New York Knicks: Step-by-Step Guide for Return to Playoff Glory Next Season
Entering the 2012-13 season, the New York Knicks are yearning for more than the usual hype and short-lived success.
Talent-wise, this retooled roster is too good to be a seventh or eighth seed and lose in the first round.
How will head coach Mike Woodson get this group of talent to pull in the same direction and play with championship-caliber chemistry? It's a tough task, but definitely doable.
Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler form a daunting core, and they're surrounded by plenty of depth to fill the roles necessary to contend in the Eastern Conference.
With the right plan in place, this franchise could return to playoff glory.
Step 1: Commitment to Defense, Especially on Perimeter
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The Knicks weren't terrible defensively in 2011-12 (ranked 11th in points allowed), but in order to get to the next level, they need to ramp up their on-ball effort and communication, and efficient rotation is paramount.
Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert and Ronnie Brewer are terrific pieces to build the defense around, but it's the rest of the guards and swingmen that present the biggest question marks.
After Mike D'Antoni's resignation and Mike Woodson's promotion, Carmelo Anthony seemed noticeably more invested on the defensive end, so New York hopes that continues into next fall.
The most critical and potentially harmful area of the defense is the point guard position. None of the Knicks' current point guards are great defenders, and they might become a liability if the team doesn't establish strong chemistry.
Step 2: Commitment to Rebounding
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Forty rebounds per game throughout the season isn't going to cut it if the Knicks want to become an elite NBA club.
With strong, athletic post players and forwards, New York has the muscle to get it done. It's just a matter of committing to the glass on both ends of the floor.
It's a team effort, minus the 1-guard rotating back as a safety valve. If J.R. Smith, Steve Novak and Iman Shumpert join the rebounding party, the Knicks have a much better shot at grabbing 45 per game and winning 5-10 more regular season games.
Step 3: Establish Rapport Between Felton and Melo
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Raymond Felton was the floor general of the 2010-2011 Knicks that clicked in Mike D'Antoni's system, and he has a good history with Amar'e Stoudemire.
Carmelo Anthony is the superstar that New York coveted and acquired in exchange for Felton and others.
Now the two are together, and they're easily the most crucial components that will determine whether the offense runs smoothly.
When Anthony is heavily involved in the offense, the ball either goes in the hoop or the engine stalls. Mike Woodson hopes that Felton can keep the ball moving better and utilize Carmelo with flair screens, pick-and-rolls and post-ups.
Step 4: Keep Amar'e Involved Consistently
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When given the opportunity, Amar'e Stoudemire is one of the best power forwards in basketball.
He had a dismal year in 2011-12, but a normally-paced training camp and some tutelage from Hakeem Olajuwon will go a long way to ensure a bounce-back campaign.
New York has depth and scoring ability at the shooting guard and small forward positions, but in the post, the only true scorer is Stoudemire.
Giving him consistent touches each quarter is wise because it will keep him sharp and keep opposing defenses honest. New York can't get too wrapped up in running every play through Carmelo, because Amar'e brings the low-block threat that alters game plans.
Step 5: Establish Backup PG Rotation
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New York's point guard situation is vastly different from last year's, so it calls for a whole new attention to the depth chart and rotation.
Jason Kidd might be in the twilight of his career, but he's still good enough to play 20 or so minutes if need be. Also, Argentinian veteran Pablo Prigioni will be on the roster, and he adds depth in case of injury to Felton or Kidd.
Felton's youth and skills indicate that he'll play at least 30 minutes per game, but that still leaves a healthy chunk of time for both Kidd and Prigioni to make their mark.
The task for Mike Woodson early on is to determine properly-timed substitutions (for example, deciding whether Kidd should start the second quarter and when to play Prigioni).
Step 6: Keep Steve Novak Moving
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Having a spot-up sniper like Steve Novak is great, but wide open looks from an isolation set are less frequent and less proactive from the spot-up shooter's perspective.
Novak is a great spot-up shooter, but he's more dynamic and more dangerous when he's on the move.
In this video, notice the looks he gets at 0:15, 0:30 and 1:15 by moving to the open space, using pump fakes and running to the sweet spot on the fast break.
With defenses already preoccupied with the plethora of Knicks scorers, Novak's movement will give them one more problem to deal with.
Step 7: J.R. Smith's Marching Orders
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To get the most out of J.R. Smith and avoid any locker room drama, Woodson must establish his mindset with Smith heading into 2012-13 and specify exactly how he'll be valued on the team.
The "J.R. Smith Marching Orders" would look something like this:
1. Do what you do best: supplement our scoring attack, have fun and energize the crowd.
2. Play defense on every possession, or you won't get as much playing time to enjoy No. 1.
3. If you find yourself dribbling the ball for more than eight seconds, find a seat on the bench. We already have another ball-hog to do that, and he's better than you.
4. If you find yourself complaining about your role or about coaching decisions, remember that you were a free agent this past summer, and you could have gone elsewhere.
Step 8: Melo Must Maintain Focus Throughout
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The key to empowering all seven steps through the regular season and into the playoffs is Carmelo Anthony's focus and leadership.
Melo's potential to win has been questioned for much of his career, as some doubt that his playing style will ever allow him to lead a team on a title run.
The intangibles, not the basketball, will determine whether Carmelo achieves NBA glory. If he can stay focused throughout an entire season and be more of a leader than a distraction, the basketball will take care of itself.
He doesn't have to be Kobe or LeBron. As long as he approaches the game with the team in mind, his play on the court and guidance in the locker room will enable the team to reach its potential.
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