The New York Knicks may have had the most curious offseason of any team in the NBA. They parted ways with young, high upside pieces in Landry Fields and Jeremy Lin due to financial constraints while bringing in the kind of veteran talent usually reserved for a proven contender like Miami or Los Angeles.
Now, with Lin suiting up for Houston and Iman Shumpert still a ways away from returning after an ACL injury, New York is still a playoff-caliber team, but among the oldest in the league. In order to succeed next season, they will be depending not only on the fragile chemistry that earned them a seventh seed last season, but also a number of players with serious mileage on their legs.
Few teams have as much sheer talent as the Knicks, and on paper they appear capable of beating any squad given their pair of superstars and bolstered depth, but in actuality it is that lack of chemistry and reliance on battle-tested players that will prevent the team from hoisting its first championship banner since 1973 when Willis Reed and Walt Frazier were still running the hardwood at Madison Square Garden.
New York will undoubtedly win its share of games behind proven contributors like Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby as well as their high-scoring tandem of Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, but here are eight reasons that that won’t be enough to secure a Larry O’Brien trophy next June.
The problem of Stoudemire and Anthony not complimenting each other has been dissected to death, but their inability to feed off of one another significantly hampers the Knicks' potential. Both are scoring forwards that can play in the post and on the perimeter, and both big men love to work with the ball in their hands and play off the isolation.
In their first full campaign together, both players struggled with Stoudemire having his worst full season since his rookie year, averaging 17.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game on 48.3 percent shooting from the field while failing to be named to the All-Star team.
Anthony played brilliantly in the month of April and the playoffs against Miami, but his averages of 22.6 points, 6.4 boards and 3.6 assists on 43 percent field-goal shooting and 33.5 percent from three are below what the hyper-talented small forward is capable of putting up.
The two rarely had strong games together. If Anthony was the hot hand, then Stoudemire would see only a handful of shots, but would also fail to make an impact defensively or on the glass. While if Stat was hot, Anthony would still call for the ball and not work to create shots for his teammates.
What brought the Miami Heat a championship was that they were able to have a two-pronged attack with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James where they impacted the game in a myriad of ways. Whether it was locking-down defensively, making smart passes or getting to the foul line, Wade and James found a way to play in sync and that made Miami practically unbeatable.
Until New York can find a way for their star frontcourt to play for each other and put effort into more than just racking up points, the Stoudemire-‘Melo experiment will always be deemed a disappointment by Knicks fans.
The New York Knicks have one of the deeper frontcourts in the league, with Stoudemire, Camby and Tyson Chandler all being starting caliber big men who can contribute at a very high level. However, all three have spent a good deal of time in the league, particularly the 38-year-old Camby, and it is well documented that older centers in the league have a very difficult time staying healthy.
Camby proved to be durable in 2011-2012, playing in 59 games for Houston and Portland, while averaging 4.9 points, nine rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.4 blocks per game. However, that was in 23 minutes of playing time per night and it remains to be seen if he can adjust to a much more limited role off the bench.
Chandler also had a brilliant season, slogging through 62 games while battling a myriad of injuries en route to a Defensive Player of the Year award and averages of 11.3 points, 9.9 rebounds, 0.9 assists and 1.4 blocks per contest. However, the dynamic seven-footer has missed significant time in the past and has only recently appeared to shake the injury bug.
Stoudemire’s struggles to stay on the court have been well-documented, despite being just 29 he has had a slew of health issues, most notably his microfracture knee surgery and recent back issues. He missed 19 games during the lockout-shortened season and looked simply a step slow while he was out on the court.
The Eastern Conference has a number of solid big men that New York will have to contend with, particularly Al Horford, Roy Hibbert and Andrew Bynum, talented centers that the Knicks will see plenty of next season.
Big men are typically the most fragile players on the court given their size and weight, and those issues only increase as they age.
The Knicks’ frontcourt looks very solid heading into training camp, but it will be an absolute miracle if Stat, Camby and Chandler can stay on the floor together for the brunt of the season.
With Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd on the roster, New York has options at point guard, but both players are solidly removed from their best basketball and are not the stellar playmakers that they once were.
Kidd is coming off of easily his worst professional year, though he ran the show adequately for Dallas he averaged a mere 6.2 points, 4.1 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game while shooting an unimpressive 36.3 percent from the field and 35.4 percent from three-point territory.
Felton’s lockout season was hampered by conditioning issues and he looked nothing like the player he was during his brief first tenure with the Knicks. He averaged 11.4 points, 2.5 rebounds and 6.5 dimes on 40.7 percent shooting from the floor, decent numbers, but they belie his true lack of impact.
If Kidd in his prime were in New York there would be no issues, but Kidd will likely be the reserve behind Felton in a 15-20 minutes per game capacity while Felton handles most of the duties at the one.
Kidd can still handle the ball, but he is primarily a spot-up shooter nowadays while Felton has never been the kind of floor general Kidd was in his prime.
A great point guard can manage the egos of his teammates, make smart passes and keep his teammates playing unselfish basketball, but neither of the Knicks’ main point men are capable of overhauling the team’s style of play, especially in a Mike Woodson system that will look to minimize the point guard’s impact and put the ball in Carmelo Anthony’s hands as much as possible.
NBA teams have won championships without a quality point guard in the past, but with a pair of declining veterans mopping up most of the available minutes at the one, it is difficult to see New York getting the kind of quality production they need to contend for a title.
This one is pretty simple, by opting for a veteran-laden roster and letting most of their young talent walk out the door, New York has severely damaged its potential and shortened its title window. The team may win a few more games this season and certainly has more playoff experience than they have in the past, but in three seasons the front office will need to begin a complete rebuild.
Anthony, Stoudemire and Chandler are all capable of playing at a very high level, but even with adjustments to the team’s offensive and defensive systems it is difficult to see any of them making marked improvements. Stoudemire has worked on his post game over the summer and that should help him put points on the board, but beyond that he is still a quintessential all-offense, no-defense big man.
New York has also clouded its future by dealing future draft picks to Denver, and thus it will be difficult to acquire quality young talent through the draft, barring an unexpected, savvy selection.
J.R. Smith still has some untapped talent, but he has picked up bad habits during his NBA career that will likely keep him from ever living up to his full potential beyond being just a three-point shooter off the bench.
Even teams like the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs, clubs that will undoubtedly be contending for the 2012-2013 NBA championship, have multiple young pieces they can build around, but New York only has Shumpert to bank on improving over the next few seasons.
There is no shame in playing “win-now” basketball, but New York must have a consistent sense of urgency as next season could very well be their best shot at a championship with this current roster.
This New York team is clearly a grind-it-out, halfcourt oriented unit, as all Mike Woodson basketball teams are. They will rely heavily on an isolation offense centered around Carmelo Anthony and will look to play stout, physical defense to keep them in games until their superstars can take over down the stretch.
While this will work against other veteran teams, the Eastern Conference has improved considerably and boasts some of the league’s best young talent.
New York struggled last season to match up with Miami, finishing a combined 1-7 against the Heat including the playoffs. Miami ratcheted up their defensive intensity, looked to push the pace and constantly moved the ball to catch the slower Knicks off guard.
Beyond just the Heat though, the Knicks will have to contend with an improved Philadelphia team that now features an elite center in Bynum to compliment their slew of young, athletic wing players that love to run the floor and play in transition.
Carmelo has never been an uptempo player and while Felton, Shumpert and Chandler can run the floor in transition, if their superstar refuses to play a faster brand of basketball it will be difficult to commit to matching the pace of teams like Atlanta and Philadelphia, let alone Miami.
The NBA is clearly in an era where athleticism is a player’s most valuable asset, and though New York has a few quality athletes on their roster it will not be enough to consistently match the feverish pace of many of the upper-echelon playoff teams in the Eastern Conference.
Unless New York can consistently dictate the pace of the game, which could be difficult without a true point guard, expect to see them speed-up often by an opponent.
