Are the NY Knicks Still One Year Away from Being a Legitimate Title Contender?
The New York Knicks have $250 invested in Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler and added four role players in their late 30s during the offseason. The team is built to win now, though they are still a year away from being a legitimate championship contender.
As the Miami Heat demonstrated during LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chis Bosh's first season together, it takes time for a grew of teammates to develop chemistry together on the floor. The "big three" lost in the NBA Finals to a more cohesive Dallas Mavericks squad.
The Knicks begin the 2012-2013 season with nine new players. The returning nucleus of Anthony, Chandler and Stoudemire have yet to play a full season together. Last season was shortened by the lockout, the team had to adjust to a mid-season coaching change and Melo and Amar'e were sidelined for several games with injuries.
The three men in charge of initiating the Knicks' offense, Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni are all new to the team-Stoudemire is the only player remaining from Felton's first tenure with the team during the 2010-2011 season. The three point guards need to figure out when and how to distribute the ball between the team's various scorers.
The collective experience of the Knicks' roster will speed up the learning curve, but it takes years of repetition and practice to develop the level of efficiency on both ends of the floor necessary to win a championship. Through trial and error, Coach Woodson and his players will discover how to execute during crucial possessions late in the game.
Chemistry will be particularly important for this Knicks' team because their best players are not as dominant as Miami's "big three" or talented as the Los Angeles Lakers squad which includes four future Hall of Famers in Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash. New York will have to make up for that talent gap through execution.
The team's progress will be slowed by knee injuries to two of their key players, Stoudemire and second-year guard Iman Shumpert. STAT underwent surgery on his left knee earlier this week and according to ESPN.com is expected to miss up to 6-8 weeks. Shumpert will be out until at least late December while recovering from a torn ACL he suffered during the Knicks' playoff series against the Heat.
Stoudemire's injury is yet another setback in he and Anthony's attempt to figure out how to coexist offensively. Amar'e is also missing out on the opportunity to showcase his new post game during the first two months of the season-he worked with Hakeem Olajuwon on post moves over the summer. It will take time to incorporate Amar'e's game into the offense once he returns.
Shump was a revelation for the Knicks last season. The 17th pick in the 2011 draft quickly developed into an elite on-the-ball defender. His decision making and the consistency on his jump-shot improved dramatically over the course of the season and he is a big part of the team's plans.
Shump's ability to lock down opposing teams' wing man is an essential component of the Knicks' team defense, especially against athletic teams like the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder. New York needs their young shooting guard to be at full strength and unfortunately, that will probably not be the case until next season.
Sports medicine has made tremendous strides over the past couple decades towards expediting the recovery from an ACL tear. Athletes are now able to return to the playing field or court as soon as eight months after surgery, but it takes much longer than that for their explosiveness and cutting ability to return to pre-injury form. It also takes time for ballplayers to get over the mental hurdles that come with playing on a surgically repaired knee after such a gruesome injury.
The injuries to Shumpert and Stoudemire as well as all the new faces in the locker room suggest that the Knicks may get off to a slow start this season, which would be devastating to their chances of making a run at a championship. In order to make a deep playoff run New York needs to finish among the top four seeds and secure home-court advantage in at least the first round.
Time is not on the Knicks' side. Substitutes Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas and Rasheed Wallace are at the tail end of their careers and Stoudemire's body is breaking down, but this team is not quite ready to compete for a championship this season.
The Knicks can take still take a big step forward by winning a playoff series for the first time in over a decade. A tough loss in the later rounds of the playoffs can instill them with the character and camaraderie necessary to contend next season. Just ask the Miami Heat.
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