NEW YORK KNICKS
PACE: #4 97.8
OFFENSE: #5 108.3
DEFENSE: #21 106.9
Time has changed and unlike in the previous seasons, the Knicks have now serious aspirations to reach the finals and hang around with the other powerhouse teams. It was a long term plan that former GM Donnie Walsh started a couple of seasons ago by cleaning up and dumping the big bad contracts and this was the best that Knicks could build for their future. Before analyzing the roster that the Knicks will use to attack the upcoming season, let’s dig a bit about last season’s performance.
The truth is that the Knicks had two different teams last season. For the first 54 games, the Knicks were Amare and a nice combination of role players, while in the last 28 games of the season, the Knicks were Amare and Carmelo with a less talented core of role players. Even with mega trade with Denver that caused all this player movement, the Knicks remained statistically the same team the whole season. Before the trade, they were 28-26, while being the 7th most efficient offense and the 20th best defensive team. After the trade, they had a 14-14 record, while being the 4th best offense and the 25th best defense. Bottom line: the Knicks improved their offensive stats with Melo, but at the same time, their defense was even worst. You know your defense is terrible when you give up 109, 115 and 107 points against Cleveland, while only winning one of these games. In one game, guys like Luke Harangody shot 6-11 FG, Samardo Samuels shot 5-9 FG and Christian Eyenga shot 5-7 FG. That’s how bad their defense was.
Amare Stoudemire’s first season in NY was tremendous in the first half, but then coach D’Antoni decided to start him at center and rapidly burned Amare. By the time the playoffs arrived, Amare and his injured back couldn’t do anything on the offensive end: shooting 9-37 FG (24%) in the final three games. The Knicks put a scare on the Celtics in the first two games in Boston, but they couldn’t stop the Celtics on the perimeter. When the sweep was consummated, the potent Knicks offense had been held to just 85, 93, 96 and 89 points in the series. This will be the first full season where Amare and Carmelo will play together: can they co-exist? Unlike Wade and Lebron, the Knicks’ superstars aren’t known for being facilitators. Carmelo’s career high in assists is 3.8 apg back in 06-07, while Lebron’s career low in assists was on his rookie season with 5.9 apg! Coach D’Antoni will have to improve the team’s chemistry, especially on the stretch situations because there is only one ball!
We already know that coach D’Antoni loves to play small ball and make his teams run fast. However, playing Amare as their primary center wasn’t a good idea and the Knicks addressed that by signing Tyson Chandler in the offseason. Automatically, the Knicks will be a better defensive team with him on the floor just because Amare won’t have to guard the opposing centers. Chandler is a good help defender, so he can somehow limit Amare’s struggles as a defender. They don’t have much more depth behind these two players and this could be a problem for a shortened season without many spots to rest. In Chandler’s two best seasons, he was able to score 11.8 (07-08) and 10.1 (10-11) points per game, but he had the luxury to play alongside Chris Paul and Jason Kidd.
The team’s problem currently resides on the point guard position. Maybe the Knicks were expecting to land Chris Paul, but the reality is that they will have Toney Douglas and Mike Bibby in their PG rotation. Douglas is pretty much the point guard version of Amare and Carmelo, a shoot first type of PG that has diminished skills of vision and decision making. He isn’t a good defensive player (like Bibby by the way), so the Knicks will have to be creative to hide this huge defensive liability. Think about a Bulls vs Knicks playoff matchup: Derrick Rose would be licking his chops for that to happen! Unlike Douglas, Landry Fields is a good defensive player and he was a nice surprise last season for the Knicks. He doesn’t demand the ball and he is pretty good on ball defender, while being an underrated rebounder – any team would love to have a “Landry Fields” on their roster.
The Knicks will be a potent offensive machine once again this season, this is a granted proposition. However this season, NBA teams will sometimes have to play 5 games in 6 days, so defense will be the key at the end of the day. They signed former head coach Mike Woodson to the coaching staff with the main objective of improving the team’s defense. I don’t if Woodson is the right choice considering his lack of leadership demonstrated in Atlanta and the Hawks were never a top 10 defensive team with him leading the team. The good news is that he will think more about defense than D’Antoni for sure. In my opinion, the Heat and the Bulls have a better roster and their defensive mentality is a plus when we compare it to the Knicks mentality. But the truth is that the Knicks are back and they will surely fight for home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs this season!