The 2013-14 New York Knicks are attempting to build on a 54-win season—their best in more than a decade—and move themselves closer to championship territory. In a conference that's projected to be much more competitive than a season ago, it'll be a tall task for Mike Woodson's group.
Glen Grunwald has constructed a versatile roster with talent—and numerous potential starters—at each position. It's still unclear as to whether the team will continue carrying out their small-ball attack that carried them to second place in the East, or bump Carmelo Anthony back down to the small forward and play more traditionally.
The roster, as it stands now, is set at 14 men, leaving one spot open for a training camp invitee. Summer league standout Toure' Murry or defensive frontcourt help could be two options for New York to round out its roster.
With Anthony's early termination option looming, this season will be critical in determining the franchise's future. Much of these Knicks' success will be dependent on how Woodson constructs his lineups and rotations, as this particular roster has a few viable directions to choose.
*Note: Statistical support provided by 82games.com, which is down indefinitely.
With three years left on his deal, Raymond Felton is the Knicks' starting point man until further notice.
The team's point situation is far from conventional, though. The Knicks won 38 of their 54 games last season when starting two point guards (Felton and Jason Kidd, then later Felton and Pablo Prigioni).
This year's installment of dual-point guard lineups will be just as versatile, with the addition of Beno Udrih. Felton, however, is a lock for the starting job no matter what strategy Woodson chooses to carry out—and rightly so.
While not the most consistent 1 in the league, Felton is capable of scoring at a higher rate than then run-of-the-mill point guard, and is adept at setting up the pick-and-roll. He is displays an above-average ability to get to the rim, however falters far too often once he actually gets a shot in the air. He quietly posted the second best three-point clip of his career last season at 36 percent.
Defensively, Felton is too often a liability against quicker opponents. Point guards slayed the Knicks last season, to the tune of 22.6 points per game and a 17.5 PER.
It's important to note that Felton was hampered by a broken pinky finger through the first half of the season, and became a more influential piece of the offense by playoff time. He was perhaps the team's most consistent scorer against the Indiana Pacers in their second-round playoff series.
He's the the clear superior on the roster as it stands now, so Felton will hold down most of the point guard duties this year.
Beno Udrih and Pablo Prigioni.
The team will likely utilize various different two-point lineups throughout the year, and all three of Felton, Prigioni and Udrih can expect to play both on and off the ball.
For Prigioni, he'll be a year grayer, but also with a year more of NBA experience. The Argentinian guard's "rookie" 2013 campaign progressed in the way most do, age withstanding. The 35-year-old had trouble adjusting to NBA pace through his first few months in the league, and could've been labeled the most hesitant player in America.
Just in time for the team's late-season push to lock up the No. 2 seed, though, Prigioni was inserted into the starting lineup as the off guard. As a starter, Pablo shot 51 percent and dished out more than three assists in 22 minutes.
Udrih will begin the season as one of New York's only major external free-agent signings, and should be assuming a role that fits his style well. Woodson should only require 20-25 minutes nightly, on the high end, from Udrih. The Slovenia native would be a decent pair with Prigioni, as he's much more offensive minded but possesses the same type of court vision.
To be clear, the Knicks should run out several variations of dual-PG sets, but they may not necessarily be components of the starting five.
All three guards should be major contributors if New York hopes to find themselves in contention for an Eastern Conference title.
Toure' Murry has already impressed Knicks' higher-ups enough in the Vegas summer league to earn an invite to camp this fall. All he needs to do is display the same type of aptitude on both sides of the ball, and the guard should be a lock for the squad's final roster spot.
Murry has great size for a point at 6'6". He seems to possess all the core skills players need to excel at running an NBA offense, and is quick and athletic enough to make an impact on the other end, too.
As a Knick, Murry might not get significant time to shine in 2014, but after witnessing how he fared against summer league competition, it seems as if the 23-year-old's coming out party is in the near future.
Iman Shumpert is entering his third NBA campaign, but is preparing for the first 82-game NBA season of his career. His rookie season coincided with the 66-game, lockout-shortened NBA year, and his sophomore stint got off to a late start after missing 10 weeks rehabbing a blown-out knee.
Heading into last year, Shumpert was expected to add his All-NBA-level defense, while simply holding his own on the other end. That, however, wasn't immediately the case. It took Shumpert about two months to fully regain confidence in his knee and in his game. In the meantime, he was an indecisive, awkward piece that didn't fit into the Knicks' plans.
From January 17 to March 17, he shot a sad 34 percent from the field, 37 percent from three-point range and 65 percent from the stripe, equating to less than six points per game in nearly 21 minutes.
