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Keys for NY Knicks to Remain Top Hoops Team in Big Apple This Season

Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistAugust 19, 2013

Keys for NY Knicks to Remain Top Hoops Team in Big Apple This Season

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    In case you hadn't noticed, there are now two NBA teams vying for New York's affection.

    The New York Knicks called the Big Apple home first and nothing the Brooklyn Nets do will abolish the good will Orange and Blue have culled over the years.

    Think of the Knicks like that tenured college professor you hated because he or she didn't give a damn. They taught their class their way whether you liked it or not, because they could. They were there to stay.

    That's the Knicks. They've been the (only) toast of the town for so long, the Nets can't infringe upon their legacy. No matter how poor a showing they muster or how lamentable a roster the Knicks assemble, the Nets can't poach the loyalty of an entire fanbase.

    But they can displace their throne. Bearing "New York" on their chest gives the Knicks irrevocable rights—just not to the Atlantic Division.

    Quite literally, the Knicks will always be New York's team. Like Raymond Felton said, per ESPN New York's Ian Begley, they have "New York" scrawled across their chests.

    That doesn't mean they'll always be New York's best team. There will be times when the Nets have the better record, when they have the better season.

    Following a string of offseason coups—and like B/R's Adam Fromal posits—next year stands to be one of those times. Unless, of course, the Knicks can do what's necessary to remain both the more famed and successful of The Empire State's basketball franchises.

Remaining Healthier Than Last Season

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    Because, duh.

    Every NBA team's ceiling is predicated on the health of their roster. If key players go down, they're not going to fare as well. Playoff hopes stand to be dashed and morale eradicated following the loss of even one player. 

    Certain outfits are a slave to their collective health bills more so than others, though. Count the Knicks as one of them.

    All of us understand the importance of Amar'e Stoudemire remaining healthy, but New York's issues extend well beyond his degenerative knees.

    Carmelo Anthony's shoulder became an issue toward the end of last season and though he elected to not have surgery, his bully-ish play style can open Pandora's box of injuries at any time. The proud owner of an armored tank himself, J.R. Smith, had surgery on his left knee and the newly acquired Andrea Bargnani has appeared in just 66 games over the last two seasons as well. Then there's Tyson Chandler's neck to consider.

    The list goes on, but I won't.

    For the Knicks to keep pace with the Nets and the rest of the Eastern Conference, they need to stay healthy. Navigating another labyrinth of injuries makes duplicating last season's finish far more difficult than it needs to be, perhaps even impossible.

Carmelo Anthony

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    Duh, Part II.

    One thing Brooklyn's roster has that New York's does not is superstar depth. Insert Joe Johnson jokes below at your earliest convenience, but also recognize that there are four other players on the docket in Paul Pierce, Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez capable of earning an All-Star selection next season.

    The Knicks don't have those kinds of resources; they have 'Melo.

    Chandler (one All-Star appearance) and Stoudemire (six) are often depicted as stars when really, they aren't. Not like Anthony needs and the Knicks were supposed to have.

    Imagine where New York would have finished last season if it wasn't for 'Melo having a career year, if it wasn't for him scoring them toward 54 wins. Without him, they wouldn't have come close to winning the division.

    Talented bench in mind, the same concept applies leading into next season. New York is equipped to circumvent the loss or failures of some players, one of which is not Anthony. Neither Smith nor Bargs nor Stoudemire can replace him, even for a short while.

    Were he to miss extensive time due to injury or have an off year, the Knicks would be—well, they would be screwed.

Iman Shumpert's Progression

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    No ad was taken out on Craigslist, but the Knicks are in the market for a No. 2.

    His ceiling capped by minute restrictions and reoccurring injuries, Stoudemire isn't it. Bedeviled by inefficient shooting and a personality that screams I prefer vodka over Gatorade, Smith isn't it either.

    Iman Shumpert could be.

