With the Knicks just about halfway through preseason, and the regular season rapidly approaching, what better time than now to sit down and hammer out a season preview? Fellow Senior Staff Writer, Greg Kaplan, and I answered some questions about the roster and discussed our expectations for the team.
1.) What is the Knicks’ biggest strength coming into this season?
Greg: I’ve mentioned their depth before in previous posts, but I want to repeat myself now because this is going to be the Knicks best weapon this season. Remember, the only reason Lin-sanity even happened last year was because the Knicks were so shallow on their bench that Mike D’Antoni literally ran out of able-bodied options in front of an unproven rookie who two other teams had given up on.
This year, the Knicks head into the season with two quality point guards, two shooting guards who excel on opposite ends of the floor (Smith offensively, Brewer defensively) plus a third option coming back from injury, two star forwards, a shutdown center and a slew of veterans that will be coming off the bench. Kidd, Camby, Novak, Brewer, Smith/Shumpert, Thomas, Prigioni and Wallace represent the deepest bench the Knicks have had since the JVG Era.
Scott: I also have to say that the Knicks’ greatest strength is their depth, though their defensive potential comes in a close second. The Knicks are two-deep in pretty much every position, and in some cases, three-deep. Moreover, there’s just an abundance of talent at many positions; a case could be made that nearly every player on the roster deserves substantial playing time. At point guard, Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, and Pablo Prigioni all have shown they deserve time on the floor, from the two preseason games they’ve played. When healthy, the Knicks will also have Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, and Ronnie Brewer. The front-court isn’t quite as deep, but Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Steve Novak, Marcus Camby, and occasionally Ronnie Brewer are all players that can have tremendous impacts on the floor.
As I mentioned, the sheer talent of the individual players on the squad is pretty overwhelming. The Knicks obviously have two elite scorers in Anthony and Stoudemire, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and the NBA’s leader in rebounding rate the last few seasons in Chandler and Camby, the reigning leader in three-point percentage in Novak, two elite wing defenders in Brewer and Shumpert, and one of the most explosive bench scorers in Smith. On a night to night basis, the Knicks have the potential to simply befuddle opponents. Now it’s just a matter of getting it all to fit….
2.) Can Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony fit together?
Greg:Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Carmelo Anthony’s main concern when he came to New York was earning the extension the team gave him and becoming the star in the Garden us fans have desperately been searching for post-Ewing. It was apparent his mind wasn’t in the right place. He thought he had to do everything on his own in order to prove, once and for all, he is indeed a mega-star in the NBA. What ‘Melo truly needed was the 2012 Olympics. I think the games have pushed the mental reset button and he finally realizes that it’s less about Carmelo and more about the Knicks. In order for one to be successful in New York, the other needs to be.
With ‘Melo’s head in the right place and Amar’e playing out of D’Antoni’s system, the two seemed to be poised for a breakout of sorts. I think a large part of Stoudemire’s struggles last season had to do with the short schedule and his balky knees. STAT at his most useful level is not seeing more than 33 minutes a night and will have games where he’s playing in the 25-minute range. This isn’t a sprint, we’ve all heard that analogy. Stoudemire may still be Carmelo’s Robin, but he’ll be back to averaging 22-25 points per game and grabbing around 8 rebounds a night.
Scott: Yes, and I’ve always thought so. When the Knicks acquired Anthony in the midst of the 2010-11 season, he and Stoudemire did not experience that much trouble scoring on the court together, as they averaged over a combined 49 points per game. It wasn’t always the smoothest dynamic, but they didn’t get in each other’s way that much. Both players thrive on the wings, around the basket, and in Anthony’s case the high and low post. At each basket, there are two wings (the left and rght sides), two sides to post up (again, the left and right), and of course, one basket. They each can function on separate sides. However, there is only one painted area, and last year, a man named Tyson Chandler dominated that area for the Knicks. To me, that was a huge deterrent in Anthony and Stoudemire functioning effectively on the court as defenses were able to hang in the paint with Chandler and shorten the gap to the wings to defend Anthony and STAT.
It is up to Mike Woodson this year, now with a full training camp, to figure out a way for all three of the Knicks’ Big Three to get their own without continuously bumping into one another in their respective ‘spots’. Of course, injuries (both Stoudemire and Anthony) and state of mind (Anthony) will have an effect on their aibility to co-exist, but I simply believe that there must be a way to let two such potent offensive players work efficiently.
