An Optimist's Guide to New York Knicks' 2012-13 Season

Grant Rindner@grantrindnerContributor IIIOctober 29, 2012

An Optimist's Guide to New York Knicks' 2012-13 Season

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    For many fans, the New York Knicks’ 2012-2013 season could go one of two ways; either the team of veteran players could gel and finally live up to their potential or they could struggle with injuries and continuity en route to another underwhelming year.

    But we’re not here to look at the black clouds that may or may not hang over what should be a fascinating season of basketball in New York. Instead, let us don our rose colored glasses and examine the positive aspects of New York’s approaching season, which begins with an October 31st tangle with the Brooklyn Nets.

    This Knicks team has some deficiencies, but it also has plenty of strengths that give it a leg up over opponents and could vault the club into the elite pantheon of the Eastern Conference. They have one of the NBA’s strongest frontcourts, a new coach and are finally distraction free for the first time in years.

    Without further ado, here is an optimist’s guide to New York’s 2012-2013 campaign and something to get Knicks fans a little more excited for tip-off.

Outside Shooting Is Much Improved

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    One distinct strength of this 2012-2013 Knicks’ squad is that the team has a number of very strong perimeter shooters that can both heat up quickly and sink shots in spades. The NBA has become very much a league that thrives not on inside play but outside play, and New York can certainly be among the league’s best not only three-point shooting, but perimeter shooting teams.

    Though it is not his speciality, Carmelo Anthony can hit shots from beyond the arc consistently and creates mismatch problems when playing at power forward because of his ability to stretch a defense. Steve Novak provides the same match-up advantage except he is a lethal shooter who hit a staggering 47.2 percent of his attempted threes for the Knicks last season.

    New acquisitions Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd are also consistent shooters that can make a defense pay for leaving them open and are both capable of making a shot off the dribble or off the catch.

    Add that to one of the league’s streakiest scorers in J.R. Smith and players like Amar’e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert who can hit midrange shots with regularity and you have the makings of a squad that defenses will have to guard closely at all times.

    Because of the attention that Stoudemire and Anthony create on the block it is essential to surround them with shooters that can benefit off of open looks and the New York Knicks’ front office has done just that

    The 2011-2012 Knicks were a mere 21st in the league in overall three-point percentage and their inability to hit from outside consistently cost them a number of regular season games as the team fell in love with the perimeter shot.

    However, if all of their marksman play up to their potential this New York squad could be a true pick-your-poison offense where teams have to chose to take away either the inside game or the outside game.

Felton Will Revitalize Stoudemire

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    Amar’e Stoudemire played some of the absolute best basketball of his career alongside Raymond Felton, but once Felton was shipped out he visibly struggled and failed to adjust well to the new Carmelo-centric offense.

    However, Felton is back in the fold following Jeremy Lin’s departure and should help to revitalize Amar’e as the two had great chemistry in their brief stint together during the 2010-2011 season.

    Mike Woodson’s offense is not particularly pick-and-roll heavy, but he will undoubtedly have to incorporate the pick-and-roll game into the schemes given that the two thrived running it under Mike D’Antoni.

    Felton has very strong court vision and is a capable shooter, while Stoudemire is one of the best big men in the league at attacking the basket and finishing at the rim.  Together the two were extremely tough to cover because of their collective quickness.

    Stat can be a bit of a black hole offensively, but he undoubtedly thrives playing alongside a point guard who knows how to get him the ball to maximize his scoring potential both from midrange and on the low block.

    In addition, playing the two together will give New York an opportunity to run at times off of misses and provide a different look offensively than just the grind-it-out, methodical style that they relied on at the tail end of the 2011-2012 season and in their first round playoff loss against the Miami Heat.

    Felton may not put up the numbers he managed during his first tenure with the Knicks where he averaged 17.1 points, 3.6 boards and nine dimes on 42.3 percent shooting from the field, but his presence alone will give Stoudemire a more featured role offensively and make him look far more like the player he was in the past than the player he was for New York this past season.

Improved Depth

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    Over the past few seasons New York has struggled with injuries and that has brought their seasons to bitter endings. In 2011-2012 alone the team saw Amar’e Stoudemire, Jeremy Lin, Baron Davis and Carmelo Anthony, among others, miss significant time with injuries.

    By the playoffs the roster was significantly depleted and they never really stood a chance. However, the Knicks’ front office spent the offseason aggressively trying to bolster their depth in the event that the injury bug strikes again.

    The team has a pair of talented veteran point guards in Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni who can provide consistent playmaking behind Raymond Felton. Kidd is also a very strong defender and outside shooter who fits New York’s system perfectly.

    Ronnie Brewer and J.R. Smith will provide quality time at shooting guard until Iman Shumpert returns from his ACL injury, while Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas can soak up spot minutes in the frontcourt behind Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler.

    The major hole is at small forward, but the team should be able to get away with playing Brewer, Steve Novak and Chris Copeland at the three spot and going small if necessary.

