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NBA Season Preview: New York Knicks

Sep 18, 2012, 12:05 PM EDT

Knicks' Anthony celebrates after a three point shot late in the fourth quarter of the Knicks' win in Game 4 of their NBA Eastern Conference basketball playoff series against the Heat in New York

This week begins PBT’s team-by-team season preview, going through all 30 squads. We are starting in the deep Atlantic Division that could well send four teams to the playoffs, and we will move West from there. Next up, your New York Knicks.

Last season: Good God, where to begin. Uh, they beat Boston in their first game and looked like they would be a legit Eastern power. Then the wheels fell off and fell off some more, and then Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire both got injured and the team was screwed and everything was darkness. But wait! There came a voice of redemption in the night, and his name was Linsanity. OK, not literally, literally it was Jeremy Lin, and all of a sudden the undrafted sophomore who was less than a few days away from being cut exploded onto the scene. He dropped 38 on Kobe and the Gang, toppled the defending champs, and basically set the sports world on fire.

(Gasp for air.)

Then Amar’e came back and things were still great and they had an offense and then Melo came back and well, not so much anymore. The Heat and Knicks figured out Lin and they were struggling a little bit and OH WAIT, MIKE D’ANTONI RESIGNED. So then Mike Woodson takes over and Jeremy Lin gets hurt and Amar’e Stoudemire gets hurt (again), and then Melo goes on a tear and the Knicks look good because Anthony’s destroying everything and then the playoffs came and it turns out that isolation-centric basketball versus a team that likes to isolate and swarm the ball-handler and plays the best position defense in the league isn’t a good idea and the Knicks got their tails kicked and lost in the first round, the end.

Key Departures: They could have matched the offer for Jeremy Lin and kept him, adding a huge amount of salary to a team that has never acted as if it cared a lick about the luxury tax or salary concerns… but then they got high? No. They elected to pass on Lin and the poison pill in his third year. It was an… unpopular move with Knicks fans, let’s just leave it at that.

Josh Harrellson is also gone, along with Baron Davis and Mike Bibby. Jared Jeffries, Renaldo Balkman, Bill Walker, every Williams they had on roster, and Landry Fields. Oh, and Toney Douglas.

Key Additions: J.R. Smith comes back at a discount price, as does Steve Novak. Raymond Felton is the new starting point guard, and Jason Kidd comes to the City as a reserve. Ronnie Brewer helps their wing depth, especially defensively with Iman Shumpert out until after the start of the year. Marcus Camby becomes the first legit reserve big man for the Knicks since God knows when, and Kurt Thomas is still plugging along behind him. Pablo Prigioni joins the club at a ripe age to provide an emergency reserve point guard.

Three keys to Knicks season:

1) ISOMelo works. You can’t misread the Knicks’ intention. They can talk about teamwork and chemistry, about using all their weapons, about getting everyone involved. That’s great. But the decision to jettison Lin, the decision to retain Mike Woodson at head coach, bringing in players who played with Carmelo Anthony before in Denver, everything speaks to a clear statement of purpose: Get Melo his. Amar’e Stoudemire can work on his post moves all he wants, and Tyson Chandler can remain the most efficient big man in the game. That ball is going through Melo first and last and a lot in-between.

This is who the Knicks are. There’s a high feeling of resentment from certain sections of Knicks fans about this, that it’s getting overblown. But consider how Woodson ran his teams in Atlanta, with so many isolation plays for different players, but especially Joe Johnson. Consider the removal of a point guard who might challenge for control of the offense. And consider everything we’ve seen for the year and a half since Anthony was traded to New York. He’s the ticket-seller, the marquee name, the big star. They’re going to make sure he feels comfortable. And whether it’s what’s best for him or not, he feels most comfortable in the high or wing post, typically facing up to jab-step his way into a jumper. That’s who he is, and when he’s on, he’s one of the most deadly offensive players in the league.

That has to work. Despite schemes in the NBA built to victimize isolation, despite the plethora of talent surrounding him, and despite the low probability that it will be successful, this is what the Knicks have decided on, and that’s what they have to make work. Maybe it can, and I’m just missing the brilliance of this approach. But either way, if they’re going to succeed, that has to go over big.

2) Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire have to learn to co-exist, basketball-wise. Anthony’s not going to have a 99% usage factor, so yeah, there will be other people involved, and one of those needs to be Stoudemire. He dealt with a huge number of injury issues and many are moving towards just dropping him in the pile of overpaid sub-stars (oh, hey Carlos Boozer, didn’t see you there). But Stoudemire has legitimate reasons to suggest that he can bounce back this season with time to heal from last year’s injuries, and could regain some of his offensive explosiveness, even if the ship on his defense has long ago sailed.

