system believes is needed, the Knicks seem to be nearly complete.
D’Antoni has had to be very patient with putting this team together because he was given nothing and even had that nothing gutted once it started to become something, in order to acquire the foundation of the puzzle he’s always wanted. He now has the defensive presence and the pieces to make a pick-and-roll work in so many variations. It doesn’t mean it’s going to work because we have to see if D’Antoni can fit everything into the right places.
Patience is the key to putting a puzzle together. Now we have to wait and see if it’s just another one of those puzzles that doesn’t come with a reward when it’s finished.
After all, puzzles kind of suck sometimes.