We’re in September already? Yep, that’s right. Free agency, meaningless Summer League basketball, and Liberty games at the Garden are long gone. It’s time to breakout, the first annual KNICKS PREVIEW. (Buckle up for a long post, boys and girls.)
We could be entering a new era of Knicks basketball and considering how bad of a team they’ve been in the past, this July was a huge step in the right direction. Tons of new additions, in every basketball city in the country, but especially New York. And basketball is a great thing in New York… when the Knicks are good. This season, things are looking up.
Although it look prosperous for this team at the moment, here’s what I don’t want to happen:
The Knicks play through season like the Mets did. “Looks like this team has average potential” was the common consensus after a few weeks. If they continue like the Mets, they’ll be playing great right up until the All-Star Break. Then offense went astray, and the Mets fell short until they finally rolled downhill onto their face into the final stretch.
Losing has been the Knicks’ story for about ten seasons now and I know I can’t take any more of it. Donnie has given us a change. Let us embrace and let the team utilize it as well.
Final Record: 43-39
Being optimistic, my prediction is the higher end of their potential high (45 wins) and low (35 wins). Hopefully, after training camp, the team will gel. Hopefully, there will be no sesason-ending injuries. Hopefully, the team wins more than it loses. As you can tell, I’m hoping everything goes right, and it probably won’t. And if the team ends up toward the lower portion of my opinionated win totals (36-39), they won’t make the playoffs. Just keep that in mind, moving forward.
Atlantic Division Finish: 2nd
The Celtics are clearly the best team in the Atlantic Division and the 76ers are the dark horse in my opinion. They have solid youth and a potential star in Andre Iguodala. That being said, as it stands now, the Knicks have put together a better squad than them, the Russian Nets, and the Chris Bosh-less Raptors.
Conference Finish: 8th
I’ve said this before, but I think the ceiling for this team in the Eastern Conference is a seven seed. Yeah, I realize some of you have very high hopes for this squad (thinking that the Knicks can pull off a four seed or a five) but I just don’t think this is the year for that. In no order, the Heat, Celtics, Bulls, Bucks, Hawks, and Magic are better than New York this season — on paper. That’s definite. That leaves the Bobcats and a much improved Indiana. We criticize Miami pointing out their flaw is that the team won’t come together and mesh. Well, just look at the Knicks themselves. Our entire team is new. We’re about to put a Raymond Felton and an Amar’e Stoudemire together and hopefully that makes a winning combination. If it doesn’t, the Knicks have no insurance, but they do have depth. Let’s take a look at some of that now:
Depth Chart Breakdown
Opening night against the Raptors, this is my prediction for the starting lineup. Training camp may change things, but as of right now, this is how the lineup looks from my point of view:
1. Raymond Felton – After his best season (FG%-wise) as a Bobcat, the former Tar Heel comes to New York with a ton of talent. At this point, we don’t know how well Felton and the rest of this new gang will play together and that’s a big question mark many are overlooking.
2. Toney Douglas – Douglas succeeded last season in proving that someday he can be a good player, but will need to continue to work hard to do it. Further than that, it doesn’t look like Toney will ever be the Knicks starting point considering free agent classes with the likes of Tony Parker, Chris Paul and Deron Williams are all around the corner.
1. Wilson Chandler – The seasoned “veteran” has played with the Knicks for three losing seasons and is one of the lasting components of the team. Chandler will need to have an impact if he plans on becoming a key member of the squad this season.
2. Roger Mason – The three point/clutch specialist looks to regain the confidence he had from outside the arc during his 2008-09 run with the Spurs. A new addition to the team, Mason could act as the starting shooting guard, though probably falls into the category of “off-the-bench spark”.
3. Patrick Ewing Jr. – PJ, as Anthony “Rice Balls” Donahue likes to call him, is a spark player also. He can get the crowd pumped because, well, he is Patrick’s son. And word on the street is that it’s looking like he’s going to be kept.
4. Andy Rautins – Rautins had a poor Summer League and for this reason he is – basically – the last 2 guard here. I like the potential, I saw him play a few times during his ‘Cuse days, but just don’t think he’s going to get much playing time unless an injury opens up.
5. Kelenna Azubuike – I list him last for the soul reason that he is currently injured, but I’m hearing that he may be able to play when push comes to shove. If that’s the case, he could be number one or two on this list, but for now, he’s missing training camp, so that alone scares me.
1. Danilo Gallinari – Many call him the X-Factor this season. If he shows he can rise to the challenge, he may be dealt. If he doesn’t, then the team could end up with 35 wins. A lot rests in Gallo’s hands, so hopefully he takes steps towards becoming the league’s next Dirk.
2. Landry Fields - I gave Fields the edge to Bill Walker in this roster showdown based on Summer League alone. Landry showed everyone up (including Walker) and ranked the sixth best rookie to compete in those exhibition games via NBA.com. The Stanford grad just had too much skill, and although I don’t expect him to have such a big impact this season, always keep him in mind.
3. Bill Walker - After getting the chance to play last season, the Bull averaged almost twelve points a game for New York, but will have much less of an important role this year. Tommy Dee published a nice story on how Walker was going to be used this season because, frankly, no one’s been talking about him since Summer League.
1. Amar’e Stoudemire – Unquestionably the Knicks’ go-to-guy this season. When his performance is lacking on the court, the whole team’s will be. The Knicks depend on Amar’e being a leader in the locker room as well, and based on his offseason, I think he has potential in that category. He’s proven himself to be a smart guy, a likable one at that. Oh, he can play basketball pretty damn well too.
