They are 1-2, with one inspiring victory over the Celtics, deflating losses to the Warriors and the Lakers, and a rotation thinned by injury.
Is it possible their extensive list of ills needs only a single solution? Could one player change everything? Is it too soon to declare that Baron Davis — an aging point guard with a balky back — is the key to the Knicks’ season?
Three games is too small a sample to draw any definitive conclusions. But that last question could reasonably be answered with a “yes,” or at least a “probably.”
The Knicks are desperate for playmaking, which a healthy Davis can provide. Amar’e Stoudemire badly needs a skilled pick-and-roll partner, which Davis can be. needs someone else to run the offense, to let him focus on his best talent — scoring. Davis could also be the third scoring option the Knicks quite clearly lack.
Davis’s return to action would bump Toney Douglas — a poor fit at point guard — back to the bench, where he would strengthen a listless second unit.
But Davis’s Knicks debut is at least five weeks away, a full recovery is not assured, and it may take time for him to acclimate to his new team. By then, the Knicks will have played at least 25 games in a 66-game schedule.
Is it crazy to place such a burden on Davis, a 32-year-old point guard who is coming off two subpar seasons and who has not played since April? Maybe, but the Knicks’ season might depend on it.
“I know where I can fit in, and I know where I can help this team,” Davis said Friday, before the team practiced at the University of Southern California.
Asked if Davis’s return would change the Knicks’ fortunes, Coach said, “Obviously.”
“But we’ve got to win games in the meantime,” he said. “And we can do that.”
The Knicks will try to salvage the road trip Saturday in Sacramento, in a game that Anthony immediately labeled a “must-win” after . Stoudemire’s availability will be a game-time decision because of a sprained left ankle he sustained Thursday night.
Even before the injury, Stoudemire had become a primary concern. He shot 9 for 31 in the two losses, alternately firing errant midrange jump shots and plowing into traffic in the lane. D’Antoni said that Stoudemire was “trying too hard,” a description he applied to most of the team.
The Knicks’ offense, their supposed strength because of Stoudemire and Anthony, has been shockingly inept at critical times. Poor spacing and ball movement have made them easier to defend — a trend illuminated by their total assists (47) and turnovers (44) through three games. Stoudemire, who is at his best moving without the ball, has perhaps been affected the most by the stagnation.
“He becomes only a jump shooter or driving into a crowd,” D’Antoni said.
In three games, Stoudemire has attempted 22 shots from 16 feet or deeper, according to , but just 11 shots at the rim and only six between 3 and 9 feet. Last season, 63.6 percent of Stoudemire’s shots came at the rim.
In Phoenix, Stoudemire blossomed into an All-Star alongside Steve Nash, one of the game’s great pick-and-roll guards. Last season, after some early struggles, Stoudemire developed a solid pick-and-roll partnership with Raymond Felton. He has no such rhythm with Douglas, whose point-guard skills are lacking.
“It definitely affects him, because what he does best is the pick and roll,” D’Antoni said of Stoudemire. “But he’s good enough where he’s going to score a lot of points anyway. We just got to figure out how to get him the ball, on the move, with the space that he can go. If we do that, then he’s really good.”
This is the gamble the Knicks took when they chose to waive Chauncey Billups, a veteran point guard, in favor of signing Tyson Chandler.
Anthony took on the bulk of the ball-handling Thursday, but that is an experiment in progress. His five assists against the Lakers were offset by five turnovers. He had two turnovers and no assists in the fourth quarter, when the Knicks went 3 for 14 from the field.
The Knicks are offering no official timetable on Davis. D’Antoni mentioned a five-week window Thursday, but on Friday he admitted that it’s just a rough expectation, not a set schedule. Davis is sticking to the 8-to-10-week estimate he offered upon joining the Knicks, which would place his return in mid-February.
Once Davis, Iman Shumpert and Jared Jeffries are healthy, the Knicks’ rotation will be significantly stronger, and D’Antoni can stop relying on Renaldo Balkman, Mike Bibby and Josh Harrellson to hold a lead. Everyone’s job should be easier.
In normal years, the Knicks would still be in the preseason after five games, with room to tinker and adjust. More than most teams, the Knicks needed time to integrate an overhauled roster — a point seemingly lost on anxious fans, who were expecting instant title contention.
“There’s no need to panic right now,” Stoudemire said. “It’s only been three games.”