As the All-Star break approaches us, along with the trade deadline, there are three boats your favorite team is swimming in. You have the contending boat with teams like the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Clippers, and San Antonio Spurs.
Next are the teams who will play more than 82 games this season and are hoping to catch fire at the right time. These are teams like the Brooklyn Nets, Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, Indiana Pacers, and the Milwaukee Bucks.
The third boat is the boat no team wants to be in. These are teams that are already planning for the lottery: Washington Wizards, New Orleans Hornets, Sacramento Kings, Charlotte Bobcats, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Phoenix Suns.
The Knicks are in a prime position to be a serious championship contender this season. With only 32 games left after the All-Star break, there are some second half goals they should set for themselves to make sure they are at full strength when playoff time comes. Let’s take a look.
1. Define the Rotation: The Knicks front office has given Mike Woodson plenty of talent to choose from to put in his rotation. With Amar’e Stoudemire coming back and playing with the All-Star capability he has, he and J.R. Smith have been magnificent off the bench together. When Marcus Camby and possibly Rasheed Wallace returning, Woodson is going to have to start defining roles for his players.
His backcourt is going to consist of Iman Shumpert, Pablo Prigioni, Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton, James White, and J.R. Smith. With Shumpert being the only true 2-guard, sometimes playing the 3, Woodson should have a healthy rotation of point guards with Kidd, Felton, and Prigioni.
Smith has happily accepted his role as the sixth man and has been thriving under Woodson. The frontcourt is where Woodson will have trouble finding minutes for everybody. Tyson Chandler and Carmelo Anthony are obviously no-brainers, and with Amar’e playing like the way he is, he is a no-brainer as well.
When the bench is at full strength, Woodson will have Steve Novak, Camby, Wallace, Chris Copeland, Kurt Thomas, and Ronnie Brewer to choose from.
Novak has a lot of empty minutes especially against the better teams, but teams still respect his shot. Camby will get on the court when he is healthy, and you have to think so will Rasheed.
Thomas, Copeland, and Brewer are most likely going to spend most of the games at the end of the bench.
Woodson must define who comes in when. He has to make a big lineup, a defensive lineup, a small lineup and a shooting lineup. I fully trust Woodson’s abilities to have the Knicks fully knowing their role on the team and what they expect of them individually.
2. Acquire Another Shooter: I know I just went off on how the Knicks have a rotation problem and have more than enough talent, but they need another shooter. Novak was one of the best in the business last year and is still a threat, but he is very predictable. Novak is a one-dimensional player and if his three-point shot isn’t falling, he is pretty useless on the court. He will stretch the defense out but that’s about it. If the Knicks can get another shooter in addition to Smith, Anthony, and Kidd, their offense will add another layer. A pure shooter like Kyle Korver, Mike Miller, or Ray Allen would be perfect. I’m not saying the Knicks can acquire a big name shooter at the deadline, but it would defiantly help them come playoff time.
3. Stay Healthy: This is the Knicks team fans have been waiting for. The window is open now for a championship. Barring any major injury, the Knicks should expect to make a deep playoff run. As the Knicks season dwindles down, Woodson should start cutting his big players minutes into more reasonable playing time. Carmelo, Kidd, Stoudemire, Felton, Shumpert, Camby all have been hurt and missed games this season, so resting them towards the end in preparation for playoff run can be very beneficial, especially for the veterans.
Smith and Chandler are the only Knicks who have played every game so far, so resting and keeping them healthy towards the end would be ideal. Every Knick player is vital to the team. One major injury or fatigue can destroy their championship dreams.
4. Get Iman Shumpert and Amar’e Stoudemire at Full Strength: Knicks’ fans have been supporting Shumpert since he laced up his shoes and they saw what he could do on the court. We know he is a defensive game-changer and brings energy on the offensive side. Both he and Stoudemire are still on a minute’s limit, which I’m ok with since it avoids another knee injury and the Knicks are winning.
When Woodson lets go of the leash, we are all interested to see what these two can do at full strength for an entire game. Amar’e has been dominating and playing highly efficiently, and most importantly, he is accepting the role Woodson gave him.
How many superstars would fully agree coming off the bench and accepting their role as not being the main guy anymore? Amar’e is a stand-up guy and made it cool to be a Knicks. Hats off to him.
5. Pay Attention to Seeding: The Knicks and Heat have been 1-2 in the Eastern Conference for the entire season. Even though the Knicks defeated the Heat twice by 20 points this season, it’s no secret that the Heat are the top dog. The Knicks should do their best to avoid a potential matchup with the Heat until the Eastern Conference Finals. If the Knicks can get a Bucks team then Nets or Pacers in the second round, I strongly believe they will be playing the Eastern Conference Finals. If they can get the 2 or 3 seed, with Miami and Chicago in 1 and 4, they will be sitting pretty. The Bulls are a scary playoff team with a healthy Derrick Rose and have the Knicks’ number lately. Avoiding the Bulls and Heat in the first two rounds would be ideal for the Knicks.