CHICAGO --At a $100 million pricetag, the Knicks were hoping that Amar'e Stoudemire would contend with the likes of two-time MVP LeBron James to lead the NBA in a major statistical category. What they (and LeBron, to that matter) certainly didn't expect was that the category would be turnovers. After four games, both LeBron and Amar'e are averaging an NBA-worst 6.2 turnovers per game.
Mike D'Antoni found something "encouraging" in the fact that his team was able to win tonight's game against the Bulls mostly without Stoudemire, making a statistical impact on offense. He did, however, have an impact on the game because his presence drew so much of the attention from Tom Thibodeau's defensive scheme that it allowed so many open three-pointers, which, on this night, were going in (16-for-24).
Before this game, Thibodeau's Bulls were the stingiest against the trey, as they held opponents to an 18 percent clip in their first three games of the season. But with so much emphasis on clogging the middle and zoning the perimeter the Knicks had good looks from downtown. Credit Raymond Felton (10 assists) for finding them, too.
As poor of a game that Stoudemire had offensively -- he missed 16 of 21 shots and recorded eight turnovers -- he still contributed as a defensive magnet. When he was on the bench, it was impossible not to notice how much better the Bulls were in guarding against the three. For instance, of the Knicks' 16 three-pointers, 14 of them were scored with Stoudemire (37:21) on the court. All three of his assists were passes out to the perimeter for three-pointers.
What remains to be seen is if the Knicks can continue to prove they can knock down those open looks and force defenses out of their disguised zones, which should open up the middle so Stoudemire can work. But even when that happens, what we're learning about Amar'e is as much as he is a willing passer, he is just not very effective as a face-up scorer in iso situations, especially when the double-team comes the minute he puts the ball on the floor. Stoudemire isn't adverse to passing, he's just not really good at it once he starts his move. Thus the eight turnovers tonight. As unsightly as Brian Scalabrine in a Bulls uniform.
What the Knicks still need to utilize is his greatest weapon: explosiveness, which is most effective in the pick-and-roll. As strong as Felton has played at the start of the season, he still has yet to figure out how to get the ball to Stoudemire off the screen, where there is a seam for only a second and the ball has to get there. It's a timing play and one that Chris Duhon, for all his faults, was very good at in feeding David Lee over the last two years. But let's be honest, teams weren't scheming to stop David Lee the way they are to stop Stoudemire, who can embarrass you in many ways if you let him have just a little bit of room in the paint.
Danilo Gallinari finally regained his shooting touch in this game, which allowed you to see why he is so important to this offense. If he can hit those open shots afforded to him because of Stoudemire's presence in the paint, the Knicks might have something here. But it will be up to Gallinari to do for Stoudemire what Stoudemire does for him, in that he has to be a threat. One of Gallo's issues is he can disappear for a while in a game and that makes it easier for opposing defenses.
There may be nights when Gallinari will get tons of shots. Tonight he was efficient, with just 11 FGAs (he made seven) and 6-for-6 from the line.Stoudemire took 10 more shots, was 4-for-5 from the line and seemed to only have open looks from mid-range, which he can hit, but you prefer to have him closer to the basket.
And if defenses continue to smother Stoudemire, it makes no sense to continually feed him the ball 20 feet away from the basket and clear out for him to go one-on-one. Ball movement, not ball stoppage, is what makes this system work. I asked Amar'e after the game if he would be OK with deferring to others on offense to counter opposing defenses.
"Yeah, no problem at all," he said. "No problem at all."
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* - Toney Douglas said he noticed that Derrick Rose never checked back into the game, even after the Bulls rallied to get within nine points with five minutes to go. But, he added, "Hey, that's not my concern. I really don't care about that."
Douglas relishes these games when he gets to go up against marquee point guards. After taking on the explosive Rose (did you see the dunk he had in the second quarter?), he'll face lightning-quick rookie John Wall on Friday at the Garden.
"Yes, I am, I'm looking forward to it," said Douglas, who had four steals to go along with his career-high 30 points against the Bulls. "I just got to get some rest and watch some film on him."
Douglas' offense has obviously come a long way since he arrived, but he said he came into the league focused on being a great defensive player. So when he goes into this matchups against other great guards, he wants to test his defense against their offense.
"I always like to compete and see where I'm at on the defensive end," Douglas said. "I'm never going to run away from competition. Ever."
* - Asbestos might be the savior of the season. The air quality concerns at MSG earlier this week, which led to the closing of the Garden, caused the postponement of Tuesday's game against the loaded Orlando Magic and a potential 1-3 start and who knows what would have come out of that game. Instead, with the "snow day," the Knicks got an extra day of rest and went into this back-to-back with the Bulls and Wizards with fresher legs and, off the win in Chicago, growing confidence. The next game is Sunday afternoon against the 76ers.
* - Anthony Randolph made his season debut against the Bulls, but was hardly a factor in 2:53, with one rebound and two quick fouls. Randolph didn't seem to thrilled about coming out so soon after his second foul, but Mike D'Antoni didn't seem to thrilled about the 6-10 forward coming into the game with little energy.
* - Timofey Mozgov has also yet to make an impact in a game, as his minutes have been limited (10:16 against the Bulls) so far in the first four games. Mozgov seems to get confused on offense too often and it breaks the flow. Ronny Turiaf has come off the bench to provide a great deal of energy and effort on the boards and defensively, but I wouldn't expect a change in the lineup too soon. It is valuable to have players like Turiaf, Douglas and Wilson Chandler, who are all versatile, come off the bench.
* - Friday the Knicks get their Garden back. Every player I spoke with was relieved they wouldn't have to set up temporary quarters at the Izod Center or anywhere else. Considering the asbestos concern -- which have been dismissed -- I wondered what fans will dream up when they come to the game Friday. There was a time not too long ago when fans came to the Garden wearing bags over their heads, for obvious reasons. But will we see masks? "I wouldn't be surprised if they did," said Turiaf. "And I wouldn't be mad at them."
* - I asked Felton about his moment in the home opener against Portland, when after a big basket late in the game he held out his jersey and gestured to the "New York" on the front. "I was just saying, 'New York'," he said. "I mean, we've got to make a statement this year . . . It was just a sign to tell everybody, look out for New York. Before it's over with, everybody's going to know about the New York Knicks."
To paraphrase the Eagles, we haven't seen that kind of spirit here since 1999. Really, the last decade hasn't included a whole lot of personal pride in the team.
"It ain't that way now," Felton said quickly. "Things have changed. As the season goes along, you'll see what I'm talking about."