But the problem has been that Anthony and Stoudemire have been absolutely wretched on the floor together. Stoudemire and Anthony played 976 minutes together last year and the Knicks were -2.4 in plus-minus during those minutes. They were outscored by their opponent with their two best offensive players on the floor. Now, there are some things the Knicks can do to get the involved separately, such as Raymond Felton rekindling the pick and roll with Stoudemire he had developed before the Anthony trade sent him to Denver. And Stoudemire has worked on his post game, which is, in and of itself, a move to appease the ISOMelo offense (Stoudemire getting out of the way from his preferred work at the elbow.

But they’re going to have to figure out how to play on the floor at the same time. Mike Woodson hasn’t even been willing to discuss the idea of bringing Stoudemire off the bench or keeping them in different rotations. Again, this is just how it is, and it’s something they have to figure out.

3) The defense better maintain. Drove me nuts last year trying to get people to understand that the Knicks were a great defensive team. People were used to Mike D’Antoni’s reputation, and they wouldn’t listen to anything otherwise. Woodson’s involvement as an assistant certainly was the difference and their defense maintained after D’Antoni’s departure. They were an elite defense, and in reality, they were well-built for the postseason. They were a defensive team that slowed the game down and ground it out, with a great rim protector down low. That’s a good formula for playoff success.

The offense this season won’t be improved enough to allow for defensive slippage, though. The Knicks have to keep their defensive principles and activity up, with an older roster. They’ll still be in need of Stoudemire to at least not be a weakness, and in truth, they need Anthony to be the kind of defender he’s capable of being at his best as opposed to the one he so often is. They can’t afford to tumble down defensively at any significant level.

What one thing should scare Knicks fans? Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler both have injury histories which are a concern. Carmelo Anthony missed time last season. If Anthony goes out for any time, after they’ve built their entire solar system around the Melo Sun, what happens? If Stoudemire goes down again, that means it’s time to re-evaluate his long-term viability and that’s a big contract under the new CBA to deal with as a liability. And if Chandler were to miss time, that’s the core of their defense. He is to their defense what Anthony is to their offense, only, you know, he’s actually better at it.

Beyond on-the-court stuff, though, the biggest thing that should scare Knicks fans is how the organization is run. Willing to overpay for any player but Jeremy Lin? CAA having ties in not just the players but in executives and even the coaching staff? Isiah Thomas sniffing around again? This is not exactly the painting of a picture you want for your front office. What else is new?

How it likely works out: Here’s the thing. The Knicks are a really good team. They honestly are. They’re going to be a very good team this year. They have an elite player in Carmelo Anthony. They have an elite player defensively who can also contribute in huge ways offensively in Tyson Chandler. Amar’e Stoudemire is not so far removed from the MVP-candidate he was three years ago. They have depth, Mike Woodson is a really good coach overall and in his preparation. He has a history of success.

Their model, like I said above, is sound. This is a team that has the model you want for a championship contender. They rely on their defense to get stops and put the ball in the hands of their elite offensive player. This is a formula that has worked in the NBA in the past. The Knicks will be a competitive team that is great on defense, and at times will be great offensively. They will look like world-beaters at times and like dregs some of the time. They’ll make the playoffs and depending on the seeding, might be able to muscle out a first-round win. But that’s pretty much their ceiling. They’re a very good team, which is nothing to sneeze at. But they’re paying for and selling to the fans the idea of a great team, and they’re just not that. Unless Carmelo Anthony puts together one of the all-time seasons in NBA history, not this year, but all-time, then the Knicks won’t wind up in a dramatically different spot than where they finished last year. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, that’s quite an accomplishment for a team that has such trouble being respectable last decade. It’s just not where the Knicks act like they are.

Prediction: 47-35, which is just what Kurt put the Sixers at on Monday. The Knicks, the Nets, and the Sixers all should wind up in about the same spot, battling for a fourth-to-sixth seed in the East. The only question will be if it’s a season that feels like they maximized their potential and it wasn’t good enough, or one where they fell short, but that just leaves more reason to believe next year they’ll put it together.

I can see no reasonable scenario in which the Knicks win the 2013 NBA Championship.