    Shump showed flashes of completeness during the postseason when he averaged 9.3 points while shooting 42.9 percent from beyond the arc. He nearly willed the Knicks to a Game 6 victory over the Indiana Pacers with his shooting and the team was a plus-8.1 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, compared to a minus-3.4 when he was off it.

    'Melo projects Shumpert as a superstar and after the steady demise of Stoudemire, he is certainly in need of a designated sidekick. 

    Brooklyn's No. 2 isn't clear either but choices abound as Lopez, Garnett, Pierce and Johnson could all serve in that capacity next to Williams. The Knicks simply don't have as many options.

    Once more, STAT's days as second-in-command are over, riding Smith's complementary scoring earned the Knicks a second-round exodus and Bargs hasn't showed the upside New York seeks in at least two years.

    Which leaves Shumpert, his postseason performance and ability to make something more of it.

    Anthony can't carry the Knicks on his own again. Not like last season. And most certainly not if the Knicks wish to usurp a team that, on any given night, could field more superstars than they have healthy bodies. 

Bench Production

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    Possibly incredible, potentially disastrous—that's how you would have to describe the J.R. and Amar'e Show. Excuse me, I mean the Knicks' bench.

    New York's reserves notched 38.5 points per game last season, the fourth-best mark in the NBA. Xeroxing said contribution must be considered a necessity if the Knicks are to build upon last year's finish.

    Almost all of what allowed them to win the Atlantic Division and lay claim to second place in the Eastern Conference came back to depth. Not an abundance of star power, but a copious number of role players doing their job and doing it well.

    Smith won the Sixth Man of the Year award, STAT was effective when he was healthy (so almost never) and Chris Copeland, among others, emerged as a valuable x-factor. Although their supporting cast has gone under some reconstruction, the Knicks are arguably deeper.

    The additions of Bargs, Beno Udrih and Metta World Peace give them plenty of extra weapons. Once Mike Woodson figures out his rotation, the Knicks will again be left with a dangerous bench...in theory.

    It doesn't matter if Bargs, World Peace, Pablo Prigioni or someone else starts, New York is built to score from the bottom up. As we know all too well, blueprints are sometimes broken or rendered unsuccessful. The Los Angeles Lakers were built to contend last season. That didn't go well. And the Knicks themselves were built to get out of the second round. That didn't go so well either.

    Bench production is going to be huge for this team, just like last season. How superb an encore presentation the supporting cast puts forth will say a great deal about where the Knicks are headed—behind or in front of the Nets.

Shoot Threes Like Its 2012-13

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    New York cannot stop shooting threes. Ever.

    Last season, the Knicks set the NBA record for threes made (891) and attempted (2671), and their 37.6 percent conversion rate tied them for fourth amongst all teams (in 2012-13). That can't change.

    Unlike Brooklyn, New York isn't built to run with a center (Lopez) and traditional power forward (Garnett). The Knicks are going to win games by running small and spacing the floor. And shooting threes. A lot of threes.

    We could list "rebounding" and "defense" as key factors to them remaining atop the Atlantic Division and New York's basketball hierarchy, but the Knicks aren't forecasted to be elite in either department. Offense is what must carry them.

    They'll have to defend and grab the occasional rebound, but three-point accuracy can be a legitimate strength. Even with their new additions, the Nets don't project to be a strong three-point shooting team. Players such as Pierce, Williams and Jason Terry can knock down deep balls at a high clip, but you don't look at Brooklyn's roster of aging veterans and see a three-point shooting Goliath.

    For those inhabiting Madison Square Garden, it's a different story.

    The Knicks won 76.5 percent of games (39-12) in which they drilled at least 10 treys last season. Having acquired a trio of players with range—World Peace, Udrih and Bargs—while keeping its core intact, New York's three-point heavy philosophy can't change.

    Defense isn't going to win the Knicks their division. Out-rebounding opponents, specifically the Nets, isn't going to maintain the Big Apple's status quo.

    Offense will. Superior volume from behind the arc will.

     

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