Early Season Progress Report for Each NY Knicks Player Under 30
The Knicks underwent a roster makeover this year, bringing in nine new players with a plan to win now with age and experience.
The results on the floor have been better than the Knicks could have imagined, with the veteran roster guiding the team to a 4-0 start and the senior circuit squad contributing in every way. Rasheed Wallace, coaxed out of retirement, has become a rotation piece already. Jason Kidd has led the team in the locker room and on the floor.
But at some point, this will go away, and the Knicks will have to consider the next step. They had only a second-round draft pick this year, and before he could even be introduced, Kostas Papanikolaou was dealt as part of the trade to obtain Raymond Felton.
So youth wasn't exactly a priority for the Knicks, and it shows on the roster, where a pair of rookies made the squad–35-year-old Pablo Prigioni and 28-year-old journeyman Chris Copeland. While they won't be arriving at Madison Square Garden with the expectations that top overall pick Anthony Davis brings to the NBA, the age and experience could mean an immediate contribution.
While free agency and the trade market will certainly figure in for the high-payroll franchise, the Knicks do have eight players on the roster under 30.
One, Amar'e Stoudemire, will pass that milestone Friday while on the disabled list recovering from left knee surgery. It is hard to imagine Stoudemire as a part of the future when injuries have plagued him through his years with the Knicks, but there are still seven others. Ladies and gentlemen–these are your 2016 Knicks. Maybe.
Carmelo Anthony, the Face of the Knicks: Now and Then
Any doubt about whose team the Knicks are was settled when Mike D'Antoni was forced out last year and Jeremy Lin was set free this summer.
The Knicks belong to Carmelo Anthony. He got the coach that he desired and has become the player that everyone thought he could be or maybe really doubted he ever cared enough to become. Anthony has always been one of the elite scorers in the game. But now, he has suddenly found the heart to work defensively, to rebound and to scrap for wins.
Already this season, Anthony leaped into the crowd at Madison Square Garden to chase a loose ball after running down a fast break and breaking up the play. While he has led the Knicks in scoring in each of their four wins, he has drawn as much attention for his efforts in other parts of the game.
"Melo, he understands the moment," Jason Kidd said. "He wants the ball. I think some people don’t look at him as a defensive player, but he is a guy that plays defense. He’s been doing it since I’ve been here. He’s playing both ends."
He is 28 years old, and while he may not be diving into the seats forever, he will be scoring for a long time.
Chris Copeland Earned a Knicks Spot with a High-Scoring Preseason
Chris Copeland has wandered around the outskirts of professional basketball, spending one season in the developmental league and playing in Belgium, Spain and Germany. But after an impressive summer-league performance, Copeland earned an invite to training camp and then proved worthy of a roster spot.
Copeland may have seemed a long shot for the Knicks roster as they signed one big man after another this offseason, but he played far better in the preseason than he did even during the summer, averaging 15.5 points per game, including a 34-point effort against the Boston Celtics that opened eyes:
"My teammates are always looking for me." Copeland said. "I play with intensity, and I'm using my speed and quickness. That's one thing coach (Mike Woodson) has told me to do when I'm out on the floor, use my speed and quickness, but pick my spots with it."
Woodson has seemed sold, although it remains hard to tell exactly what the regular season holds for Copeland. He has benefited from the early blowout wins as well as some injury troubles plaguing his teammates; Amar'e Stoudemire will be lost to the Knicks for six to eight weeks following surgery to clean out his left knee this week. Marcus Camby has also been limited, and Rasheed Wallace is still working his way into shape after two years away from the game.
Ronnie Brewer Brings a Winning Pedigree to New York
Ronnie Brewer slipped into New York unheralded and almost unnoticed. But he also slipped immediately into the starting lineup.
Brewer provides a perfect fit for the Knicks as a defensive-minded shooting guard–really, a shooting guard not all that interested in shooting. He has actually scored more in his first four games with the Knicks than his career average per game,10.5 points per game compared to 9.0, but it has come as a benefit of some early sharpshooting from long range and the open looks that playing beside Carmelo Anthony will provide.
