Despite a 21-28 record, it’s relatively clear that the Knicks can run and gun with even the quickest, agile, and most efficient offensive teams in the NBA. But when it comes slowing an opponent down, New York is often left stuck in the mud. Taking the court in Denver on Thursday night, the Knicks put up 118 points, dished out 32 assists, and shot 54% from the field and 38%. Such offensive prowess should be enough to win any given contest. Nevertheless, the Knicks are facing the uphill battle they are because, in turn, they also give up 130 points to a team like the Nuggets.
Whereas Jarrett Jack undoubtedly provides steady leadership when running the offense, he’s clearly a step too slow defensively. The veteran has difficulty containing opposing floor generals, especially when they attempt to attack and penetrate through the lane. Enes Kanter certainly doesn’t serve as the rim protector this team needs. He’s susceptible to committing fouls down low and allows opponents to spin around and evade him underneath the basket. Though he provides a strong rebounding presence, Kanter is slow to react when it comes to properly contesting shots.
For the Knicks, the players at the point guard and center positions should set the tone for how the team wants to conduct itself defensively. Jack and Kanter are lacking in that area and the rest of the team is struggling as a result. New York’s team/zone defense has been especially atrocious on this west coast road trip, as the group often leaves too much room for opposing wing players to go to work and make it rain. Leading the way for the Nuggets on Thursday, Gary Harris’ first four converted field goals all came from beyond the arc. He led the way with 23. Denver had a well established inside/outside game with Nikola Jokic. The big man flirted with a triple-double, tallying 18 points, 10 assists, and 7 rebounds. When not looking to find perimeter shooters across the court, Jokic attacked the basket and went to the charity stripe nine times. The high-scoring duo led seven Nuggets in double-figures and it was clear this team was moving the ball seamlessly. With each passing quarter, they seemed intent on running New York out of the gym. Given the lack of defensive awareness and respective movement on account of the Knicks, Denver simply took what the defense was giving them. As fate would have it, what they were getting just happened to be exactly what any team would want.
The Knicks put up no fight defensively. Regardless of how well the offense is flowing, this team will absolutely not win if they’re not contending open shots or attempting to limit spacing. Coach Jeff Hornacek appears to have somewhat of a clue, opting to start Ron Baker in Tim Hardaway Jr.’s absence. Baker is a quintessential role model for “balls to the wall” defense, but the rest of his team has failed to follow suit. It remains to be seen just how long Coach Hornacek will have light the appropriate fire under this team. What they need to do is clear. The players for accomplishing such a task may not be an ideal match, but it’s up to Hornacek to get the most he can out of each player.