State of the Garden: Chicago Just Got Another Rebound

If I’m ever late for anything, there are plenty of things to which I can point the blame. Maybe it’s the extra 5 minutes in the shower. Maybe the traffic lights didn’t work in my favor or the subway decided it was convenient to run on the local tracks. But more likely, it’s probably that I didn’t care about being punctual.

Last night, YOUR New York Knickerbockers were outrebounded by the Chicago Bulls. That sentence isn’t that dramatic, until I tell you that the margin of glasswork was +18. That sentence has a touch of flavor, but I’ll take it a step further by telling you that the Bulls had 22 offensive boards compared to the Knicks’ 29 on the defensive end. So when Chicago was on offense, shooting an I-would-sign-up-for-this-everyday 43% from the field, they battled to a -7 deficit on the 57% of attempts that did not go through the net. On defense, a team has an easier time establishing the positioning required to grab more rebounds than the opposition. The vast majority of possessions will have most, if not all, defenders playing between their man and the basket, especially without the use of a zone defense.

Now let’s see: if the defender is between their man and the basket, the defender is closer to the hoop, and thus has the advantage of advancing the ancient basketball tradition of boxing out. In this scenario, it is embarrassing for a defense to yield a +7 advantage on the boards when they are protecting their own rim. So what happened?
There are plenty of reasons why the Knicks didn’t rebound the ball well last night:

1. They are not a good rebounding team

When the team signed Tyson Chandler, head coach Mike D’Antoni declared that the best frontcourt in the world played their home games at Madison Square Garden. Normally, when you think of an imposing front line, you think of big dudes who will take advantage of you whenever their size gives them such an opportunity.

Carmelo Anthony is 6’8″, 230 pounds.
Amar’e Stoudemire is 6’11” and weighs about 2.5 bills (although he’s listed at 260, he’s been doing extra work to get down to 245, in response to criticism that he has lost explosiveness).
Tyson Chandler is 7’1″, 240.

Big dudes. The three of them average a little less than 24 rebounds per game, and those numbers don’t exactly paint a picture of doom and gloom. But any seasoned fan will tell you that it’s just not enough, even before we witnessed Chicago’s dominance last night.

The best rebounder of the trio is undoubtedly Carmelo Anthony. I thought Anthony had a decent game last night. KOBEsh even texted me to say that sometimes, the man puts on a display that will convince you that he’s one of the best we have in this league (Hubie Brown voice). Melo’s aggressiveness on the offensive end leads to several opportunities for offensive putbacks, and his second jump differentiates his game from most of today’s player. I’m not going to complain about his rebounding.

STAT and Tyson just don’t box out. Ever. If you watched the scrums last night, you’d think that Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, and Carlos Boozer had cooties or something. It is beyond frustrating to witness. I can’t really explain Amar’e’s inability to get tough rebounds consistently, nor can I explain Tyson’s stubbornness to try and outjump his opponents without first trying to seal them off. The basics of boardwork are lost with these two guys, and while I love them for other reasons, I just can’t expect them to dominate the glass.

2. The spacing offense discourages the team from getting dirty

You know, I probably have to apologize for finding another way to blame D’Antoni for something. You’re probably tired of it, but I’m more tired of writing about it. (Just kidding, I could write 40,000 words on how much I hate the Mustachioed Defense-Averse coach.) But it’s an interesting theory that came to mind last night.

MDA’s spacing offense demands constant movement from each player. Aside from the occasional off-ball screen, there is very little physical contact between the offense and the defense. And to achieve MDA’s goals, this makes sense. More physical contact means that each player will not be in constant motion. Even the pick-and-roll plays feature slip screens, in which the screener leaves his position right as the on-ball defender is about to make contact with the pick. And last night, we even got a higher dose of Chandler’s “ass-screens” — he unbelievably got away with protruding his rear end into the defender, taking the contact into a meaty and less vulnerable part of his body.

The Knicks have gotten used to avoiding contact for the sake of a fluid offense. And on the best of nights, the team’s offense is nearly unstoppable. But as the influx of new players in the last 2 years have proved, an offense like this is a work in progress unless the core of the team remains unchanged. So the Knicks are forced to spend more time watching film and running sets in which the basics of the spacing offense are drilled into their heads. That means more walk-throughs and less scrimmages. More watching and less playing. More D’Antoni, less everybody else.

When a human being engages in the same behavior over a consistent period of time, their actions become habits that become tougher to break. So when ESPN ran “Wired,” a segment in which we get to see the coach talking to his players during a timeout, it was amusing to hear MDA ask his team to “dig in” on defense. Teaching an old dog new tricks is futile with words alone. It’s so easy for us to complain that the team doesn’t play hard-nosed defense, but can we realistically expect these guys to be Oakley, Mason, and Starks? Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. In the Bockers’ case, well, you get the picture.

3. They just don’t care

Analysts will say this all the time: rebounding is all about effort. Of course, this assumes that each player has high-caliber instincts and that each player possesses several foundational talents such as a vertical leap and hand-eye coordination. But regardless, they’re still correct. If you want something, you’ll go get it: rebounds are no different than anything else in life.

There were many things that the Knicks did well last night. On the second-night of a back-to-back, they went on the road and almost beat a better team, regardless of injuries to the home squad. The difference, obviously, was the effort on the glass. Those countless offensive rebounds Chicago stole from us reminded me of defensive errors on the baseball diamond: give a quality team more than 3 outs in an inning, and they will burn you.

Six losses in a row, and the bandwagon fans are leaving town. But we will still be here. Reward us. Please?

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