But over the season's final month, Shump saw his minutes bump from 21 to 24, shot 47 percent from the field in that time and 44 percent from three without missing a free throw.
Shumpert found his niche in the corner, where Woodson typically likes to stash away his wings as they await open looks from three. This was initially a concern, as Shump had never shot better than 33 percent from there in any pro or college season. But after posting a 40-percent mark over 45 games, it appears the 23-year-old has finally leapt the hurdle blocking his offensive progression.
J.R. Smith is fresh off his first NBA payday, but his status for opening night is uncertain after opting for knee surgery last month. Upon his return, despite his fatter checks, Smith's role should remain the same as it was last season: Sixth man.
On the whole, Smith performed as well in 2012-13 as he has in any year to date. The season was highlighted by a red-hot start that had his three-point percentage over 70 percent through six games, and a just-as-sizzling finish that all but won him his hardware as Sixth Man of the Year.
In the season's final 15 games, Smith displayed a new offensive mentality never before seen from the unpredictable swingman. No longer was he tossing foolish step-back three after another, but instead using his athleticism to drive and score at the rim. In the final 15, he shot over 50 percent from the field and averaged 24 points.
If Smith can devote an entire season to that style of play—taking advantage of his superb athletic ability rather than attempting to shoot the lights out—he could be the true second scorer the Knicks desperately need beside Carmelo Anthony.
Tim Hardaway Jr.
The Knicks' war room must've been in best-player-available mode by the time pick No. 24 rolled around, because fitting Hardaway into the team's current plans won't be easy.
The team has three legitimate point men and two bona fide shooting guards already on its roster, so the backcourt is crowded as is. It's conceivable that Hardaway may see his window crack open in the season's opening weeks while Smith may be unable to go, but if J.R. is healthy, it'll be hard for all three of Smith, Shumpert and Hardaway to find burn.
Consider Woodson's affinity towards veterans, and Hardaway's immediate Knicks future doesn't appear bright. The 21-year-old shows good potential as a serviceable 2 somewhere down the line, but the No. 1 pick making a noticeable impact this season would come as a shock.
This is where things get a bit tricky. Carmelo Anthony is on the heels of arguably his best season ever, which was played almost exclusively at the power forward. When Mike Woodson opted to shift Anthony back down to the small forward, floor spacing became an issue, and Anthony's production decreased.
So why move him away from the position where he was clearly a better player? I've been a Melo-at-the-4 advocate since day one, and am not advising the team to scrap those plans all together. But to answer the question, the current roster just wouldn't be able to support Anthony playing full-time power forward.
Anthony thrived off the great spacing that came from him playing one of the bigger positions on the floor. Oftentimes playing "four-out," the Knicks stretched opposing defenses by keeping only Tyson Chandler inside the paint while setting up the offense. 'Melo was usually paired against a bigger, slower defender, and he took advantage of it all season long.
But there's still a scenario in which spacing stays advantageous for New York. The addition of Andrea Bargnani was and still is a curious move for the Knicks, but the 7'0" Italian jump-shooter has a lot to do with it.
Starting Bargnani at the 4 slot wouldn't pose the same spacing issues that, say, starting Kenyon Martin would. Much of Bargnani's offensive game comes from outside the paint and defenses have to respect his ability to nail down the open three. These are qualities of the secondary offensive pieces New York needs to surround Anthony with.
For the Knicks, this year should be about recreating the offensive circumstances for Anthony from a year ago; they'd be foolish to try and disrupt what brought their best player a scoring title. How well they can manage to do that will be what determines the team's future.
Metta World Peace.
Adding Metta World Peace to the fold for 2014 was a great step in the right direction for the Knicks. They desperately needed a wing who could defend his position as well as knock down the corner three, and they inked a deal with perhaps the best one on the market.
World Peace held small forward opponents to an 11.8 PER last year, and the Los Angeles Lakers allowed two points per 100 possessions less when he was on the floor. The Knicks finished 17th in defensive efficiency last season, and needed all the help they could afford on that end. Nabbing MWP was ideal.
World Peace underwent knee surgery in his final weeks as a Laker, so it'll be interesting to see how much burn Mike Woodson deals his way, and how the repaired knee holds up.
Starting Andrea Bargnani at the power forward instead of Carmelo Anthony isn't an upgrade by any means, but its the closest the Knicks can get to fitting all their pieces together.
Starting Bargnani at the 4 while bumping 'Melo to the small forward, in theory, preserves the spacing that small-ball generates. Bargnani's offense is comprised mostly away from the basket, clearing the way for Anthony's scoring drives.
