New York Knicks: More Style Than Substance?
NBA fans that have paid attention to the New York Knicks over the past few seasons know the drill. This is a team that has continuously tried to get over the hump in the past few years but, despite possessing an abundance of talent, haven’t been able to live up to expectations.
Blame it on ill-fitting parts. Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony have faced their fair share of questions about whether or not they can thrive together and the lack of a training camp so far to hone their skills has been crippling.
Blame it on former Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni. The talented offensive guru couldn’t quite kick start the franchise and was shown the door after just over three years as head coach following an 18-24 start last season.
Coming into this season, a lot of these criticisms have been swept aside with defensive-minded head coach Mike Woodson starting his first full season at the helm in New York. Also fueling optimism is the fact that both Stoudemire and Anthony will finally have a full training camp to work out the kinks.
Tack on the acquisition of talented, pass-first point guards Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton, and the Knicks have a legitimate chance to grab home court in the first round of the 2013 playoffs.
But are we getting a bit ahead of ourselves here?
One of the biggest factors to New York’s turnaround after a dreadful start to the 2012 season – Jeremy Lin – is no longer on the team. Lin has taken his talents to South Texas to join the Houston Rockets after the Knicks decided the 24-year-old sensation wasn’t worth the roughly $25 million he’ll make over the next three years in Houston.
Felton and Kidd will almost assuredly help to soften the blow of losing Lin, but these two also have their fair share of noticeable flaws.
While still an excellent veteran and teacher on the court, there’s little doubt that Kidd has lost more than a step after helping the Dallas Mavericks win the first NBA title in franchise history in 2011. The 39-year-old, 18-year NBA veteran is going to have to prove that he still has enough in the tank for the upcoming season to be a factor for a playoff-contending Knicks team.
In terms of the Knicks likely starter at point guard this season, Felton made his share of waves last season in the complete implosion of the 2012 Portland Trail Blazers. Showing up out of shape after the lockout and then leading a revolt that led to the firing of quality head coach Nate McMillan certainly doesn’t help his case. Felton will need to prove that he’s prepared by showing up to training camp in shape and ready to lead the Knicks next season.
So what makes this Knicks team any better than the team that finished 36-30 last season, good for seventh in a watered-down Eastern Conference and a five-game first-round playoff exit?
Like every team, New York is optimistic that some new faces can bring a new dynamic to the team and, most importantly, that the team’s three highest paid players (Anthony, Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler) can take the Knicks to the next level. Perhaps the most important part of the equation will be the on-court cohesion of Stoudemire and Anthony.
Fans around the league know what Chandler, especially as healthy as he’s been over the past few seasons, can do in cementing the Knicks’ defense around the basket. With Woodson in charge, defense will remain a priority and New York will be able to continue to get better on that end of the floor.
Offense will be another story.
Throughout his career, Anthony has relished the opportunity to run the offense with the ball in his hands. For the Knicks to succeed, the burden on Anthony to run the offense for long stretches must change.
A talented scorer like Stoudemire (along with the rest of the Knicks’ starting five) can’t be forced to watch from the perimeter while Anthony dictates the offense. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a valid argument to be made that Anthony is the best pure scorer in basketball, but that individual spectacle isn’t going to manifest itself into a deep playoff run for New York.
What’s so important to the upcoming season being a successful one is how well the Knicks two biggest stars are able to jell this October before the year starts. If Stoudemire and Anthony can’t get on the same page, and the Knicks continue to fail to meet expectations, this team will have to admit the pairing was a failure and move on from one or the other.
Although he hasn’t missed much time in recent years, keeping Stoudemire’s nagging injuries at a minimum is a key and keeping the old-man trio of Kidd, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas on the court will be integral to this team’s success. Even though his numbers dropped dramatically last season, Kidd especially has the ability – as a reserve – to positively impact the way the Knicks play the game on both ends of the court.
All that being said, there are factors that suggest the Knicks have turned the page and are ready to get their hands dirty in 2012-13. New York already took a huge step forward last season to remove the mentally soft image of the franchise by shaking off a horrendous start, turning things around after the firing of D’Antoni and overcoming the loss of Lin to injury. The Knicks finished 2012 on an 18-6 run and proved to be one of the more formidable teams in the East over the final few months of the regular season.
Keying the turnaround was a team-wide resurgence on the defensive end where the team had struggled mightily both to start 2012 and over the past few seasons. Over the course of 2012, the Knicks went from a bottom-feeder in the NBA in terms of points allowed to giving up the 11th-fewest amount of points per game last year. When the dust settled from the 2012 regular season, New York had finished with the fifth-best NBA team in overall defensive efficiency.
Adding to the defensive depth of this squad with the additions of Kidd, Camby and Ronnie Brewer was a quality move in helping to ensure this team stays in that quality defensive category.
Heading into the 2012-13 season, training camp for this Knicks team is going to be huge. If this talented group can get on the same page and continue to compete as a team on a night-in, night-out basis, New York could be in line for a deep postseason run in 2013.
Hard-nosed defense will be the anchor for this team heading into the season as the more glitz than grit argument levied by some (including myself) against the Knicks might have to be thrown out the window in what is shaping up to be a much more competitive Eastern Conference. However, if the offense can’t figure out how to run smoothly and efficiently as a cohesive unit, the Knicks could be staring at an early playoff exit once again in 2013.