    The NBA season is a real grind and at a certain point simply becomes a war of attrition, so the fact that New York can legitimately go 10-deep on any given night will certainly help the team as the injuries start mounting.

    The team can also strategically rest their stars to preserve their legs for the stretch run and postseason instead of making the play heavy minutes until they begin to break down.

    New York may not be the league’s deepest team, but they have plenty of solid contributors at every position on the court, something they sorely lacked at times last season.

Less Distractions

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    Despite their talent, New York has been cursed since acquiring Carmelo Anthony with constant controversial issues that have created tense situations and made it difficult to simply focus on the game at hand.

    However, for the first time since Anthony came to the Knicks they seem poised to have a relatively distraction-free stretch where they can focus purely on winning games and meshing as a team.

    The emergence of Jeremy Lin and the perception that he and Anthony could not co-exist filled headlines late in the 2011-2012 season, while the struggles of Mike D’Antoni, the team’s defense and Amar’e Stoudemire also dominated news about the team as they tried desperately to present a united front.

    That hopefully should change though, as Mike Brown was tabbed to be the new head coach and has installed a strong, defense-first system, while Stoudemire appears to be healthier than he was in the past and has improved his post game considerably.

    Playing in a tremendous media market like New York City will always mean that there will be a certain amount of sensationalist coverage, but besides the angle that this is the oldest team in NBA history there is far less for journalists to dissect than there has been in the past couple of years.

    With Lin gone and the team clearly committed to Anthony as their franchise superstar the alpha dog  battle is over and the team can focus fully on living up to their potential and not merely making the playoffs but earning a high seed and potentially making some noise.

    No matter how much players try to say the media does not affect them it is difficult to tune out and New York should be thankful that teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls will be the ones occupying the brunt of media attention. The Miami Heat proved that when a team is no longer being constantly examined they can finally play elite basketball, and that can hopefully be the fate of the Knicks.

The Team Is Built to Be Elite Defensively

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    New York has been much maligned defensively in recent history as the team lacked dynamic players on that end of the floor, but they made huge strides in the 2011-2012 season, finishing ranked 11th overall in points allowed at 94.7 points allowed per game and 10th overall in opponents field goal percentage, allowing other teams to shoot just 44.2 percent from the floor overall.

    The team has the potential to be even better in the 2012-2012 season though. With a full year under defensive-minded coach Mike Woodson, Tyson Chandler still anchoring the team and helping to create a culture of accountability and a slew of additions that can carry their weight on the defensive end the Knicks have a chance to become an elite team defensively.

    While the team will miss Iman Shumpert’s lock-down capabilities, they managed to add a quality perimeter defender in Ronnie Brewer who will be able to pick up the slack until Shumpert is healthy and also have Jason Kidd who, despite his age, is one of the better defensive point guards in the league.

    To anchor the paint, the team added Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby, veteran presences that can provide some additional grit and toughness behind Amar’e Stoudmire and Tyson Chandler.

    Camby is an excellent shot blocker and defensive rebounder who plays great help defense while Thomas can still hit the glass and dole out a hard foul or two when it is called for.

    Even Raymond Felton can be a pest on the ball and if the team’s two superstars can buy into giving a consistently strong effort on the less glamorous end of the floor then this team will be extremely difficult to score on.

    Woodson’s system is predicated upon toughness, rotations and physicality, something the Knicks’ deeper squad should be able to provide in spades. They may not be a Miami or Boston level defensive squad, but so long as nobody is seriously injured they have a defense that could take them deep into the postseason.

The Squad Will Be More Motivated Than Ever

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    New York’s age has been a major cause for concern amongst fans and pundits, but in actuality it could serve as a serious motivator for this squad. Because of their collective age there will likely be no better opportunity for them to win a championship, especially considering Iman Shumpert is really the only player with much upside.

    For Camby and Thomas this represents what could very well be their last chance at a title given that both have significant mileage on their legs. Kidd will be out to prove he still has something left in the tank and can contribute on a contender, while Felton will be out to show that his underperforming stint with Portland was an aberration and not the norm.

    Chandler, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, should want to prove that he did not merely win the award because of Dwight Howard’s injury, while Carmelo and Amar’e need to show that they can lead a team beyond the first round of the playoffs and be the franchise building blocks the Knicks’ front office expected when they made such massive commitments to both of them.

    Add that slew of motivation to a more stable, veteran-laden locker room than New York has had in the past and this team should have the ability to turn their respective adversity into a reason to play harder and to unite as a team as they seek to bring the Knicks their first banner since 1973.

    With their contention window closing rapidly this is not a team that can afford to have another underachieving season as it will become that much harder when 2013-2014 rolls around for them to keep pace with the league’s top clubs like Miami and Oklahoma City, who remain the teams to beat for the foreseeable future.

    This group of New York Knicks should be an extremely hungry bunch and while they might not be the most talented team out there, that alone will make a huge difference in deciding the fate of their 2012-2013 season.