New York Knicks: Why Expectations for Bench Players in 2012 Must Be High
New Knicks. Same story. Will this be the year they pull it together? Probably not.
Carmelo Anthony isn't going to change his game at this point in his career, and the team will struggle so long as he continues to be a ball-stopper. Amar'e Stoudemire will probably punch another fire extinguisher this season out of frustration for not being the $100 million power forward owner James Dolan hoped he be. The loss of Jeremy Lin and Landry Fields doesn't exactly bode well for them either.
But the bench is a different story. Led by Hall of Famer Jason Kidd, the Knicks' second unit should be the unsung heroes this season, if they each play a role rather than each go out there and try to do everything with the ball with the hopes of supplanting a starter.
It's a big if for a team for such questionable characters, but with so much attention, and money, being paid to Melo and Amar'e, here are a few reasons why this season could be all about the bench for New York.
The Cambyman Returns to the Big Apple
The last time Marcus Camby played for the Knicks was in 1999 when the team became only the second eighth-seed ever to advance to the NBA Finals.
Of course, it was a lockout season, but it was one heck of a playoff run highlighted by Larry Johnson's four-point play over the Indiana Pacers' Antonio Davis (and Larry Bird), and Allan Houston's lucky bounce on a game-winning floater over the Heat in Miami.
They got demolished in the NBA Finals by a Spurs team led by a fledgling Tim Duncan and an aging David Robinson, but it was a fun story to watch unfold.
The point is Camby's return to the Knicks this season gives the team a player who knows what it's like to really win in New York City.
Never mind that he's a few years away from retiring. The pressure will be on Camby to right the ship, to show these Knicks how great it can be if they are, well, anything but what they've been pretty since he's left the team.
But aside from that "locker-room experience," Camby gives the Knicks a presence in the frontcourt for the second unit. When Tyson Chandler needs a break, there won't be any need to worry about who will control the paint; Camby is a proven shot-blocker and opposing teams won't see any relief when Chandler sits.
Lets hope he can stay healthy and give the Knicks more of what they've lacked since he left—defense and leadership.
The Bench Will Sink or Swim with Jason Kidd
Any success the Knicks bench has this season will be largely attributed to Jason Kidd. But if it's a failure, the blame will also fall squarely on him. The pressure is on.
At 39, he's no doubt a Hall of Fame point guard who has averaged over 36 minutes per game since his rookie season in 1994.
This season, he'll only be expected to play 15 to 20 minutes per game, so there's no reason why he can't go all-out in his curtain call and show flashes of his old self from his time in New Jersey, throwing no-look lobs to Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson.
J.R. Smith is that kind of dunker, too. As crazy and erratic as he is, Smith should give Kidd a reason to want to feel young again.
Kidd needs to stabilize that second unit, keeping them balanced between playing smart and producing an exciting product that will not only excite fans, but also put the opposing team on its heels.
Let's see if he can drive this team to success. No pun intended.
Iman Shumpert Needs to Get Others to Give the Team a Defensive Boost
Iman Shumpert is recovering from knee surgery and will be out until January, so the pressure for him is to simply get healthy.
The Knicks will miss him because he's their best perimeter defender. When he returns, the pressure will be on him to get this team to a better place defensively. Kidd can't be expected to defend that much anymore, and Shumpert can move laterally quick enough to guard the one or two positions, so he'll be an invaluable part of the backcourt when he returns.
Although it's only his sophomore season, he should be expected to take on more of a leadership role and get these Knicks to play like he does on defense. They're a feisty team when they play on both sides of the court, and Shumpert seems to be the catalyst.
The Knicks need him back because their backcourt will be noticeably at risk defensively until the new year.
J.R. Smith Needs a Renaissance
J.R. Smith needs to change a lot about his game. The price of gas also needs to be lower. Will either of these things happen? Probably not.
But in a perfect world, J.R. wouldn't shoot like there's no tomorrow...and gas would cost 99 cents at the pump.
The pressure is on him to show that he's not a knucklehead and can be a winner. He might think he has enough fans who believe in him, or he might continue with an apathetic attitude toward his reputation on and off the court, but the fact is that there's a lot of people out there who probably question whether he's more of a benefit or a detriment to his team.
And there's a few of his teammates who won't admit to being on that list.
Smith is, no doubt, talented. He can score in bunches and excite a crowd with a flashy dunk, but it seems like every nice moment is clouded by a series of irrational decisions that often cost the Knicks crucial possessions down the stretch.
Smith needs to shift that ratio so that he's seen as a smart player who is maybe less entertaining but more effective this season. He should feel free to take lobs from Jason Kidd all day, but when the ball gets in his hands on the perimeter, he can't spend this season dribbling it out until the shot clock expires.
That's Carmelo Anthony's job.
Steve Novak Needs to Develop a Post Game
Steve Novak is a great shooter. Blah blah blah. We all know that. He was best in the league last season from the three.
But because he's a great shooter, people may assume he stands as tall as a shooting guard. The dude is almost SEVEN FEET!!!!
As beautiful as he's been from three-point land, Novak has been equally as disappointing in every other facet of his game on offense.
The pressure is on him next season to do more than stand around the three-point line and wait for Carmelo to pass it to him in a last desperation shot. He can do more. He averaged eight points a game last season but could easily average 12 points a game if he goes to the post a few times in what should be an increased role for him next season.
The added dimension to his game will make it harder for defenses to prepare for him and the Knicks.
And wouldn't that be a first? A team entering the Garden with a defensive challenge...