It’s difficult enough to cultivate true chemistry and team-oriented play with any group of NBA players, let alone with a roster like the Knicks’ that features multiple players renowned for their erratic behavior and fiery nature.
Carmelo Anthony has had his share of moments both on-and-off the court, whether it was how he handled his trade demands or his involvement in the infamous Denver-New York brawl at Madison Square Garden. Although he seems to have matured, there’s no denying ‘Melo is an emotional player who can be prone to playing selfish basketball and not looking to make his teammates better.
Amar’e Stoudemire’s frustration over the past year has been evident, and it came to a head in the playoffs when he lashed out and hit a fire extinguisher, gashing his hand and forcing him to miss a game in New York’s eventual 4-1 loss to the Heat. Stoudemire is quality leader, but he needs to be a level-headed voice of reason on this team if they want to contend for a title.
J.R. Smith is another player to watch for as he is just as capable of scoring 30 points and hitting three-pointers in spades as he is of shooting his team out of a game, breaking plays and putting in little-to-no defensive effort. He has clashed with coaches and teammates alike in the past and it is difficult to see him being content in a limited role in Mike Brown’s halfcourt offense.
Even Tyson Chandler was a magnet for technical fouls in the 2011-2012 season and despite having Camby to back him up off the bench, the Knicks desperately need Chandler on the court for as much time as possible.
This New York team has plenty of talent, but given that so many of their players have struggled to control their tempers in the past it will certainly be a feat for New York to build chemistry over the course of the season.
This is similar to the first slide where I stated that ‘Melo and Stoudemire do not compliment each other, but it is more than just that: both players play their best basketball at the power forward position.
Although Anthony is naturally a three and Stoudemire can also play center if necessary, both All-Stars have skill sets that allow them to thrive when lining up at power forward.
‘Melo can exploit his quickness, both off the dribble and in the post, as well as his perimeter shooting touch to draw his man away from the paint and then either pull up for a shot or attempt to find his way to the rim. Stoudemire can also shoot from outside and has a quick first step in order to blow by his defender.
Some people have proposed playing Stoudemire off the bench, but that would create a toxic environment for the team and there is simply no denying that Stat is among the league’s most talented players, even with his physical ailments and declining production.
Lining Stoudemire up at center exposes him defensively, as he struggles to keep pace on the glass and guard the post against players both larger and stronger than he is. Anthony can play small forward well, but he sometimes struggles against the quicker, cagier wing players in the league and is better suited to use his strength to match up with someone a little larger than he is.
Obviously having two of the league’s best forwards is nothing to scoff at, but due to their styles of play, either Amar’e or ‘Melo will always have to adjust and play slightly out of their optimal position when the other one is out on the court.
The difference between New York and teams like Miami and Los Angeles is that even when chemistry issues are present or a player misses time with an injury, the Heat and Lakers will be able to simply rely on their superior talent to win them games on any given night.
If Dwyane Wade isn’t playing well or Chris Bosh is out with an injury, the Heat can count on players like Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers and of course LeBron James to pick up the slack, while if Kobe Bryant struggles shooting the basketball he has Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol to look to down on the block.
The Knicks have plenty of talent, but it is not enough to win them games just by showing up. Even with Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire last season, New York struggled against some of the league’s inferior teams, with their effort on the defensive end often coming into question.
New York also has a slew of either one-way or one-dimensional players that will see the floor as regular parts of the rotation, and it is difficult to depend on a player with a specific task to consistently step up and contribute to multiple facets of the game.
The league’s elite teams can put in a lackadaisical effort and count on the talent disparity with their opponent to ultimately earn them the victory, but the Knicks are simply not that kind of ball club and will struggle plenty of times if they are not consistently playing hounding defense and not taking possessions off.
When a team knows they have more talent than an opponent, it allows them to play as a team and with a high level of confidence, even giving them time to work out chemistry kinks on the fly while still winning basketball games, but this Knicks’ roster is not the kind that can get away with a poor showing due to lack of chemistry, as they do not have the talent to make postseason noise without playing hard for all 82 games.