3.) What do you expect from Mike Woodson in his first full year?
Greg:Expectations for Mike Woodson in Full Year 1 are rather low. I’m not expecting him to be a major difference in everything the Knicks can or can’t accomplish this year. Coaches get too much credit when things are going well, and take way too much blame when things go wrong. However, it became clear that the D’Antoni system was failing in New York and the team needed a different direction to head in. Woodson’s defensive background certainly will help establish a better presence on the other end of the floor, but by Woodson preaching defense doesn’t automatically make the Knicks a better defensive team. Players like ‘Melo and Amar’e have to buy into it.
Unlike in years past, I truly believe this is the year the team as a whole takes the next step on the D. All of the perfect ingredients are there. Woodson’s approach, coupled with Carmelo Anthony coming off a monster Olympics and understanding he doesn’t need to be the star to win plus Tyson Chandler putting his foot down as a team leader, this team will be stronger. It doesn’t hurt that veterans like Marcus Camby, Jason Kidd and Rasheed Wallace are on the team now as well and can continue to reinforce the message the coaching staff is sending.
Scott: I admittedly was not the biggest fan of the extending of Mike Woodson (hehe). Woodson did a fine job in his 24 games as head coach last year, but the playoffs were an utter disaster (though not entirely his fault) and with coaches like Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan, and Stan Van Gundy on the market, an actual coaching search would’ve been nice. However, from what I’ve seen and heard from Woodson in training camp, I like the direction of the team. He has a veteran squad that’s nearly the antithesis of his perennial-second-round-ousted Atlanta Hawks, and he seems to have the respect of all of the players. I don’t question his ability to run a stingy defense (last year the Knicks were fifth in defensive efficiency with lesser talent), but to me, the ultimate deciding factor besides how far the Knicks get into the playoffs, of course, is whether he can create an efficient offense. There are some tremendous offensive players on this team, but there compatibility is questionable. Sure, I think Anthony and Stoudemire can fit together, but it’s not an ideal partnership, necessarily. Likewise, those offensive problems could really be compounded by the lack of consistent three-point threats on the roster. Woodson is going to have to run some really creative, motion-based offensive sets to get this team to score efficiently, and if he can, then he gets a gold star from me.
4.) General Expectations
Greg: This is a typical New York sports fan mentality. Last year, making the playoffs was enough given the circumstances surrounding the Knicks and all the turmoil they played through. In the offseason, they added talent and depth to the roster that they certainly lacked last year. Making the playoffs is no longer an end, its a means to an end.
There is a lot for the Knicks to prove. They need to prove that New York is and will forever be a Knicks-first town with the Nets now in Brooklyn. They need to prove that, on the right night, they can do more than just compete with the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics.
They need to prove that they’re still better than Eastern Conference teams that also improved in the summer (Philadelphia and Brooklyn, to name two). They need to prove that Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire are still stars, and are stars that can coexist. Mike Woodson needs to prove that his playoff maladies in Atlanta are a thing of the past and not a sign of who he is as a coach.
What I do expect from the Knicks this season, if all things go correctly: the Knicks will finish in the Top 5 in the East, they will upset either the Celtics or Bulls in the playoffs, and they will compete with the Miami Heat in the Conference Finals. Anything more than that is, well, unfair.
Scott: As the months have worn on, I’ve increasingly become a fan of the moves the front office made this summer (except for letting Jeremy Lin go. <3 u, Jeremy). Either that, or I’ve just become calloused to them. I think this is probably the deepest, most talented roster the Knicks have had since around 2000, and the players and coaches all seem committed to winning. However, winning in the NBA will not be that easy this year. Though, to me, the Eastern Conference only holds one true championship contender in the Miami Heat, I could easily see teams like the Celtics, Nets, Pacers, Sixers, or Bulls making bids to see the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. And relief will not be found out west as the Western Conference is even tougher than the East.
All that said, the Knicks’ immediate concern this season should be winning the Atlantic Division so they can lock up a top four seed. And to me, that’s a very achievable goal. In order for that to happen, though, the Knicks will almost certainly have to win over 50 games, as teams like Sixers, Nets, and Celtics will likely get over 45 wins each.
As it currently stands, I see the Knicks being an elite defensive team (top five again) and an average offensive squad, capable of winning the division if things go right. Official prediction: 50-32, 4th in the East.
Follow Greg Kaplan on Twitter: @Kaps_Locked
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