Predicting New York Knicks' 8 Biggest Surprises and Breakout Players
The uncertainty surrounding the 2012-2013 Knicks provides an opportunity for plenty of surprises and breakout performances. The team added several new pieces this offseason, have key players recovering from injuries and Mike Woodson is entering his first full season as head coach.
New York also tends to bring out the best and worst of athletes on and off the court, and the Knicks have historically been willing to make bold personnel moves.
Two years ago, the team acquired Carmelo Anthony in a blockbuster deal prior to the trade deadline. Last season, Linsanity took over the NBA, Steve Novak dusted off the cobwebs to lead the league in three-point shooting and Mike D'Antoni resigned mid-season.
What can Knicks fans expect to see this year? Here are predictions for the Knicks' 8 biggest surprises and breakout players for the 2012-2013 season.
8. James White Will Be a Sparkplug off the Bench
James "Flight" White has had two unsuccessful stints in the NBA, but there is reason to believe that the third time will be a charm.
Over the past decade, the NBA has morphed into a more athletic league. Coaches are forfeiting size in favor of quickness and athleticism. The Heat and Thunder put the rest of the league on notice in June, proving that in order to compete for championship, teams must be able to defend their perimeter and wing players.
James White's greatest strength is his perimeter defense. He is a phenomenal athlete and at 6'7'' can defend the shooting guard and small forward positions. Like Anthony Parker, another athletic wing player who flourished in Europe before returning to the NBA, the 29-year-old White can carve out a niche for himself as a lock-down defender.
There are several players ahead of him on the depth chart, but Coach Woodson will find a way to utilize his athleticism against teams with big shooting guards and athletic wing players. Once he hits the floors, his acrobatic dunks will electrify the Garden crowd and energize his teammates.
7. The Knicks Will Not Make Any Major Moves
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Controversy, turmoil and change have become the norm for the Knicks. The roster has turned over several times over the past few seasons alone, but this season general manager Glen Grunwald will not make any significant changes.
The Knicks will not trade for Chris Paul or any other superstar. New York has the pieces in place to be very competitive. They do not have any glaring weakness and perhaps, more importantly, lack the assets to significantly upgrade the roster.
Mike Woodson's job is secure for at least this season. He has the respect of Anthony, Stoudemire and Chandler. And Anthony in particular is wary of the public relations implications of feuding with another coach.
This is still New York. James Dolan still owns the team. And the Knicks have some big name players. So you can be certain that there will be drama during the season, but as far as the Knicks go, this will be a relatively calm year.
6. Ronnie Brewer Will Make Knicks Fans Forget About Landry Fields
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Landry Fields was beloved by the Garden faithful for his hustle, intelligence and ability to impact a game without scoring. They were sad to see him go when the Knicks declined to the three-year, $20 million offer sheet he signed with the Raptors.
Fields will most likely be replaced in the starting lineup by Ronnie Brewer, who the Knicks signed as a free agent for the veteran's minimum a few weeks after Fields bolted for Toronto. The former Chicago Bull will make Knicks' fans forget about Fields in no time.
Fields and Brewer's numbers per 36 minutes were strikingly similar last season and their offensive games are quite comparable. Both have a flat, inconsistent jump-shots and each excels at creating space and scoring opportunities with timely cuts to the basket.
The difference between the two is defense. Fields is an average defender at best. He has good instincts and quick hands, but is not rangy and lacks the lateral mobility to keep up with the quicker guards in the league.
Brewer is an outstanding defender who will soften the blow of losing Iman Shumpert for the first couple months of the season. He possesses the size and wing span to cover small forwards and the quickness to lock down shooting guards. Brewer has averaged two steals per 36 minutes over his six-year career.
5. Amar'e Stoudemire Will Be a Force Once Again
Last season, Stoudemire lacked the explosiveness and athleticism that once made him a dominant offensive force. His history of knee problems and back injuries are reason for concern, but talk of his decline is premature.
The 2011-2012 season began abruptly after the NBA lock out. A compressed schedule and lack of training camp was detrimental to Stoudemire's recovery from a back injury he suffered during the 2011 playoffs.
Instead of gradually regaining his timing and conditioning, STAT was thrust into game action. It took him a few months to get his legs under him, but by March, Amar'e was finishing at the rim with thunderous dunks.
Then the Knicks forward was sidelined with a herniated disk. He recovered in time for the playoffs, and despite the layoff, was more agile than he had been earlier in the season.
Stoudemire's back did not require surgery. He is still just 29-years-old, and while he may not be able to leap as high as he could at 22, Amar'e can still soar above the rim.
