Once the Carmelo Anthony trade was made official many people were left wondering how the Knicks were going to get stops on the defensive end. Many people (including myself) mentioned that the Knicks would have to outscore teams if they wanted to win, because with Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, and an aging Chauncey Billups sharing the court they would be giving up 100+ points night after night. This simply has not been the case.
Despite running into some bumps in the road, (the two Cleveland games) New York's defense has been better since the Anthony trade. How much better? The Knicks were giving up 112.4 points per 100 possessions before the trade, but since the trade, the Knicks have been giving up 109.7 points per 100 possessions.
So how has the Knicks defense gotten better despite adding a poor individual defender in Carmelo Anthony? Well, so far, the team's total effort on the defensive end has been much better. This effort has lead to more close-outs and contested jumpers, resulting in more misses for Knicks' opponents, who have been held to a True Shooting Percentage (TS%) of 54.7 percent. Before the Anthony trade, Knicks' opponents were posting a TS% of 55.7 percent.
This possession is a perfect example of the Knicks' new-found effort. It starts with Toney Douglas pestering Kirk Hinrich the length of the court. The Hawks try to set up Marvin Williams on the post, but Carmelo Anthony pushes Williams off of his spot. The Hawks are able to get Williams the ball in the post, but the Knicks bring help, forcing a kick-out pass. The result is a three for Josh Smith in the corner with a defender closing out on him, something the Knicks are willing to give up.
On this possession, the Heat are trying to set up an isolation for LeBron James on the block. Instead of just watching James work, which is something they have done in the past, they send double teams at him in an attempt to cross him up. It works, because instead of backing Bill Walker all the way down to the rim, he tries to hit a turnaround jumper. After losing the basketball and then regaining control, James misses the jumper.
In this clip, the Heat first try to run a pick-and-roll, but the Knicks are able to stop it as Shawne Williams shows until Walker gets through the screen. After that, James sits at the top of the key with the basketball. The Knicks' defenders are in proper help position, ready if James attacks, but also ready to close out on their man if the pass is made. The latter happens and the defense is able to contest James Jones' three-pointer, forcing a miss.
In addition to giving more effort and playing a bit smarter on defense, the Knicks have been doing a better job of forcing turnovers since the trade, forcing an opponent turnover rate (TO%) of 17.1 percent since the trade, up from 15.2 percent pre-trade. This is important because when a team forces a turnover, they are ending an opponent's possession without a shot attempt. Without a shot attempt, there is no chance that the opponent will score:
When it comes to forcing turnovers, it is again all about effort. Here, the play starts with the Heat trying to get James on the post, but Anthony is able to force him off of his spot. James eventually gets the basketball and throws a skip pass to Mario Chalmers in the corner. Chalmers attacks baseline, but Amar'e Stoudemire is there with the help to turn him away, forcing him back towards the free throw line. Chalmers picks up his dribble and tries to get a pass off, but he throws it out of bounds.
Here, the Hawks try to run a quick-hitting backdoor cut with Joe Johnson entering the ball to the high post from the wing and then cutting to the basket. Johnson actually beats his man, Landry Fields, with the cut but Fields doesn't give up and he sticks his hand up. It sounds simple, but Fields getting his hand up in the passing lane is enough to deflect the basketball off of Johnson's hands out of bounds.
One addition that Knicks' fans should be happy about is that of Jared Jeffries, and this possession is the reason why. Jeffries is a smart defender who is willing to give up his body on the defensive end. Here, he keeps his eye on the basketball while defending his man off the ball and as Smith attacks the rim, Jeffries gets his feet outside the restricted area and takes the contact for the offensive foul.
Also, since the trade, the Knicks have also seen increased effort on the defensive glass. While it hasn't shown up in the numbers yet (opponent's offensive rebound percentage is 29.1 percent with Anthony, up from 28 percent before the trade), the effort level is so high that I expect to see this number improve for the Knicks. This is important, because other than turnovers, defensive rebounds are how defenses end opponent possessions without points being scored. Being able to secure a higher percentage of total available defensive rebounds means the Knicks are able to limit their opponents scoring opportunities:
Here, you see the shot go up from the elbow. As it goes up, four New York Knicks are in the paint, boxing out and keeping the opponent away from the rim. As the ball comes off of the rim, Fields is able to jump up and grab the rebound.
In this clip, you see another example of the Knicks boxing out. As Dwyane Wade takes the three-pointer from the top of the key, Stoudemire boxes out Erik Dampier as Shawne Williams boxes out Chris Bosh. With these box outs set, Stoudemire has the ball fall into his hands.
On the defensive end, the Knicks seem to be giving more effort, showing that they care on that side of the basketball. To me, it seems this effort seems to be a direct result of the media saying New York can't defend anyone. They seem to have taken that personally and want to prove people wrong, and they now care about playing defense. This added effort has led to more turnovers and more misses for their opponents. As of right now, it is too early to tell if this is something that can continue, but if the Knicks keep this effort-level up, their defense will continue to improve.