"A Sense Of Where You Are" is the title of a must-read book written about New York Knicks legend Bill Bradley. It is also something that won't likely be attributed to the current crop of Knickerbockers any time soon. Twice in the span of three days, the 2013-2014 Knicks committed mindless, late-game gaffes that indicate the team has no sense of where it is in any given situation.
The classic book written by John McPhee, then reporting for the New Yorker, chronicled Bradley's sensational senior year at Princeton. Aside from taking the reader along for the ride during Princeton's run to the 1965 Final Four, McPhee profiled the college hoops standout then tipped to be both the next Oscar Robertson and a future president of the United States. Employing the attention to detail and clear prose that would eventually win him the Pulitzer Prize, McPhee captured the completist practice regimen that honed Bradley's shotmaking ability and court awareness from his earliest days playing hoops on his family's macadam "yard" in Crystal City, Missouri.
"When you've played basketball for a while, you don't need to look at the basket when you're in close like this," Bradley told McPhee, describing a no-look, over-the-shoulder shot. "You develop a sense of where you are."
As McPhee recognized, this phrase not only explained the reason Bradley believed practice made circus shots routine but it also captured the extreme mindfulness that he played the game and lived his entire life.
Despite having entered the league as the No. 1 overall selection in the 2006 NBA Draft, Andrea Bargnani does not seem to have acquired such a sense where he is or what he should be doing in any given situation. Of course, teammate Carmelo Anthony and head coach Mike Woodson, both far more respected in the sport than Bargnani, haven't exactly distinguished themselves as especially sensible either as of late.
With the Knicks clinging to a 94-92 lead over the Milwaukee Bucks in overtime on Wednesday night, Andrea Bargnani committed arguably the most egregious mental lapse of the season. After Knicks center Tyson Chandler controlled the rebound of a missed two-point shot by Carmelo Anthony with 17 seconds remaining, he passed the ball out to Bargnani beyond the three-point arc. With 14 seconds left, the Knicks had the lead, the ball and appeared to have the game won. They didn't because Bargnani inexplicably took a three-point shot.
Had Bargnani simply held the ball or passed it to a teammate (who didn't shoot it), then the Bucks would've been forced to foul in order to regain possession for time expired. Provided they could hit their free throws, the Knicks almost certainly would've extended their lead and won the game after that initial overtime. Instead, Bargnani missed his ill-advised three-point shot and the Bucks grabbed the rebound. Without having to send the Knicks to the free throw line, they had the ball back and a chance to tie or take the lead with 11 seconds remaining.
The broadcast team calling the game for Fox Sports Wisconsin was stunned.
"He shouldn’t have shot it," Jon McGlocklin said after Ekpe Udoh grabbed the rebound for Milwaukee.
“Oh my gosh,” Jim Paschke chimed in.
The announcers weren't the only ones flabbergasted by Bargnani's thoughtless shot. His own teammates were stunned.
(GIF via @SBNationGIF)
After a timeout, John Henson scored the game-tying basket to force the second overtime. New York would prevail, with J.R. Smith improbably hitting the go-ahead basket, but the mood was not exactly celebratory after the 107-101 win.
“It was a mistake,” Bargnani admitted after the game, according to Al Iannazzone of Newsday. “It was a bad decision.”
It was a bad decision that came two days after some bad indecision cost the Knicks a potential win against the Washington Wizards. In that case, the Knicks were clinging to a 101-100 advantage in the final seconds when they transformed a potential win into a cringe-worthy loss with lackadaisical defense and absent-minded offense in the final seconds. At both ends of the floor, there seemed to a little grasp of the significance of the moment.
With time winding down in the fourth quarter, Washington's Bradley Beal eluded Beno Udrih on the left wing and then strolled through the wide-open paint for an easy go-ahead layup. There was no help defense for Udrih, who was certainly overmatched in the one-on-one situation. Following Beal's make, Udrih inbounded the ball to Anthony with six seconds remaining. The six-time All-Star then casually dribbled the ball up the floor, actually slowing as he approached center court. Apparently expecting Woodson to call a timeout to set up a final play, Anthony didn't seem to be prepared to take the game's final shot. When it became apparent that no timeout was coming and time was running out, he managed to get off an off-balance three-point attempt. It missed.
“I probably should have called the timeout at the end,’’ Woodson told reporters after the 102-101 loss, via the New York Daily News. “But the ball was in Melo’s hands before I could even react. That is on me."
The ball may have been in his hands but Anthony seemed comfortable letting the blame rest on Woodson's shoulders.
“Mike’s taking the heat,’’ Anthony said. “If he said it’s his fault, it’s his fault."
Given the GIF-inspiring comedy of these two end-game miscues, one might begin to wonder if the Knicks are throwing these games, tanking to improve their chances of landing one of the superstar college freshman likely to headline the 2014 NBA Draft, maybe hoping for the next Bradley. But these Knicks, perhaps more inept off the court than on, have no first-round selection in 2014. The Knicks shipped that pick to Denver when trading for Anthony. While NBA rules require them to keep their 2015 first-round pick (teams cannot trade consecutive first-round selections), the team's 2016 first-round selection is actually tied up in the trade with Denver as well as the one that brought Bargnani to the Big Apple. While the final ownership of the selection depends on how the teams finish, the Knicks will be missing out on much of the top talent emerging from the college ranks over the next three seasons. If published media reports are to believed, the Knicks have already discussed shipping away their 2018 first-round pick as well.
The prioritization of short-term roster reinforcements over adding talent via the draft -- where the team found Bradley and Walt Frazier in 1965 -- by the New York front office suggests the uniformed members of the organization aren't the only ones without an accurate sense of where they are.