STAT also worked on post moves with Hakeem Olajuwan for two weeks this summer, which will make him less dependent on his athleticism to score. With a return to the regular 82-game schedule, STAT should be an imposing offensive force once again.
4. The Knicks Will Have at Least Two All-Stars
The Knicks have not had two All-Stars in the same season since Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell in 2001. That will change this year.
Assuming Carmelo Anthony remains healthy, the Knicks' forward is almost a lock for the game in Houston. The Knicks' forward has been selected to five all-star teams and was voted a starter for the Eastern Conference team last season.
Tyson Chandler is long overdue for an All-Star nod and has an opportunity to make the team this season. Many basketball insiders believed the reigning Defensive Player of the Year should have made the team last year.
The two centers on the Eastern Conference squad were Dwight Howard and Roy Hibbert. Howard is no longer in the Eastern Conference, meaning that the starting spot is up for grabs.
Chandler, Hibbert and Andrew Bynum will likely compete for the two center sports. If the Knicks are in the hunt for the Atlantic Division title, Chandler will have an excellent shot at making the team.
Amar'e Stoudemire could also be in the mix for an All-Star spot. STAT has appeared in six All-Star Games, including five consecutive from 2007-2011. The forward position is deeper than center, but if Amar'e regains that hop in his step, his scoring average should creep back above 20 points per game.
3. Iman Shumpert Will Emerge as a Third Scoring Option
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Shumpert was a revelation in his rookie season. The young shooting guard suffocated opposing perimeter players with his relentless ball pressure.
Offensively, he struggled at times. His jumper was inconsistent—he shot just 40 percent from the field and 31 percent on three-pointers—and like most rookies, his shot selection was questionable.
Three factors beyond his control hindered his development: summer league was canceled, he did not have the benefit of a full training camp and he played out of position.
Due to injuries and a lack of viable alternatives, Mike D'Antoni was forced to play Shump at point guard. The neophyte was forced to learn a new position, rather than acclimating himself to his natural position of shooting guard at the professional level.
Shump showed signs that he could develop into a dangerous offensive weapon. He used a quick first step to attack the basket and has the athleticism to finish around the rim. His shot selection and shooting percentage improved as the season progressed.
Shumpert tore his ACL in the Knicks' first playoff game and is out until at least late December. The Knicks will bring him along slowly, though he has proved to be a quick learner. If he continues to progress at the same pace as last season, he is capable of contributing 15 points a night come playoff time.
2. The Knicks Will Be a Top-Five Defensive Team
New York surrendered the third most points per game—105.7—during the 2010-2011 season under Mike D'Antoni. In the summer of 2011, D'Antoni addressed the problem by hiring Mike Woodson to be his "defensive coordinator."
Woodson's efforts were buoyed by the signing of Tyson Chandler, who brought a defensive mentality with him from the 2011 defending-champion Dallas Mavericks. New York's center anchored a much-improved defensive unit that allowed 94.7 points per game, good enough for 11th in the league. Chandler was recognized as the Defensive Player of the Year.
The Knicks were more tenacious defensively once Woodson replaced D'Antoni. Carmelo Anthony, in particular, picked up his intensity after the coaching change and Iman Shumpert developed into a stellar on-the-ball defender. The team's opponents averaged just 91.5 points over the final 24 games of the season.
New York's defense should be even stingier this season. They added two excellent wing defenders in Ronnie Brewer and James White, upgraded defensively at point guard with the addition of Raymond Felton and acquired a premiere shot-blocker and defensive rebounder in Marcus Camby.
The team will benefit from a full training camp under Woodson's system and with a committed Carmelo Anthony leading the way—he lost 15 pounds in the offseason—the Knicks should be among the top five defensive teams in the league.
1. Knicks Will Win the Atlantic Division
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Boston is the pre-season favorite to win the division. They came within one game of the NBA Finals last season and are deeper after the additions of Jeff Green, Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and Jared Sullinger. However, Celtics' coach Doc Rivers and his veteran team are not concerned about playoff seeding and will pace themselves during the regular season.
The Nets invested a tremendous amount of money in a formidable starting five, but they lack the depth of the Knicks and Celtics, It will take the 76ers some time to implement an offense around their new big man, Andrew Bynum.
The Knicks finished strong last season, winning 18 of 24 games under Mike Woodson. Their chemistry of the nucleus of Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler should improve after a full training camp and the additions of veterans like Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby provide the depth necessary to endure the rigors of an 82-game season.
New York has several players with a lot to prove. Their new found commitment to defense will make them competitive on a nightly basis and carry them to their first division title since 1994.