The New York Knicks had their best season in over a decade in 2011-12, according to both their .545 winning percentage and playoff “success” (singular).
Cynicism aside, last year was an exciting, roller-coaster season in New York that finished on a relative upswing after beginning on a downer and weathering a fair share of mid-season drama.
The Knicks started 8-15, then finished 18-6. They enjoyed a seven-game winning streak, but suffered two six-game losing streaks.
They had no point guard, then they had the Jeremy Lin explosion, then they had no point guard again.
Along the way, Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire missed a combined 30 games (almost half the shortened season), the Knicks had two head coaches, and New York won its first playoff game since 2001.
They were quickly booted from Round 1, anyway.
But for all the ups and downs, and the Anthony/Stoudemire meshing concerns, there was general overall improvement for this team over 2010-11’s version.
More specifically, one can hone in on defense, for example, as one of the Knicks’ big upgrades.
You can include Mike Woodson’s more successful offense, too. And how about Steve Novak, and Raymond Felton running the point?
All good, but the Knicks are capable of improvement in all these areas, and others too.
But all on one very important condition, one I am sure you are thinking about.
We'll take a look at this caveat at the conclusion.
Despite having the Defensive Player of the Year in Tyson Chandler and arguably the best defensive rookie in Iman Shumpert, the Knicks finished 18th in the league in total rebounds last season, tied with the 20-46 Washington Wizards and behind teams like the 22-44 Sacramento Kings.
As for defensive rebounds, they were 17th, behind the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat.
How did the Knicks defend the boards? Nearly the same: They gave up the 14th- and 16th-most total and defensive rebounds to opponents, respectively.
By definition then, the Knicks were an average rebounding team on defense last season, smack in the middle of the pack.
At just about every position, the Knicks are improved in this category heading into 2012-13.
There’s not much more you can ask of Chandler, who probably won’t put up more than the 10 or so rebounds a game he posted last year.
But the Knicks stocked up on rebounders in the offseason: Marcus Camby, Ronnie Brewer, Pablo Prigioni, and even Kurt Thomas and Jason Kidd are marked improvements over their 2011-12 counterparts.
Five extra rebounds a game might be a lofty goal, but if New York can pad this stat by three, they’d be a top-five rebounding team in the NBA, in the company of the Chicago Bulls, L.A. Lakers and Indiana Pacers.
Prediction: 43.7 RBG (2011-12: 41.7)
By the numbers, the best defensive teams in the NBA in 2011-12 were the Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers, all of them giving up fewer than 90 points per game to opponents.
The Knicks were about five points off the pace at 94.7, a far cry from the 105.7 PPG (27th) they surrendered the season before.
So, obviously, it was a huge year for the Knicks defense.
And I can almost guarantee they will improve on this (don’t forget that caveat at the end).
New York needs to press opponents to two less points a game—just one bucket—to get in the 92-point range and be considered an elite defensive team.
Marcus Camby alone could handle that, and all around, the Knicks are defensively improved, including at head coach.
Imagine what a full season under Mike Woodson will bring here. A slower, half-court game will shave even more off the score.
Prediction: 91.0 Points Allowed (2011-12: 94.7)
Carmelo Anthony gets such a bad rap sometimes, some of it fair, some not.
As time goes on, less of it is fair, because Anthony is adjusting his game. He plays a mean three or four, wherever the Knicks need him.
But take assists, too: Anthony had the second-most on the Knicks last year, and the second-most in his career (per game).
I think that’s going to go up, especially if Anthony winds up occasionally feeding Amar’e Stoudemire in the post.
But the bulk of new assists will come from Raymond Felton, of course, who as a Knick had almost twice as many as the aged Chauncey Billups did, and a better connection with Amar’e Stoudemire.
And now he’s got Carmelo Anthony to feed.
Can Felton tip the 10 APG mark? Yes.
Prediction: 23.0 APG (2011-12: 20.1)
Look at that. We’ve barely mentioned Carmelo Anthony, but here’s his forte: scoring.