Defensively and on the glass—two of New York's weaknesses from a year ago—Bargnani will likely be a disaster. He's a seven-footer who's averaged 4.8 rebounds over his seven-year career, and does a poor job at keeping opponents away from the basket.
The sickest twist of all is that Bargnani's rebounding and defensive woes are primary reasons as to why he should start. This is due to Amar'e Stoudemire, fellow Knicks power forward, being bedeviled with the same deficiencies. The Knicks couldn't possibly get away with playing Bargnani and Stoudemire on the same bench unit. Hence, Bargs begins the season in the starting five, as the lesser of two evils.
If the Knicks could combine Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin into a single being, they'd rid themselves of plenty of trouble. Unfortunately, this type of science doesn't exist, nor is it permitted under the CBA, so STAT and K-Mart shall both be separate Knicks.
Stoudemire's offense is never a concern for New York. In 29 games last season, at 23.5 minutes per, Stoudemire shot near 58 percent, and added 14 points on nine shots. His 22.1 PER was good for 13th league-wide.
The issue for Stoudemire when he's healthy is defense. Not due to any lack of effort or motivation, STAT just cannot grasp the concepts of rotations and team defense. It's been that way since he was drafted out of high school and it's the same way now. Being coached by Mike D'Antoni for eight of his 11 pro seasons probably didn't do Amar'e any favors, but that's neither here nor there.
Like the guard situation, the frontcourt is clogged with veteran talent, making it tough for a young player like C.J. Leslie to break through.
Leslie was an undrafted pickup by the Knicks after a few discouraging seasons at NC State, where he arrived the most heralded player out of high school. He failed to impress in Raleigh the way he'd hoped, but there's still a chance for an NBA impact.
Leslie can score from most anywhere inside the three-point line thanks to incredible athleticism. He's still a bit undersized to defend NBA 4s and 5s, but has time to develop at just 22 years old.
Leslie's on the books for an unguaranteed season next year with the Knicks, so it's possible that 2014 acts as a red-shirt-type year to learn the ropes before New York provides a legitimate chance a year from now.
Along with Ray Felton, Tyson Chandler could be labeled one of the only Knicks with a predetermined starting position for 2013-14.
The Knicks will sorely need Chandler to bounce back from a pitiful performance in the playoffs that stemmed from various injuries—a performance so disappointing that Chandler now has to dodge trade wishes from the most critical of the Knicks' fanbase. It's easy to forget after the arrival of Kenyon Martin, without Chandler, the Knicks' defense would've been bad enough to put the division title at severe risk.
A healthy Chandler is the best rebounder and big-man defender the Knicks have, and one of the best in the league. A lack of depth in the middle forced Mike Woodson to call Chandler's number every time the team needed a crucial board or stop, doing his wellness no favors.
After averaging close to 34 minutes, the center went down with knee and neck ailments before catching strep throat and losing significant weight. By playoff time, Chandler was a mere shell of his midseason self, and was occasionally benched late in favor of Kenyon Martin.
The Knicks need to hope that Martin will be able to spell Chandler at the center position to give the former Defensive Player of the Year sufficient rest. Without it, he becomes another one of the team's health risks, at a position that's already paper-thin.
Amar'e Stoudemire's defensive deficiencies are where Kenyon Martin comes in. The Knicks won't rely on Martin's offense nearly as much as his defense and hustle.
In his three months as a Knick last season, he injected a different type of life into the team on both ends, and acted as a sturdy wall of defense that even Tyson Chandler couldn't provide. He's emphatic and motivated, and just what New York needs in its far-too-frequent state of contentment.
It's possible that Woodson will rely on either Chandler or Martin to play beside Stoudemire or Andrea Bargnani whenever one is on the floor, to cover their tracks defensively. It's unfortunate that the team has so many players that can't hold their own on both ends of the court, but Woodson has to play with the cards he's dealt.
Jeremy Tyler is an "other reserve" who could potentially work his way into the rotation with a few solid outings. The team has no natural backup for Chandler besides the 6'9" Martin, but Tyler certainly has the height to claim that role. At 6'11", Tyler can size up against most centers in the league, and is fresh off an impressive showing on the Knicks' summer league squad.
It was such an outstanding performance that New York rewarded Tyler with a two-year, partially guaranteed deal. Tyler has prior NBA experience with the Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks, but has never received impact minutes or made a mark to require them. In Vegas, Tyler seemed skilled with the basketball, and rebounded extremely well against other marginal opponents.
If called upon, the Knicks are relying on Tyler to relieve Chandler without sacrificing much on either end, as to save the 35-year-old Martin's minutes for the postseason. It's a lot to ask of a player who's never truly impacted a team at all, but the Knicks will need contributions from all 15 players if they hope to make it a step further than last season.
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