He has connected on 7-of-13 from beyond the arc this year and never has drained more than 22 in a season. The numbers may not continue, but that's not what he's here for anyway. Brewer came to the Knicks after spending the last two years in Chicago, where the defense-first mentality was ingrained at every step. He started his career playing for Jerry Sloan in Utah where the same demands were made.
So Knicks coach Mike Woodson Brewer is already a true believer. The points are just a bonus.
Steve Novak Finds His Spot Again for Knicks
Steve Novak headed to free agency this summer, unsure if he was going to encounter another job hunt like he had his whole career. He had established himself in New York, a crowd favorite with his pure shooting touch. But he was exposed in the playoffs against the Miami Heat when his weapon–the three-point shot–was taken away.
The uncertainty grew when his friend Jeremy Lin departed. But Novak was brought back, and after a summer of working on developing counters to the defensive efforts utilized against him, he is once again a key piece to the Knicks offense.
Even with six seasons under his belt, it seems like the 29-year-old Novak is just getting started. And maybe he is. He has a skill that doesn't age.
J.R. Smith Is Under Control with Knicks
Okay, maybe under control might be a bit strong for J.R. Smith, the shooting guard who really, really likes to shoot.
He isn't exactly content. He still would like to be a starter and clearly has the talent to be one, but with the Knicks, he was handed the sixth-man job and might be an early favorite to capture the NBA Sixth Man Award. He is going to score, and the Knicks are going to be a better team this year.
Some of those shots are going to drive Mike Woodson insane. But Woodson already shouted at Smith once this season to keep shooting.
You asked, coach, and he will respond. He is averaging 17.5 points per game through the first four games–five points over his career average.
The one disclaimer to all of this: Even though he's young enough to help the future, Smith can bolt after this season, taking a low-cost deal with the Knicks. But he is tied to the area, having grown up nearby in New Jersey where his family still resides. The Knicks also brought his younger brother, Chris, into camp, although he underwent a season-ending knee surgery before the season even started.
Raymond Felton Creates a Second Act on Broadway
Raymond Felton, a casualty of the Knicks' giveaway of most of their young talent in the deal that brought Carmelo Anthony to town, never wanted to leave the Knicks. He arrived back in the city with far more pressure; not only was he tasked with the Knicks starting point guard job, but he was also the player who replaced Jeremy Lin.
Felton shrugged his shoulders at that pressure and actually noted that he arrived with a major chip on his shoulder.
Felton, at 28 years old, has something to prove and is off to a good start doing it. His reputation took a hit last year when the lockout ended, and he arrived in Portland admittedly overweight. He was out of shape and lousy, and he also took some of the blame for Nate McMillan being pushed out as head coach of the Blazers.
But Felton showed up in New York in better shape, not only better than last year but maybe better than at any point in his career. He has benefited from the arrival of Jason Kidd, too, who served as a mentor in practices and on and off the court.
Felton has also started capturing the crowd, winning over the fans let down by Lin's departure. In his first go-around in New York, Felton was tossing lobs to Amar'e Stoudemire, and he has now taken up that job again, this time feeding Anthony and Tyson Chandler around the rim.
Iman Shumpert Waits for His Turn
Iman Shumpert was the best of the Knicks' young players last year and now seems like the only one left from the previous year's roster.
He had a stellar rookie season last year, and was a real rookie instead of this year's version– 35-year-old Pablo Prigioni, who is the impact rookie. But Shumpert's season ended in the first game of the postseason when his knee blew out against the Heat.
Shumpert now spends his time working alone on one side of the gym while the Knicks practice on the other side. But he is making progress and insists he will be back this year. If he does make it back and does it with anything close to the athleticism he displayed last year, he will be a huge addition to an already improved team.
The loss of Shumpert cost the Knicks any chance they had in the postseason last year because he was the one player with the athleticism and the mindset to defend the talented Heat perimeter players. Now he's got help, and if he can return at full strength, he will provide the help to the core already in place now.