Last season was by just about every measure the New York Knicks best season since the 1999 run to the title. The team won 54 games, posted the third best offense, and had the scoring champion suiting up for them every night. Also last year, fellow Eastern Conference contenders Boston, Indiana, and Chicago all suffered crippling injuries to arguably their best players (or so many thought at the time in Indiana’s case).
With the basketball gods putting out the red carpet for the Knicks to get to the Eastern Conference Finals, the Knicks still managed to go out against the Indiana Pacers in six games in round two. Last year was a great regular season for the team but it was one that may be awfully hard to repeat.
When looking at many of the statistics on the Knicks last year you notice a recurring theme amongst many of their perimeter guys, above average years. Carmelo Anthony, Raymond Felton, JR Smith, and Iman Shumpert all had way above average offensive years last year. They all seemed to click at the same time, which made the Knicks offense and three point game almost impossible to stop. Of the group only JR Smith didn’t have a better than normal shooting year but his PER was the second highest of his career. The chance of all four of these players playing this well again seems to be unlucky. Yes Shumpert will be healthy all year but who knows what will happen JR Smith’s knee.
While Jason Kidd’s statistics were pedestrian and he just stopped making shots in the playoffs, he was a part of the Knicks best lineup (Felton-Kidd-Smith-Anthony-Chandler) and most people within the organization credit him for finally convincing Anthony to trust his teammates and pass out of double teams more. With Kidd now coaching across the river one can only hope Anthony remembers the lessons taught to him by the future hall of famer.
Another big reason Carmelo was able to thrive offensively more than any other year was because of the floor spacing that came with playing at power forward and having three shooters and Tyson Chandler flank him. With some acquisitions made this off season that may be harder to do.
The Knicks management appeared to have done what the fans have done all too often, overreact to a very small sample size. After scorching the league offensively and playing poor defense, the Knicks played mediocre offense and good defense against two elite defenses and mediocre to bad (Boston was just horrendous offensively without Rondo) offenses.
While 82 games should overshadow twelve, the team thought otherwise. Now the Knicks are saddled with the two years and $22 million remaining on Andrea Bargnani’s contract. I have written before on just why the move makes little sense for the team and why Bargnani just isn’t a very good NBA player. Even just sliding Anthony to small forward could potentially cause major problems for the team.
The Knicks may have done this because they knew Chris Copeland would take more money elsewhere but Bargnani is significantly more expensive and Copeland topped him in every offensive category last year. Copeland was an effective floor spacer who didn’t need any plays to run through him to get his points. Bargnani has been a top two or three option his entire career and has little to show for it. Trading for Bargnani almost seems like a panic move in response to the Nets trade and losing Copeland.
The Knicks are best with two point guards, a third bigger guard, Anthony, and Chandler. Because of Bargnani’s total inability to either play defense or rebound he also can’t play center and Anthony at power forward nor can he play with Amar’e Stoudemire. He basically needs a defensive chaperone in Kenyon Martin or Tyson Chandler at all times on the floor. Fellow newcomer Metta World Peace should help and can play both forward positions for stretches. In a free flowing offense like this one though one has to worry about MWP becoming just a little too trigger happy. He only shot 34% from three and 40% from the field and many in LA felt his skills would only decline.
As a team, the Knicks shot and made the most threes while shooting the fourth highest percentage from three (891/2371, 37.6%). They, along with the Houston Rockets topped the all-time record for most threes in a season (841, held by the 09-10 Orlando Magic) with 891 and 867 respectively. As stated earlier, this was built largely on the shoulders of players have above average or career years, especially from three and will be awfully hard to replicate.
Lastly, the rest of the Eastern conference is much better and top heavy. Including the Knicks, there are five teams (the Heat, Bulls, Pacers, and Bulls being the others) who could all win around fifty games next season. The Knicks can no longer count on Rose and Granger being out and their cross town rival Nets just acquired two future hall of famers in Paul Pierce (noted Knick killer) and Kevin Garnett. Barring injuries the path to the ECF won’t be as clear as it was last year.
The Knicks are by no means a bad team and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them seeded anywhere from three to five but 54 wins, the third ranked offense, and a dominant hold on the two seed seem to more of a hope than an expectation