  1. somekat - Sep 18, 2012 at 12:46 PM

    As a sixers fan, I thnk they’ll finish above Philly. I don’t think that will be the case next year, or at all for the next 3-4 years after that. If not just because the Knicks were together for some time, and the sixers haven’t. Basically everyone on the sixers roster is learning a new role or system, and even if that weren’t the case, they have the veteran advantage. Bynum adjusting to being the focus, Holiday with the offense being run directly through him 100% of the time, Turner starting, Hawes moving to the 4, etc. These are all young guys, and they will be able to do it, IMO, but it won’t happen over night.

    The Knicks know what they have, and basically all have defined roles that they’ve played before. I don’t know that I would rather face the Knicks than the Sixers by the time the playoffs roll around, since by then the Sixers should be more well adjusted, and their ability to go big and just punish teams in a playoff series. But I do think the Knicks will finish with a better W/L record.

    • tcclark - Sep 18, 2012 at 1:04 PM

      I agree with you in many aspects. I think that the Sixers will take a little time to develop their identity, but i think in the end they will end up with the better record (slightly). The Knicks just have a lot of “what ifs” and they’ve been very streaky since trading for Carmelo. I expect the Knicks to be good, better than the Nets, and beat the Sixers in their season series (Chandler on Bynum will be tough on Philly’s offense), but come up a game or two short on the season.

  2. dysraw1 - Sep 18, 2012 at 12:55 PM

    here’s the thing guys we have pieces in place. Ray is a upgrade at the 1 and i believe that Ronnie Brewer will have us not missing Landry Feilds 1 bit. these reporters think our game will consist of Melo iso’s , i don’t think so. the cultural change that the new lead guards will have a tremendous impact beyond what people will believe. but you heard here first

    • jolink653 - Sep 18, 2012 at 2:57 PM

      Agreed…It won’t be nearly as much ISO Melo as the media is making it out to be…Once this team has a full training camp together they’ll be able to work out the spacing and ball movement issues that have been plaguing them since the roster came together…With a top defense and more balanced offense I do think the Knicks can make a deep run into the playoffs if they stay healthy and can at least give Miami a good run (or better one than they gave last year)

      • aht66 - Oct 2, 2012 at 2:47 AM

        I think last season if Shump didnt get hurt during the playoffs the Knicks could have at least made a stand against the Heat….Not saying the Heat wouldn’t have beat the Knicks, just maybe it would have been more competetive all around.

  3. somekat - Sep 18, 2012 at 2:07 PM

    So the key to changing how Melo wants to play the game is to bring in Felton? You do know he played with Andre Miller, right?

    • dysraw1 - Sep 18, 2012 at 3:04 PM

      its Felton & Kidd that will bring about the change trust me

  4. cantonbound13 - Sep 18, 2012 at 6:54 PM

    Knicks vs Lakers in the finals. Kurt’s worst nightmare.

    • 00maltliquor - Sep 18, 2012 at 10:58 PM

      That would be pretty dope, no lie, but I’ve been waiting FAAAR too long for a Black Mamba/King James showdown, and not just speaking as a Laker fan, but as a fan of the NBA!

      But yeah, I wouldn’t mind a LA/NY hookup. Or LA/BOS. Or an LAL/LAC WCF!!, but now I’m just carrying on!

    • hehateme2 - Sep 19, 2012 at 8:34 AM

      Never gonna happen… at least for the knicks. Lucky to get into the 2nd round.

  5. nycsobe - Sep 18, 2012 at 10:17 PM

    the author made no mention of camby, the best pickup of the year.

    when chandler was on the bench, it was an all-out gang-bang in the key. god forbid he got hurt. with camby, there is massive shot blocking 48 minutes a game. there are times they can have both camby and chandler on the floor to clog the hole (i.e. Heat) and force driving teams to only shoot from outside, were NYK has great perimter defenders.

  6. 00maltliquor - Sep 18, 2012 at 10:42 PM

    I love the way this piece was written. Funny, but serious. Well peiced together.

    And IDGAF what people on here think, and I am no Knick/Melo fan either but, the Knicks are gonna be nasty this year! Top 5 defensive team in the L. Watch. And they could score. And this is coming from someone who gave the Knicks NO props last year, I had ZERO faith in ‘em. And I don’t want to hear any fool say, “what, because they added a few dinosaurs and wretched Ray Felton!??”. It’s much more then that.

  7. rocirius - Sep 20, 2012 at 9:15 PM

    I don’t see the Knicks playing Miami in the playoffs unless they have major injury issues during the season and fall to the eight seed.

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