If the Knicks win 54, the minimal acceptable number for a roster of this stature and cost, they’d finish the season at 54-28 (.660), New York’s best record in over 15 years. That would probably be good enough for the three seed. This, and even better, is doable.
Let’s break it down.
Whether stability or jelling is a big deal or not, the fact is the Knicks have been in flux since Carmelo Anthony’s arrival.
Three-fifths of the starting lineup changed immediately. And the other two-fifths, Amar’e Stoudemire and Landry Fields, lost their games.
Stoudemire, a critical piece if the Knicks want to compete with the Miami Heat, would soon be nursing a back injury through the postseason and into the following year. His scoring average dropped eight points.
Fields was worse. He averaged not much more than eight points a game.
On top of this, there was practically no offseason and a shortened, relatively grueling 2011-12 season that afforded little time to rest any aches and pains, much less nagging or more serious injuries.
The lineup changed again that offseason with the amnesty of Chauncey Billups and addition of Tyson Chandler, which was great for defense, but created a point guard problem that hasn’t proven itself to yet be over (though we hope with the return of Raymond Felton).
Two-thirds of the way through 2011-12, coach Mike D’Antoni, whose rare, rapid seven seconds or less offense was never a good fit for Anthony from day one, was relieved. Mike Woodson, whose more standard half-court offensive scheme couldn’t have been more different than D’Antoni’s, was left to clean up the Knicks’ 18-24 up-and-down mess.
In between, you had Linsanity, which while great, was creating a whole new offensive balance.
I hate excuses, but saying all this instability doesn’t have an effect on a team’s performance might be denying reality. Maybe the greatest teams overcome all this. They do.
But I’m just talking about a few additional wins, here. Despite all of the above, the Knicks have still been 50-44 since the big trade. Having settled down from all this impermanence, the Knicks should be able to affix a few more ticks in the 2012-13 win column.
Now let’s take a look at Mike Woodson. He went 18-6 after taking over for D’Antoni. Down that stretch, the Knicks faced the Pacers three times; the Magic, Hawks and Bulls twice; and the 76ers, Clippers, Celtics and Heat.
As I pointed out previously, “if Woodson were to mimic this performance over a whole season, he'd register a 62-20 record.”
It’s not inconceivable. But it’s not likely either. It has to translate into a better record than D’Antoni’s best with the team, though, which was 42-40 without Anthony and Chandler, two of the best in the game at what they do.
To be on the conservative side, shave 20 percent off that max of 62 wins and New York would start off with a more reasonable 50-32 record, before looking at another two interesting coach comparison statistics.
Since the beginning of the 2010-11 season, when Stoudemire joined, D’Antoni oversaw eight losing streaks of three or more games. Woodson did not lose two games in a row, and all but one of his losses was followed by a convincing victory. The ability of Woodson’s team to bounce back and arrest losing streaks before they begin is a big contrast with D'Antoni's.
Here’s another Woodson improvement: Beating bad teams. Last season, the Knicks had 12 losses against non-playoff teams, only two of which under Woodson. Even with the difference in time of tenure, Woodson’s 9-2 over the NBA’s riff-raff was vastly better than D’Antoni’s poor 12-10.
Based on these facts and some reasonable assumptions—roster and coaching stability, the team's first full camp and season together, a Stoudemire comeback of any sort, an upgrade at starting shooting guard, an established defense, a deeper bench, better coaching, a proper point guard at the outset of the season, an offensive scheme that lends itself to Carmelo Anthony, avoiding losing streaks and consistently beating the bottom feeders—it's not a far leap to conclude the Knicks could tack on a good 8-12 win improvement over D'Antoni's 42 a couple seasons ago. [Note: the 36-30 season translates to about 44 wins over a full schedule]
That puts us again around that 50-54 win mark.
But if logic doesn't do it for you, here's some math.
Below is a list of the Knicks opponents and how many games (G) will be played against each this year. The next two columns estimate the fewest number of wins (-) or most number of wins (+) New York could post against these teams. The final column (AVG) averages the sum of fewest and most possible wins.
|Golden State Warriors||2||1||2||1.5|
|Los Angeles Clippers||2||0||1||0.5|
|Los Angeles Lakers||2||0||1||0.5|
|New Orleans Hornets||2||1||2||1.5|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||2||0||1||0.5|
|Portland Trail Blazers||2||1||2||1.5|
|San Antonio Spurs||2||0||1||0.5|
The result? 50 wins.
When I started the chart, I had no idea the result would be right in line with our logical, reasonable assumptions.
But I think New York can still win more than that.
By my count, there are a good 36 games or so against some pretty bad teams up there, averaging out to 27.5 wins. If the Knicks are for real, and truly intend to contend, they need to play better than average here, and they cannot play worse than average against most of their other opponents. This is where the Knicks can pad their win total with an additional four to six wins, or more.
One more thing—52 of the Knicks' games (either in a season series of three or four) are played against 14 teams, and other than the Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets (and maybe the 76ers), none made dramatic improvements to their rosters.
Meanwhile, the Knicks are better than last year’s team that played to a .545 percentage (36-30) for all of the reasons listed above.
Conclusion: The Knicks will finish 54-28, and could be as good as 56-26 but no more.
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