The 6 Most Pivotal Players for the New York Knicks in 2012-13
Carmelo Anthony is obviously a “pivotal” Knick in 2012-13. So is Tyson Chandler, last season’s NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
According to merriam-webster.com, the definition of pivotal is “vitally important, critical.”
So let’s take Anthony and Chandler as givens, both in the understanding of their importance to the team and with the assumption that they will continue to play at the high level they exhibited last year and over most of their careers.
But what about Amar’e Stoudemire? Is he pivotal in 2012-13?
Yes, but in a different way.
Anthony will draw the ball as usual and put up 22-25 points a game. Chandler will clog the middle and pull down 10 rebounds a night. Jason Kidd will be a serviceable backup and spot starter who probably will play a little better than he did last year. Kurt Thomas will eat up some minutes.
But who are the pivotal Knicks?
Whose performances in 2012-13 will distinguish this year’s version of the team from last year's? Who will take the Knicks to the next level—win two playoff games perhaps? Or hopefully more?
Or which Knicks will be the impetus for a No. 3 or 4 seed, or push the team over the edge to an Atlantic Division championship or even more?
Who will be the difference-makers?
The root of “pivotal,” coincidentally a basketball term itself, is “pivot.”
The first definition listed for pivot is “a pin on which something turns.”
For the Knicks, that “something” is the 2012-13 season. And the “pin,” these six players upon which it turns.
1. Amar'e Stoudemire
How good would the Knicks be if Stoudemire could return to his consistent play of two seasons ago?
Even if Stoudemire turned out to be the relative non-factor that he was during the 2011-12 regular season and the past couple of postseasons, New York would probably do at least as well as last year, and maybe even a little better. In all 55 games he played during that span, 36 of which under Mike D’Antoni, Stoudemire scored 30 points once and averaged about 17 points per game.
Since Anthony’s game, the fulcrum of the offensive scheme, is Stoudemire-independent, the Knicks would wind up with a similar-ish 45 wins, maybe topping out at 48, if Amar’e’s malaise continues.
The rest of Knicks will be able to carry Stoudemire's load, contract and all, to the postseason.
However, to the Knicks, a resurgent Stoudemire, like the one (or almost like the one) who scored 30 points 22 times, including nine games in a row (remember that?) the season before, would be like the Hulk to the Avengers.
That isn’t going to happen, though, even with Stoudemire at full strength and all the Hakeem Olajuwon training. Mike Woodson’s game isn’t going to allow that.
What can be hoped for is a full season of at least 72-75 games played with more than 20 points, eight or nine rebounds and more fouls drawn per game.
That would be pivotal, elevating the Knicks a few notches in the Eastern Conference.
2. Raymond Felton
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Amar’e Stoudemire’s fate will be tied to Raymond Felton more than the other way around.
As Newsday put it, they were a “lethal combination” when paired two years ago, and quoted Stoudemire as saying:
Myself and Ray, we're starting to really understand what it takes to play that pick-and-roll. You know, setting a screen a certain way, rolling hard, guys getting better spacing. It opens the court a little bit so Ray has better options as far as passing angles.
Provided Felton returns in shape, which is the first priority, he should be able to get his assists back up to eight a game and his scoring average back up to 14 of 15 a game, his career average.
Felton is prepared to manage the meshing of Anthony and Stoudemire. And with the some of the fallout from dealing Jeremy Lin likely to fall on Felton's shoulders should he fail to lift the Knicks, Felton stared it down, per hoopsworld:
I’m a dog. I’m a guy that’s not afraid of either one of them. I’m a guy where if they get mad and upset, I’m able to sit there and tame them. I’m going to let these guys know, ‘Look, I’m going to get you the ball. Just let me run this team. You all are going to get your shots.’
That sounds like a difference-maker to me.
3. Steve Novak
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Steve Novak is a bargain at four years and $15 million.
Sneaky-good Novak is the best three-point shooter in the NBA, leading the league in percentage last season.
The Knicks NBA site is quick to remind us that Novak had “eight games with three triples, eight games of four treys, six five-triple games and a career-best eight three-pointers during an Apr. 17 [game] versus Boston.”
And when Novak is utilized to maximum effect, both as a decoy and a dagger, the Knicks are deadly.
They won that game against the Celtics, 118-110, and were 16-7 in Novak’s most productive games for a .700 winning percentage.
New York is 19-9 (.680) when Novak plays more than 20 minutes and 8-2 (.800) when he plays more than 25.
That sounds pretty pivotal to me.
Five games into his tenure, Mike Woodson decided to go long with Novak, playing him 20 minutes or more in 17 of the final 19 games of 2011-12.
That bodes well for 2012-13.
4. Marcus Camby
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Marcus Camby brings experience and savvy defense, still banging the blocked shots and boards at the age of 38. And he'll throw in some opportune baskets for you. But who cares?
The question is, when will age catch up with him? If it doesn't in 2012-13, the Knicks will have a weapon they haven't had since Camby backed up a still-kicking Patrick Ewing in the late 90s, a one-two that found its way to the NBA Finals in 1999.
That is a serious big-man defensive threat who can come off the bench and hold the fort.
Now, the Knicks suddenly have a second line with newcomers Jason Kidd at the point, potential 45-percent shooter Ronnie Brewer at the No. 2 and Camby, the pivotal defensive side to Steve Novak’s offensive coin.
Throw in Amar'e Stoudemire, and that’s a solid five. Alternate with Stoudemire, and you can have Camby and Chandler on the floor at the same time.
5. Iman Shumpert
Marc Serota/Getty Images
As reported by Al Iannazzone over at sulia.com, Coach Woodson said Iman Shumpert "might be ahead of schedule in his rehab [and] pointed to January" as a return date.
Shumpert brought more than expected his rookie year: a relentless, stalking defense and some flashes of offensive charm. You (and I) likely didn't recall he scored in double figures in 10 of the first 12 games of the season last year. How many surprise first-round picks, or rookies for that matter, do that?
He was also the only 2011-12 rookie to receive votes for Defensive Player of the Year.
Can he do it again in his return from ACL surgery? Not exactly. Shumpert’s time will be limited when he comes back, and he won't get to the 35-40 minutes he routinely put up last year right out of the gate.
But during the most important part of the season—March and April—Shumpert will shore up the Knicks bench's offensive and defensive depth, and start at or back up at either guard position.
Such utility will be invaluable down the stretch.
6. J.R. Smith
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
J.R. Smith is a little wild, personally and professionally. It took a good 10 minutes of sifting through erratic Smith photos of the most contorted facial and body poses to finally settle on this elegant one. And so, as a fan, you might be a little jumpy when he has the ball.
But what's so pivotal about Smith are two things.
First, he is filling what sadly became a major hole in New York's lineup, the shooting guard role that was played by Landry Fields' ghost the past one-and-a-half seasons. With Fields and his 62 starts out of the way, Smith can pad his total starts. He had one a year ago.
That is good for the Knicks. Fields had dwindled to just nine points and five rebounds a game.
Smith is better and more experienced than Fields almost everywhere on the court, with 12.5 points and four boards a game (and an impressive 16.2 points per 36 minutes). He handles the ball better, passes better, is an equivalent defender and, frankly, is much more lively than the recently gaunt Fields.
Second, he feeds Carmelo Anthony the ball. When finally under Woodson, the two were able to play unfettered for 25-30 minutes a game together, and both players' stats improved markedly.
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