The New York Knicks' Top 5 Training Camp Storylines
There's a lot of hype surrounding the New York Knicks this season, and we'll finally get our first glimpse of them at training camp.
It will be the first offseason practice time for the Knicks since Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler joined the team in 2011. Back then, depth was a major issue in New York, and there appeared to be few sure things outside the Big Three.
Of course, the season proved that things are not always as they appear. Chandler did help spearhead a defensive revival in New York, but Melo and Amar'e Stoudemire had a couple of the worst seasons in their accomplished careers. Meanwhile, the Knicks were weak off the bench, but an unheralded point guard named Jeremy Lin stepped up and provided something of a spark.
Now Lin is gone, the Big Three remain, and a new group of reinforcements are here for the 2012-13 season. Here are the five biggest storylines to follow as the Knicks try to put all the pieces together for a long-awaited run at a title.
5. Finding a Shooting Guard Stopgap
With Iman Shumpert recovering from an ACL tear, the shooting guard position is temporarily unmanned. Who will step in to fill it?
It looked like Ronnie Brewer might be the guy. The former Bull is an even better lockdown defender than Shumpert is, and he would have been a perfect interim shooting guard for the first couple months of the season.
Unfortunately, Brewer will be out for a big chunk training camp rehabbing from arthroscopic knee surgery. Even if his recovery goes according to schedule, he probably wouldn't be in the starting lineup on November 1st.
J.R. Smith is probably the best bet at shooting guard, though the Knicks would prefer to keep him as a scorer off the bench. Another player to watch is Tracy McGrady, who looks like he could be on his way back to New York.
Right now, we couldn't say for sure who the Knicks will play at shooting guard to start off the season. In the next few weeks, we're going to find out.
4. Replacing Lin
Love him or hate him, Jeremy Lin offered the Knicks stability at point guard. When he left for Houston, New York found itself with a void at the point once again.
Unlike last summer, though, New York has made it a priority to shore up the point. Whereas last season they went all-in on a broken down Baron Davis, the Knicks enter this season with impressive depth.
It starts with Raymond Felton. Though he lacks Lin's explosiveness and ability to take over a game, Felton is an able distributor whose toughness will fit in well on the Knicks roster. Felton won't set the world on fire, but with the weapons at his disposal, he's a double-double threat in the backcourt.
Felton's backups are the real strength for the Knicks. Gone are the likes of Mike Bibby and Toney Douglas, with Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni coming off the bench this season. NBA fans have seen Kidd's instincts and awareness on display for 18 years, while Prigioni's fundamentally-sound game was on display when he ran the Argentinian offense in London.
The Knicks will certainly operate differently without Lin, but it will be fun to watch how Mike Woodson utilizes the plenitude of point guards at his disposal.
3. Keeping Up the Defensive Play
With Mike Woodson at the helm and Tyson Chandler in the middle, the Knicks improved dramatically on defense last season.
In 2010-11, before either came to New York, the Knicks allowed 106.9 points per 100 possessions, good for 21st in the league in defensive efficiency. Last season, that number dropped all the way to 98.4 points, and they jumped up to fifth in the league.
Now that it's Woodson's team, he has the ability to build a defensive powerhouse in New York.
He has the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Chandler, as well as Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas off the bench. The two veterans are in their second stints in New York, and they bring with them a savvy and physicality that the second unit had previously lacked.
When Shumpert and Brewer are healthy, Woodson will have a number of plus defenders in his arsenal. The construction of an elite defense starts now.
2. Amar'e in the Post
Amar'e Stoudemire went to summer school, and now it's time to see what he learned.
Coming off a season filled with issues on and off the court, Stoudemire needed a change. He has 10 seasons worth of wear on his body, and it shows up in the box score. Stoudemire appeared in just 47 of 66 games, and he averaged below 20 points per game for the first time since his rookie year.
His athleticism is not gone yet, but STAT cannot rely solely on his body any longer. That's where Hakeem Olajuwon comes in.
The Hall of Famer gave Stoudemire a crash course in low post offense this summer, working one-on-one with him for two weeks. We have yet to see the fruit of Stoudemire's labor, but his teacher's reviews are glowing.
Stoudemire has proved a quick study, assimilating moves and countermoves as fast as Olajuwon can demonstrate them. “It’s night and day,” Olajuwon said. “What’s so nice is he wants it; he likes the post. He’s always wanted to play there, but he doesn’t have the moves that would give him that option.”
Of course, two weeks with Olajuwon does not make a post master. Right now, we can only speculate how far along he is. Once camp kicks off, though, his post game will be a major focus for Knicks fans.
1. Can Melo and Amar'e Play Together?
The top training camp storyline has been the top Knicks storyline for over a year: Can Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire learn to play together?
We've already gone over Stoudemire's poor production last season. Now let's look at Anthony's.
A career .456 shooter, Melo dropped off last year. His .430 field-goal percentage was his lowest since his rookie year, and his 22.6 points per game were his lowest since his sophomore campaign.
Anthony didn't experience as severe a decline as Stoudemire did, but he became the embodiment of an inefficient Knicks offense; New York averaged 101.4 points per 100 possessions last season, 19th in the league.
Whether or not Amar'e figures out a post game, he and Melo have to find a way to coexist offensively. Sure, Woodson could try to separate them as much as possible, but they'd still have to play 20 minutes per game together at the very least.
If Melo and Amar'e don't play well together, the Knicks don't win. It's as simple as that. It was the biggest story in February of 2011, and that hasn't changed since.