Expectations are the highest they have been in New York since the last lockout-reasoned shortened-season in 1999. The Knicks are the most hyped team as the Christmas-day opener approaches. NY is the one everybody is choosing to ignore its glaring faults and being picked as a sleeper contender for the title.
And the reasons are many.
This will be Carmelo Anthony’s first full season in a Knick uniform and lot is expected from him. After his arrival last season, New York finished the year with a 14-14 record and was swept in the playoffs by a vastly superior Boston Celtics team. And in those 28 games, Anthony posted averages of 36 minutes, 19 shots, 26.3 points and 6.7 rebounds.
Head-coach Mike D’Antoni has already said his offense will run through ‘Melo. That will be case because the Knicks will not have a true point-guard featured in their roster on opening day. That means it will be Anthony’s responsibility to anchor D’Antoni’s run-and-gun offense. It is clear Anthony features the athleticism and skills for the task. The question is how he will adapt to it.
Carmelo is accustomed to have the ball in his hands a lot. According to John Hollinger, he ranked fifth in the league in usage-rate last season (29.1%). But there is a difference between burning a lot of the shot clock when you touch the ball for the first time at three-quarters court and when you initiate a set altogether. Ask LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, who saw their turnover numbers rise to a disturbing rate last year.
Alongside Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire is another who will need to figure out a new role too. Amar’e had a phenomenal first three months of his stint as a Knick after signing his $100-million dollar contract when he was the league’s front-runner for the MVP, leading the NBA in scoring and invigorating basketball’s most exciting playground.
But once Anthony arrived, Stoudemire struggled to maintain that level of production. A lot of it was his ailing knees that started bothering him late in the year and his playoff performance must be ignored due to the back spasms that kept him from challenging Boston’s mighty post defense. However, a lot of the decline on his stats was due to Carmelo’s lack of understanding of D’Antoni’s system.
As a secondary option now, it’s tough to see Stoudemire maintaining his 27.7% usage-rate from last season. So Amar’e will have to create ways to remain active in the offense even when ‘Melo waives everybody off and chooses to run an isolation set, which we know it will happen a lot.. It is important Stoudemire manages not to get frustrated by it.
Amar’e should be able to adapt, though. According to 82games.com, 66% of his field-goal attempts were jump-shots, in which he posted a 44% effective-field-goal percentage with an average of 11.1 points of his 25.3 a night coming of those jumpers. And according to Hoopdata.com, he shot 43.3% outside of 10-feet. It’s not comparable to his 58% eFG% inside the paint, but it does show Stoudemire has that dimension to his game.
The Knicks ranked second in the league in scoring last season (106.5 points-per-game) and fifth in offensive efficiency (108.3 points-per-100-possessions). So, even without a true point-guard running the offense, New York should be fine offensively eventually.
The crop of Toney Douglas, Landry Fields, Iman Shumpert, Mike Bibby, Bill Walker and Jared Jeffries may not be the top supporting cast in the league but they will be put in a position to succeed when New York possesses the ball. The rookie Shumpert is seen as an athletic freak, even though he is a terrible jump-shooter.
The problem is that in the shortened season, which will feature 66 games in essentially 120 days, D’Antoni’s usual seven-man rotation will not fly. Asking stuff out of Jerome Jordan, Renaldo Balkman, Josh Harrelson, Chris Hunter and Devin Green won’t either.
Oh, and there’s that defensive issue too.
The Knicks managed to sign one of the top-rated free agents in the offseason in Tyson Chandler, giving him a four year-contract worth of $56 million dollars, and no player would have fit a need New York has better as Chandler arrives with a reputation of game-changer on defense after transforming the Dallas Mavericks from soft to a multi-dimensional stopping force which eventually led to them winning the title.
As Sports Illustrated’s Ian Thomsen points out, Chandler is a much better acquisition for NY than Chris Paul could have been had Donnie Walsh been able to pull that deal off and is the one that can make everything come to life for them. He has the locker room charisma, the ring to demand recognition and the giving style of play. Stoudemire and Anthony are not seen as average defenders, even, but Paul Pierce & Ray Allen weren’t either before they met Kevin Garnett. Chandler may have the same type of impact.
But it can’t be ignored that Chandler and newly hired defensive-coordinator Mike Woodson will have a lot of work to do. The Knicks had the third-worst defense in the league in terms of points allowed (105.7 a game) and ninth worst in terms of efficiency (106.9 every 100 possessions). Although the potential is there with guys like Fields and Jeffries, the ceiling is not nearly as high for others like Douglas and Bibby who figure to be a big part of the team’s rotation.
The Knicks start the season as the third most intriguing team, behind the Heat and the Clippers, and definitely the most hyped, even if mostly because of where they play. Expectations are really high but so are the standards. A lot will be determined on outside factors like D’Antoni’s job security, injuries they can’t afford and who they get to strengthen their rotation in-season through the mini mid-level exception or a cheap trade. There’s a lot to be excited about but there’s just as much to be skeptical about. It will sure be fun to see how the story develops for them, though.