Knicks fans have been hopeful that good things are on the horizon for the team with the squad appearing at full strength. With Baron Davis and J.R. Smith recently making their debuts, and the likes of Carmelo Anthony and Josh Harrellson returning from their respective injuries, the squad looked poised to make some noise.
Tough losses to the Celtics and the Mavericks this week have suggested otherwise, leaving many to question and/or ponder what may be the underlining problems. What, exactly, is standing in the way of the team's success?
Tonight the answer to that question is unfortunately easy. Heading into their matchup with the Spurs in San Antonio this evening, the Knicks will be without two of their best defensive players in Tyson Chandler and Jared Jeffries. Chandler will sit out tonight with a strained last hamstring, and Jeffries will reportedly be out through Friday's game while nursing a sore knee.
Such absences will make things difficult for the Knicks, as both members of the Spurs' backcourt, Manu Ginobili and M.V.P. candidate Tony Parker, thrive by attacking the basket. Also not to be forgotten for the Spurs is Tim Duncan, who obviously is most comfortable in the post.
Who will be that defensive force tonight, providing such a presence to throw off the Spurs' offensive strategy? Rookie Josh Harrellson will start in place of Chandler at center, and will likely handle the bulk of minutes in the post with both Chandler and Jeffries out.
Though the team is clearly left to cope with two huge voids, giving Harrellson this opportunity might not be so bad. In his return to the court from a fractured wrist, Harrellson was one of the few players to have made a positive impact during his team's frustrating loss to the Mavs. He led his team in plus/minus with 13 while grabbing 7 rebounds and 2 steals in just 13 minutes.
The Kentucky product threw his body around against the Mavericks, hustling and bustling to throw off Dallas' big men as they attacked the basket. The Knicks are surely to depend on him inside against the Spurs.
Furthermore mixing things up tonight, the Knicks will also start Iman Shumpert at shooting guard, relegating Landry Fields to the bench.
Though Fields (who has started 118 out of his first 120 NBA games) had a slow start to the season, he began to find his groove once again while playing alongside Jeremy Lin. This week however, he's struggled to make his impact felt, appearing out of the game mentally. He did grab 10 rebounds and dish out 4 assists against the Mavericks last night, but looked utterly lost while on the court against the Celtics.
The Knicks have stuck with Fields consistently in the starting lineup largely in part due to his attitude on the court. By showing faith in Fields, the coaching staff has willed him towards making strides to break out of various slumps. The current slump perhaps proves to be too pressing with the overall team struggling and looking for answers as to why.
Shumpert has been a huge spark plug for the Knicks off the bench all season long. He's shown promise, and has good chemistry with his teammates. Being on the same page with many of his teammates has helped the rookie on the offensive end as he attacks the basket. His impact has clearly been evident, and the team is obviously hopeful he will do more of the same as he makes a splash to begin to the game instead.
All this recognized, both players' effectiveness may be due to the units in which they play in. Shumpert's provided boost may come about as he shines with second unit players who aren't as aggressive. At the flip side, Fields grants his team all the various intangibles. He's been able to fit right in with the starters previously because he plays fundamentally well alongside the team's offensive firepower. His off-the-ball type impact may not be as heavily felt coming off the pine.