'So when do we play Nigeria this season?'
The preseason is over. Actual basketball is almost here and the New York Knicks have their best roster of this millennium.
After an eventful offseason, the Knicks are loaded up with talent and experience, and they're constructed to make a title run for the next two years. Mike Woodson has had a complete offseason to instill his coaching strategy and Carmelo Anthony had his first full training camp as a Knick.
With the season set to kick off next week, it's time to make some bold predictions for the Knicks in 2012-13.
Why? Because fortune favors the bold.
Most Valuable Player. Least Valuable Sweater.
Carmelo Anthony is one of the best pure scorers on Earth, but he has never finished higher than sixth in the voting for the NBA MVP (in 2007-08, when he had his fourth highest PPG average, but the highest field goal percentage of his career).
This season, he will crack the top five. It's nearly impossible to surpass the elite play of LeBron James and Kevin Durant, and Chris Paul can contribute in every facet of the game, so Melo will find himself fourth in the voting at the season's end.
Anthony has been talking about a team-first mentality and a dedication to winning—instead of padding his stats—all during training camp, so he appears prepared to post averages closer to 20 points, eight rebounds and five assists instead of his customary 25, six and three. He was also much more active on defense after Mike Woodson took over head coaching duties.
And that equals a more dynamic Knicks team and a more valuable Melo.
When NBA GMs were asked who would win the MVP, 3.3 percent of them said it would be Anthony. He will come close, but will have to settle for an honorable mention.
Amar'e Stoudemire will miss the start of the season.
Amar'e Stoudemire will miss at least the first week of the season after suffering a ruptured cyst in his left knee. It is the same knee which he had microfracture surgery on back in 2005.
The Knicks will begin the season without him and it will give fans—and Mike Woodson—a glimpse of what an Amar'e-less starting lineup would look like with this roster.
Much has been made of the fact that Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony do not work well together. Their styles of play are not complementary and it detracts from the optimal spacing of the floor on offense. It also means having a weak defender starting at the 4.
While Stoudemire flashed some of moves that he added to his repertoire (after being under the tutelage of Hakeem Olajuwon) in an 18-point performance against Toronto on October 19, it was Stoudemire's only preseason game.
Amar'e in repose. Get used to it.
Despite Woodson's insistence that Stoudemire will "absolutely" start once he returns, the injury should give him pause (per CBSSports.com). Stoudemire's minutes must be managed carefully.
He missed 19 games with a back injury last season, and the Knicks were 22-25 with him on the court. In the 22 wins, he averaged 30.9 minutes, 50.4 percent shooting and 1.8 turnovers. In the 25 defeats, he averaged 34.6 minutes, 46.8 percent shooting and 2.9 turnovers. Simply put, his performance suffers with overuse.
The Knicks have great depth in their backcourt but are thin at power forward. Amar'e as a second unit player getting 28 minutes a night would allow the Knicks to move Melo to the 4 and have Ronnie Brewer at the 3 with Jason Kidd (and eventually Iman Shumpert) at the 2.
Stoudemire has never averaged fewer than 31.3 minutes over a season in his career. Even if Amar'e remains a starter upon his return, the 29-year-old will see the fewest minutes of his career so he stays healthy.
The last time they won 50 games, Anthony Mason was the height of hair fashion.
The Knicks haven't won more than 50 games since 1997. They will snap that streak this season.
They have two Defensive Player of the Year winners in Tyson Chandler and Marcus Camby. They have three talented point guards in Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni.
They have three players in the frontcourt who can punish opponents on the pick-and-roll in Amar'e Stoudemire, Chandler and Camby. And they have last year's league leader in three-point shooting percentage in Steve Novak.
Oh, yeah, and they have Carmelo Anthony too.
It's a stacked roster that can score in numerous ways and play stout defense. The roster is loaded with players who have the experience to prioritize winning and overcome adversity. Unlike last year, this squad should cement a consistent style of play and put the Eastern Conference on notice.
Mike Woodson goes sans tie. He's feeling confident. And he should.
Boston restructured their lineup in the offseason. They lost Ray Allen, but gained Jason Terry. They acquired Courtney Lee and re-signed Brandon Bass. Jeff Green returns after missing last season due to an aneurysm. They also drafted two high upside players in Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo.
But Sullinger has back issues and Melo has a questionable work ethic. Stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett aren't getting any younger. And no one seems to like the mercurial Rajon Rondo. The Celtics are a lock for the playoffs, but they will struggle with their chemistry and finish second in the division.
The Nets were 22-44 last season. They added Joe Johnson...and that's about it. They will finish third in the division. The Sixers will quickly realize how much they miss Andre Iguodala. They'll finish fourth in the division and struggle to make the playoffs.
The Knicks are stacked with talent and experience, and their coach stresses defense above all else. With that formula for success, if they can stay relatively healthy (every team's disclaimer), they will find themselves atop the Atlantic in April.
Iman Shumpert will rejoin the team at midseason. Come playoff time, he'll be fresher than Will Smith in Bel Air.
I predicted back in August that the Knicks would make the Eastern Conference finals this season. I'm standing pat on that prognostication. I see them taking down Philadelphia and Indiana on their way to the ECF. The defense of Ronnie Brewer and Iman Shumpert will make a huge difference in the playoffs.
Unfortunately, the Knicks still don't have enough to slay Miami. The Heat diversified their roster in the offseason and LeBron James is playing the best basketball of his career.
If you key on the Big Three inside and manage to contain them, Miami can still kill you with the perimeter shooting of Mike Miller and Ray Allen. And the whole team flat out brings it on defense.
I see the Heat facing off against Oklahoma City again. Except this time, the Thunder win it all.