With a new-look team and an old-school coach in Mike Woodson, the New York Knicks are primed to make a run for the playoffs.
The only difference this time around is that, unlike the past two seasons, the team is in a position to actually compete and not just run out of gas and die in the first round. Yet, as the Philadelphia 76ers showed everyone last season, nothing is guaranteed in the playoffs and just one game can set the tone for a series.
That said, the Knicks still have some work to do before they become a playoff powerhouse a la the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. After years of relying on high-octane scoring to bring home the win, New York is now moving back to a hard-nosed defensive approach that defined the teams of the '90s and led to almost automatic playoff appearances.
Seeing as how team stars Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire are used to playing in systems that let them do their own thing and not really change up their game, such a change will be challenging from the get go.
Of course, Stoudemire and Anthony's collective performance is just the tip of the iceberg. In terms of being a successful playoff team, the Knicks need to do just more than keep their stars in check.
The goal of any team at the start of an NBA season is to win and contend for a championship by any means necessary. Yet, certain star players have egos and may have a skewed version of what winning means.
With players like Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony, both of whom pride themselves on being good in the clutch, it may mean "let's win a title, but only if I'm the one carrying the team down that road."
Thus, the Knicks need to throw all egos out the window this year and unite as a complete unit.
The team is just too deep and talented not to do well and to see the wheels come off the rails just because one player or another doesn't feel like sharing the ball. That would be devastating. Rather, each man needs to know his role and do whatever it takes for the Knicks as a whole to be a success.
Thinking about it now, it wouldn't be a bad idea for team management to quote and subsequently enact the mantra of long-time Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis: JUST WIN BABY!!
Carmelo Anthony is a tremendous athlete, with a great frame at 6'8", 230 pounds that is ideal for creating mismatches and fighting for a loose rebound. However, the former Syracuse Orange is still a scorer first, and last year, posted his worst average (22.6 PPG) since the 2004-05 season.
As talented as he is, critics have referred to him as selfish and a ball hog—not exactly the type of player who can help lead the Knicks back to glory.
Yet, Anthony appeared to turn over a new leaf this offseason when he said he was ready to have his scoring take a back seat and be more of a team player. If what he says is true, it's going to be the best thing to ever happen to the Knicks in a long time.
Too long has the team been associated with players with me-first attitudes and poor work ethics (i.e. Eddy Curry, Steve Francis, Stephon Marbury, etc.) and hearing a superstar like Anthony say this is a breath of fresh air.
By not solely relying on him and getting everyone involved on the offensive side of the court, the Knicks will have a distinct advantage with their depth and be able to create multiple scenarios in close games. With Woodson's isolation game, whoever has the hot hand at the time will get the ball, be it Anthony or notoriously great three-point man Steve Novak.
With an offense as balanced as that and with Anthony willing to share opportunities, the Knicks will definitely turn things around in the postseason.
Like his teammate Anthony, Stoudemire has been no stranger to critics in recent years. Since signing a lucrative contract with the Knicks in the summer of 2010, he has had a few visits from the injury bug, most notably a back problem that debuted in the 2011 playoffs and returned toward the end of last season.
Most recently, he suffered a minor knee injury that kept him out of a preseason game—not at all helping his reputation as being soft.
Yet, with a slowed-down game now taking shape in New York, Stoudemire is in a great position to redeem himself playing for Woodson. He has a great NBA body at 6'11", 245 pounds, and despite being someone whose best strength is his scoring, he is a fine rebounder and a great presence to have under the basket.
By using his size on offense more often and also establishing him as a tough defender in the paint alongside reigning Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler, the Knicks will be doing themselves a great service in the playoffs if Stoudemire can change up his game in this manner and stay healthy.
Given how he worked out with Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon during the offseason, fans should be optimistic from the start.
Mike Woodson's coaching style is all about playing defense, which is why coaching the Knicks this season will make him feel like a kid in a candy store.
On his team's roster, he has four fine defensive players whose presence on the court can only mean good things: guards Iman Shumpert (returning from ACL surgery in January) and Ronnie Brewer and centers Marcus Camby and Tyson Chandler.
Simply put, though consistent scoring from Anthony and Stoudemire is essential to the team's overall performance, a tough defensive effort from Chandler and Brewer, not to mention Camby staying healthy and Shumpert fully recovering from his knee issues, is what's really going to determine how New York does come playoff time.
Brewer needs to stick to opposing players like glue and not turn in disastrous efforts on offense, while Camby just needs to rebound and block when necessary and not try anything fancy under the basket, lest he miss significant time with injuries.
It's like the old adage goes: Offense wins games, defense wins championships. If the Knicks can balance both out perfectly and not back down on either front, then winning a ring becomes all the more realistic.
To say that the Knicks don't trust or haven't responded well to Woodson is the furthest thing from the truth, as the team went 18-6 under him last season, and he guided them to their first postseason win in a decade.
On top of that, the team's dismal performance in the playoffs isn't necessarily his fault as Shumpert tore his ACL and meniscus in Game 1 and Stoudemire lacerated his hand following a Game 2 loss and thus he missed Game 3.
More importantly, he didn't have Jeremy Lin getting his stars the ball, as the Harvard grad was recovering from knee surgery and didn't get healthy in time for the postseason.
That said, the Knicks need to look at the upcoming season as one with the slate wiped clean and with Woodson piloting the ship in the right direction. From start to finish, all they have to do is have confidence in him and stick with his approach through thick and thin.
Even if the team is in the midst of a losing streak, they just have to keep plugging away using Woodson's game and not try to do their own thing or use a different system.
The fact is that Woodson was signed to a multi-year contract for a reason. The players clearly responded well to him last season and legitimately enjoy playing for him. He even has Carmelo Anthony's seal of approval, which, while a sign of support, is also indicative of how well the Knicks' star will play for his current coach.
Long story short, just how well the Knicks do this year depends on if Woodson can carry the magic from those 24 games last season into the new campaign.
If his players can come into 2012-13 with a positive outlook from the get-go and be ready to compete from start to finish using his system and nothing else, then the New York fans will have reason to smile for the first time in over 10 years.