With a 15-25 record in the middle of January, it's safe to say the Knicks have been a frustrating and underwhelming team to watch this season. Still, despite such struggles, they stand only 5.5 games out of first place in the Atlantic Division, and just two games out of the eigth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Because of how poorly the entire conference has performed to date overall this season, the Knicks are relatively near contention. So close, yet so far.
This season appears to be one of those years where regardless of how much New York zeros in, it just won't happen. The team plays out many of its games (especially this season) in similar fashion. They'll hang around with an opponent for most of a contest, staying within striking distant while keeping the other team at bay with only a ten point lead or so, but when it comes down to the closing minutes, the Knicks often ultimately lack the killer instinct necessary to pull away.
This season appears to be frustrating in all the same ways.
Aside from lacking such a killer instinct or winning mentality, what's been holding the Knicks back most this season?
Last season, New York's roster was the oldest in all of the NBA. Players went down with injuries at the drop of a hat, and the team wasn't fully healthy during any long duration or point in the year. Still, somehow the Knicks continued to be resilient, bounced back, and performed well despite such shortcomings. It was a quality that certainly made them intimidating to most opponents, because it was clear the Knicks would always stand to be competitive regardless of the circumstances.
This season is very different, as no such swagger or extra pep in the Knicks' collective step appears present. Having overcome various injuries in the past, clearly such player absences hasn't been the factor that's ultimately dragged the Knicks down.
Instead, it's easy to place the blame on two individuals: Coach Mike Woodson and J.R. Smith. Ironically enough, one would have to believe the latter's fate is as equally tied to the former's. If Coach Woodson is eventually fired and/or let go from his post, one would think the Knicks' patience with Smith would run out even sooner without his top supporter in town. Even so, Woodson has visibly been losing faith in Smith this season as well.
This season, Coach Woodson has looked like a ship captain unaware of which direction to lead his men. He looks lost, unaware of which lineups to use or which players to play more minutes than others. He doesn't have a handle on which formula or receipe is the right one to result in success for the Knicks once again.
The injuries shouldn't matter as much, especially when considering the fact that Carmelo Anthony has been healthy all year long. The Knicks have very worthy talent from A to Z, and any sound coach should be able to help his team overcome such injuries while building a supportive enough lineup around the team's star.
Coach Woodson's inability to do so is largely to blame for New York's ongoing struggles, but the erratic tendancies of Smith have proven to be another major factor. Has the swingman lost his mojo, or is he simply out to an unecessarily long lunch?
There were plenty of reasons why Smith was the perfect running mate for Anthony last season. This season, much, if not all of that, has seemingly gone out the window.
Smith is sinking, and as he continues to crumble, he's taking the Knicks down with him. Because Coach Woodson doesn't know how to make adjustments and/or succeed without Smith involved, he's allowing the swingman to ultimately seal the fate of the team, and likely the coach not soon after.