For all the flack he gets, Anthony has been the one true constant, the given reliable offensive producer of this team, and you have to give him credit for that.
He scored at least 25 points in half the games he played in 2011-12. Once a week or so, he went for more than 30.
Anthony’s numbers haven’t moved around much over the course of his career, but 2011-12 was a down year. He had his worst scoring average since his first two seasons.
But the league in general, Anthony included, were less conditioned and drained from a demanding schedule. It was a down year for most players’ offensive production (relative to previous seasons).
Now, Anthony is hot off leading the U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal and appears more inspired. He should return to his 25 PPG form, thanks in part to Raymond Felton.
Amar’e Stoudemire is looking for a comeback season, as well. Felton can get his average back up to 20 PPG (he was at 17.5 last year, worst since his rookie season).
It looks like Steve Novak is going to get a longer leash and more touches in 2012-13, too. That will really pump up New York’s scoring.
They will not reach the offensive heights of Mike D’Antoni’s run-and-gun scheme, in part due to Mike Woodson’s defensive focus and slower play, but they’ll improve on last season.
Prediction: 99.5 PPG (2011-12: 97.8)
The Knicks had the second-most turnovers in the league in 2011-12, at a whopping 16 a game!
Of the top eight Knicks’ turnover leaders, five are gone. In order of number of TPG, they are: Jeremy Lin, Baron Davis, Iman Shumpert (out until January), Landry Fields and Toney Douglas.
The guard positions have been shored up with better ball protectors, including Raymond Felton, who averages about 2.6 a game over his career, veteran Jason Kidd, Pablo Prigioni and Ronnie Brewer. They all cough it up less than average.
And don’t forget J.R. Smith, one of the better ball defenders in the league, hovering around 1.3 a game most of the time.
Prediction: 13.0 TPG (2011-12: 16.0)
Not long ago, I gave a detailed analysis predicting the Knicks final 2012-13 record.
I came up with an optimistic 54-28. But logically (and even mathematically) it makes sense—if this team plays like it does on paper, snatching the occasional victory from the jaws of the best teams and consistently beating the bad teams.
This is the season the Knicks finally get past foolish losses to the Charlotte Bobcats, Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers.
If New York is ever going to get over the hump, they need to also take season series from teams like the Celtics, Pacers and 76ers.
I'm looking for 13 additional wins for New York than in 2011-12
Prediction: 54 Wins (2011-12: 33 (translates to about 41 for a full season))
The Knicks can win the Atlantic. That would give them the three- or four-seed.
If all goes right, they might even be able to swipe the second seed from the Chicago Bulls.
Any of those berths would be welcome by Knicks fans, and would at last signal the end to Round-1-and-Done.
The Knicks will then meet either the Bulls, Celtics or Heat. If it's the latter, New York will find their end in the second round. Maybe they can eke out two wins against the favorites.
But they can take care of the Bulls or Celtics in seven and make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, along the way accumulating an unheard of eight playoff victories.
But there's no way around the Heat, after that.
Prediction: 10 or 6 Postseason Wins (2011-12: 1)
Get ready for the best Knicks season since the 1990s.
They are poised to improve on all key statistical categories.
The result will be a better record, better playoff seeding and finally, a whole bunch more of postseason wins.
You might find this all rather optimistic, but really, I’ve tackled this based on the reasonable potential of this New York Knicks roster. They are a better team than last year.
But there is one big caveat. It’s huge, and it is already, irritatingly rearing its ugly head. And you know what it is.
USA Today reports, "the Knicks lost center Tyson Chandler to a left-knee injury less than a minute into [their last preseason] game."
Amar'e Stoudemire missed almost the whole preseason (that can't be good for jelling) and will miss up to five regular season games, according to ESPN.
Iman Shumpert will miss half the season with that dreaded ACL tear. Ronnie Brewer, Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby are all dealing with injuries.
Right now, the Knicks seem especially delicate, more so than other teams. Hopefully they toughen up and make it to the finish line.