How the New York Knicks Will Fix Their 5 Biggest Weaknesses in 2012-13
The New York Knicks made some modest improvements in the offseason to address, by my tally, their five biggest weaknesses. But will it be enough?
With Derrick Rose sidelined probably until March, Dwight Howard gone out West, question marks still surrounding the nascent Indiana Pacers, weaker Atlanta and Philly teams, and Deron Williams and the Brooklyn Nets finding their way back from a 22-44 record, the Knicks seventh seed will surely improve.
Stitching up the following holes in New York's game is the minimum needed, the prerequisite, to competing with those two teams. A game free of these flaws would allow Mike Woodson and company to focus on exploiting the Knicks' undeniable explosive offensive and defensive talent. Only then will they be able to get past Garnett and James.
It's not impossible.
But without taking care of these nagging concerns, forget it.
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Even with the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year, the Knicks are a poor rebounding team that ranked in the second half of the league last season (18th).
That's because when Tyson Chandler is off the court, no one is rebounding. Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire pitch in, but each had 250 less rebounds than the seven footer.
Plus, the team has lost the size and nearly 300 boards that Landry Fields lent the shooting guard position, a role now taken up by the less rebound-inclined J.R. Smith. In eight years, Smith has averaged 2.9 RPG.
Controlling the boards is one way the Knicks can get an edge on both the Heat and the Celtics, both also poor rebounding teams. For one thing, the two losses New York suffered at the hands of Boston last year—a two- and four-point overtime loss—might have gone in different directions with a few extra chances.
And who knows if that and an additional win here or there would have led to a three-seed?
At least now there is Marcus Camby, who will provide some presence and pick up some slack when Chandler needs to sit. He still swiped nine rebounds per game last year, in 90 percent of his scheduled games, at the age of 37. Camby still has some rebounding in him, and enough to make New York a different team with both Chandler and Stoudemire off the court. Pair him with either one, even better.
4. Ball Distribution
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The Knicks did not move the ball around very well for most of 2011-12 either.
Save for the Jeremy Lin flash in February, New York was frequently out-dished by opponents. There was little stability at the point guard position from the opening tip of the season when a clearly overwhelmed Toney Douglas struggled to assume directorial duties.
Lin rescued the Knicks from stagnant play, but at a defeating cost: overall his turnovers negated the uptick in ball movement with the Knicks, recording a not-so Linsane 8-5 record when Jeremy had more than five turnovers.
It will be interesting to see how Mike Woodson handles distribution, if he is able to wrest some of that control from Carmelo Anthony.
Raymond Felton will at least yield some season-long stability at the one, and he is, and always was, a better ball handler than Lin. Felton averaged nine assists a game as a Knick and far fewer turnovers. It's fair to say his assist numbers will come down a bit outside of Mike D'Antoni's seven seconds rule, but Felton will look to pass before shooting more often than anyone did last year at the position.
All this, of course, hinges on Felton being in shape and returning to the 2010-11 form which he left on the shelf last season.
Signing veteran Jason Kidd, originally meant to tutor Lin in the intricacies of point guarding, is comforting. He's No. 2 on the all-time assists list.
3. Amar'e Stoudemire's Output
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What happened to Amar'e Stoudemire last year?
All of his numbers were down, even free-throw percentage, and there were few, if any, big-time smackdown, game-winning, buzzer-beater or other memorable moments.
Stoudemire's malaise is a big problem for the Knicks long-term, both on the court and financially. He needs to break out of it, but how?
He still had a pretty good year actually—17.5 PPG, 7.8 RPG—but the Knicks need much more. They need the $20 million superstar to, at the least, score over 20 points per game and grab closer to nine or 10 rebounds. Stoudemire needs to fall back on his 12 and 15 footers that went missing last year.
With Anthony and Chandler pulling the rest of the bulk of the offense and defense, that is all Stoudemire needs to come up with to push this team to a more contending level.
So, how to do that?
Acquiring Raymond Felton, who connected so well with Stoudemire both on and off the court, is a great start.
Secondly, Stoudemire needs to stay healthy. According to espn.com, he "meets with a physical therapist to strengthen his lower back," and "works with a conditioning coach focusing a lot on cardio, core development and hip movement in order to ensure that part of his body is quicker and stronger."
Stoudemire has also been working out with former back-to-back champion Hakeem Olajuwon. That can only help both STAT's game and physical conditioning.
And finally, it would be nice to see Melo and STAT in different sets. They work so well as the offensive focus and their alternating styles would keep opponents off balance. If only Mike Woodson would be so bold as to draw that up, and the superstars humble enough to go for it.
2. Offensive Bench Depth
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Steve Novak is the Knicks' sixth man, well, at least until sophomore Iman Shumpert comes back in January. It's Novak and Shumpert because there's no one left on the bench who can score a bucket.
It could be worse.
Novak, at least, can go lights out for a while with his three-pointers. And Shumpert, though young, has shown an extraordinary poise beyond his years—and he can score. Novak and Shumpert led all Knicks bench-scorers last year (although Shumpert started 35 games) and are poised to do so again as there's no firepower left beyond them.
Novak, especially, can create a potent perimeter threat that doubly draws attention away from the inside.
Shumpert brings points and defense to the table.
But you cross your fingers no one gets hurt for too long a time from the front line, because there's hardly anyone else to step in.
1. Carmelo Anthony's Unbalanced Offense
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The coach. J.R. Smith. Jeremy Lin. The final shot. It's all crafted by Carmelo Anthony. The team will live or die by his decisions. No mutiny will overthrow this, so now what?
Do you ever truly envision Carmelo Anthony celebrating on the Garden court, streamers and confetti in the air, hugging teammates, crowd roaring, amidst caps, t-shirts and newspaper headlines proclaiming the New York Knicks champions of the basketball world? Can you imagine that?
It's hard to, but why?
I think it has to do with the Anthony-centric game. No one is buying it. Even Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen.
A Catch-22, the Knicks greatest strength may also be its greatest weakness. Anthony needs to run the team. He needs to be the top scorer day in and day out.
But he also needs to be comfortable feeding the ball to Stoudemire and Chandler inside and popping it outside when he's gone too far and there is no shot for him.
It is up to Carmelo Anthony to make the changes necessary to propel the Knicks to the Eastern Conference Finals and perhaps, when the Heat cool down in a few years, the NBA Finals.
To his credit, Melo has made strides in sharing the ball.
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If this were written a year ago, the most glaring weakness and the one groaned about all 2010-11 by fans and sportswriters alike, would have been the team's lack of defense.
How things change.
Defense is not the big blip on the radar anymore. There's the Defensive Player of the Year, his backup Marcus Camby and even Kurt Thomas can still poke someone in the eye.
The paradigm has shifted to fundamental basketball. Rebounding. Ball distribution. Superstar output. Bench depth. And smart, selfless leadership. And defense too.
Mike Woodson does seem to be the kind of coach that can put all this together, and convince Carmelo Anthony it was his idea.
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