The New York Knicks won't suddenly find themselves scrambling to make the playoffs next year, but don't be surprised if Carmelo Anthony and Co. suffer a significant regression in the 2013-14 NBA season.
According to Bradford Doolittle of ESPN (subscription required), the Knicks are among the most likely teams to see a marked offensive decline next year. Inevitably, Doolittle's analysis will be painted with the dreaded "hate brush," reserved for any opinion about a team that isn't entirely glowing and optimistic.
But here's the thing: Doolittle's right. And his reasoning only touches on one small area in which the Knicks might take a step backward.
A deeper dive into the numbers shows that there are actually a lot of factors that could contribute to some real slippage.
Now that Jason Kidd, Steve Novak and Chris Copeland are gone, the Knicks are going to be without three of last year's most productive long-range shooters. That would be an issue for any team, but the Knicks' success last season was tied directly to their ability to hit the long ball.
When they started the year with 11 wins in November, the triples were dropping at an absurd rate of 41.6 percent. And in the Knicks' unimpressive February, only 33.5 percent of those heaves found the bottom of the net, according to NBA.com.
A broader scan of New York's three-point shooting and its critical relationship to the team's overall success proves that fewer triples will likely mean fewer wins next year.
There's a an obvious counterargument available here, which is that new additions Andrea Bargnani and Metta World Peace will pick up some of the slack.
It's certainly possible that MWP will equal or exceed his career mark of 34 percent from long distance, and maybe Bargnani will shake off his past two seasons and find a way to knock down something like 36 or 37 percent of his threes.
But both of those players will have to turn in peak seasons from long range to replace what New York lost over the summer. That's a possibility; let's just not call it a likelihood.
The Problem with Bargs
There are a couple of other offensive issues that need to be discussed, but it just doesn't feel right to move on without a slightly lengthier treatment of Bargnani and his role with the Knicks.
As unimpressive as it sounds, Bargs was New York's big offseason acquisition.
From a pure talent-acquisition perspective, maybe the Knicks can be excused for going after a former No. 1 overall pick. Bargnani is a skilled big man who—at one time—was a pretty reliable offensive option. And who knows, maybe a healthy Bargnani will regain his stroke and improve his dreadful efficiency now that he's out of Toronto.
The problem is that the Knicks don't really have much use for Bargnani as anything other than a spot-up shooter. Head coach Mike Woodson isn't going to take isolation possessions away from Carmelo Anthony.
And if anything, an increased use of the pick-and-roll with Raymond Felton dishing to either Tyson Chandler or Amar'e Stoudemire will result in even fewer chances for Bargnani to utilize his solid face-up game.
Obviously, Novak was as one-dimensional as a player can be, but that one dimension—spot-up shooting—is suddenly a real need for the Knicks. Bargnani is nearly Novak's equal in defensive ineptitude, and he's nowhere close to being as deadly from long range.
Bargs doesn't move the ball at all, can't rebound at a respectable level and will be lucky to do anything more than stand on the wings and wait for open looks. Wouldn't Novak have made more sense in that extremely limited role?
By trading away Novak as part of the deal for Bargnani, the Knicks may have actually downgraded.
Stoudemire's Give and Take
In just 29 games last season, Stoudemire showcased his trademark offensive efficiency right alongside his predictably negative impact on defense.
According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), Stoudemire's individual defensive contributions were laughable last season. Small-sample-size caveats apply in a big way here, as he played less than half of the season. But consider the following: Stoudemire checked in with an overall defensive ranking of 401, meaning he was in the bottom 10 percent of all individual defenders in terms of points allowed per play.
He was a decent defender in isolation sets but was atrocious against both pick-and-rolls and post-ups.
It's tempting to knock Stoudemire for his inability to translate his considerable talent into production on both ends, but his failings aren't effort-related. Instead, they seem to be rooted in his fundamental failure to grasp the nuances of team defense.
Because the guy is trying his best, he gets something of a break. Besides, for all of his gaffes on D, Stoudemire only knocked the Knicks' overall defensive rating down from 103.5 to 105 when he was on the floor, per NBA.com.
Given his remarkably efficient offensive production, that's a tradeoff the Knicks will live with.
But if we put aside the numbers (and ignore the health concerns that will follow Stoudemire around until he retires), there should be real questions about whether his presence on the floor this season will be of any help to the Knicks at all.
Stoudemire can't play center because of his defensive weaknesses, but he also shouldn't be used alongside Anthony as a power forward because his presence at the 4 forces 'Melo to shift over to the small forward spot. At the 3, Anthony is a far less effective player than he is at the other forward position.
And playing Stoudemire alongside Bargnani in any scenario is inviting real disaster. That duo won't be able to prevent any team's offense from scoring at will.
It sounds crazy, but it's entirely possible that as the Knicks get more minutes from Stoudemire this year, they'll actually be getting less value than ever.
While New York's offense seems likely to take a significant step backward, there's really no reason to expect its defense to suffer the same fate.
In theory, the addition of World Peace gives the Knicks a willing (if not as able as he once was) defender to toss at larger wings. That should take some pressure off of 'Melo, and it might even offset Bargnani's negative defensive impact.
But saying the Knicks' defense won't necessarily go backward is hardly a compliment. Synergy rated New York as league's fourth worst defensive team against isolations last year, and it was just as inept against pick-and-roll ball-handlers.
Overall, the Knicks were right in the middle of the pack in defensive efficiency, ranking 16th according to NBA.com.
It's virtually impossible for a team to compete for a championship without a top-10 defense, but nobody really expects the Knicks to come close to winning a ring this season. What's most problematic about New York's failure to improve its defense is that a likely offensive regression will result in a team that isn't elite on either end.
The Rest of the East
The biggest reason to expect a step backward in New York has nothing to do with the Knicks. It has everything to do with the major improvements the other top teams in the Eastern Conference made.
The Indiana Pacers handled the Knicks in six games during the conference semifinals last year, and they'll enter the 2013-14 season with a healthy Danny Granger and a vastly improved bench.
Even if we pretend that the Knicks will somehow duplicate all of their numbers from a year ago, it'll be almost impossible for them to reach last season's impressive win total of 54.
Look, nobody's saying the Knicks are doomed to end up in the lottery. But because of a likely dip in some key statistical areas, not to mention the tougher in-conference competition, it might be a good idea to temper expectations.
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