2. Anthony Randolph – The ex-Warrior is the Knicks’ question mark. His per-36 numbers are mind boggling and because of those numbers alone, you have to ask yourself if this guy can/will be a star. If he doesn’t succeed in this system (D’Antoni’s up and down pace), then it’s hard for me to imagine him being great in any. He’s a point forward at heart. The Knicks play this season is suited toward him, so we’ll have to see if he embraces the role and makes the team better in the process.
1. Ronny Turiaf – When someone says Ronny Turiaf, I think energy. The guy is made of energy. His tweets, his style of play, everything about the Gonzaga grad says “all out hustle player.” He seems “into” the New York lifestyle, going to Liberty games, asking where the best place to eat. Expect some D from him too. Solid player.
2. Timofey Mozgov - The Moz is a monster. Over at the World Championships in Turkey, he’s steadily been impressing. But beware, don’t expect him to pass the first round Hall of Fame ballot. Besides that, rebounding has been deemed an issue, but apparently his per 36 numbers are pretty decent (13+ boards a game in Euroleague). I’ll take that.
3. Eddy Curry - …lol. Can’t believe I actually put this guy down, but don’t be surprised if he comes in and plays some basketball.
1. Mike D’Antoni – It’s funny putting the head coach in a “Depth Chart Breakdown” until realizing that he may have as big of an impact as some of the players. If D’Antoni doesn’t realize Randolph and Mozgov are going to make fundamental mistakes, then the young players on this team won’t grow. And let me tell you something: with few exceptions, this entire team is made out of young guys and I want them to grow.
Enjoyment of the Team This Season
Let’s be real with ourselves for a second. The Knicks don’t have a great chance to win a title this season. As much as it pains us to admit, raising up the trophy is not on our minds. For me, the next best thing would be for my enjoyment level to be as high as possible this season. I want this to be “fun.” I want to like liking this team. So I asked myself, how is this team going to become enjoyable for you and me?
1. Wins – First and foremost, nothing is better than winning. Obviously, nothing makes a die-hard fan happier than to see his beloved team come out victorious, but assuming the Knicks only do this 41 times this season, what’s the next best thing?
2. Up and down style of play – The Knicks will play fun basketball. Sure, we may not win every game, but the team will be fighting because of our point forwards and quick scorers. Most of the time, the shot clock will be at 14 before the ball is released.
3. Building toward a championship – Knicks fans need to look toward the future because that’s what is going to win a championship. The front office can either do that by building or trading young players this season.
3a. Development of young players - If one of the following guys breaks out, we will all be happy: Anthony Randolph, Gallo, Wilson Chandler or Raymond Felton. The latter half of that list are established, three year players, but seeing them succeed with this new outlook would be great for the team and its fan base.
3b. Trade for star - None of us would like to see those young guys (above) get traded, but if it means getting a top five-seven player in the NBA (Melo/Paul), it needs to be done. And, it will make us happy. As much as we’d like to see these new guys develop, New York wants to win and wants to do it at the fastest rate possible.
I think the strength in this team comes in their style of play. The players are suited toward Mike D’Antoni’s running and gunning. The fact that Anthony Randolph can play the point forward or Amar’e Stoudemire and Timothy Mozgov can get up the floor quickly is only bound to help the team.
Also, off the court, this team seems fan friendly and built on good character. Not to say that that will win ball games, but the future does look bright. Especially if these guys end up sticking around for a couple more years, it will definitely be a good thing.
The lack of talent is something that will haunt the Knicks this season. Unless Gallinari establishes himself as a legitimate superstar to go along with Stoudemire (which I doubt will happen), the Knicks don’t really have much “star power”. The talent on this team is much improved, but still not high enough to give the top teams in the East a run for their money.
Another weakness of the Knicks this season is that they lack a real shooting guard. Although on my depth chart, shooting guards are the heaviest position, all the guys listed aren’t “real” twos. Most of them are threes dressed up as twos (i.e. Wilson Chandler, Kelenna Azubuike) or don’t have enough talent to start as an SG (i.e. Roger Mason).
If everything goes right, the Knicks will be a good team. If everything goes wrong, they’ll be handing over a lottery pick to the Rockets. Here are my expectations, which fall in between high and low:
-I expect the team to revolve around Amar’e Stoudemire. Everything he does sets precedent to what others should do – on and off the court.
-I expect the Knicks to believe in Danilo Gallinari and Anthony Randolph. The season revolves around their play as well as Raymond Felton.
-I expect Mike D’Antoni to give everybody a chance, or at least ten guys. Locker room issues won’t be a problem if playing time is not an issue.
-I expect the team to play better the second half of the season. Hopefully, everybody will mesh by the All-Star break.
-I expect forty-one wins, barring injury to any player listed above.
You could argue that my expectations are high, but I don’t think you could call them absurd. This year’s Knicks really are the new Knicks; retaining players are Walker, Chandler, Curry, Douglas and Gallinari (three of those guys aren’t expected to get huge playing time). Other than that, this project is brand spankin’ new. We don’t know who is going to succeed and who will fail. We don’t know how much better this team is than last year’s, because they are nothing alike.
I relate the 2010-11 Knicks to throwing a bunch of spices into a pot over the oven. You hope the results will be tasty because it seems like everything should work out on paper (you have the right recipe, you poured the right amount of each spice into the pot, etc.). But the problem is, sometimes, you just never know how that pot is going to turn out. What I’m hoping for is that this year’s Knicks become a delicious meal that not only you enjoy, but the whole league does as well.
What do you think of the Knicks this season? Where do you think they’ll end up in the division and conference?
(Photo Credit: Knicks.com)