The New York Knicks took a big leap in the right direction last season.
NY won over 50 games, reached the Eastern Conference semifinals, allowed Carmelo Anthony to flourish as the league’s top scorer and set the foundation for the future of the franchise.
But the most important accomplishment in Mike Woodson’s first full season as head coach was the fact that New York captured the Atlantic Division title for the first time since 1993.
And in 2014, the Knicks are going to do it again.
It won't be easy for New York—this division is no joke.
The Brooklyn Nets, NY's top rival, have a vastly improved roster after trading for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. However, a lot of hype is being put on two guys who are a combined 72 years old and are no longer in the prime of their careers.
The Boston Celtics won’t be a pushover, as Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green are still on the roster. But after unloading their second and third best players to BKN for a package of role-specific guys, they won’t have enough firepower to compete with the league’s upper-tier teams.
The Philadelphia 76ers are the lone Atlantic squad that won’t pose real competition for most of the teams in the league. The only thing that the Sixers can hope to win is the 2014 NBA Draft Lottery and consequently snagging Andrew Wiggins.
In the end, the Atlantic throne will be decided by the squads in the Big Apple. And despite Brooklyn's blockbuster trade and nice offseason, those guys from Manhattan still have the better team and will repeat as division champs in 2014.
Who Will Stop Melo?
Carmelo Anthony is the best player in the division, and one of the best in the entire NBA.
Last season, Melo won the scoring crown with 28.7 points per game and also chipped in 6.9 boards while spending a lot of time on the block.
In 2014, Anthony will be used more frequently where he thrives—in isolation.
New York’s power forward tandem of Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani will pull opposing big men down below the block and even out to the three-point line, giving Anthony room to work defenders one-on-one.
As J.R. Smith tweeted, anything less than a championship is a "waste" for New York in 2014. And in addition to chasing his first title, Anthony will have the ability to opt out of his contract with the Knicks next summer—so extra money (whether he re-signs or goes elsewhere) is an added incentive.
Melo is an elite player in his prime who’s playing for another huge contract. He’ll be the driving force in the Knicks’ push for another division crown.
New York’s roster last season was the oldest in the history of the NBA, as documented by Royce Young of CBS Sports.
After coming into opening night with an average age of nearly 32 years old, the Knicks simply fell victim to nagging injuries to almost every player at one time or another.
With the 2014 roster as it currently stands, the Knicks have a team age of 28.2—a tremendous drop-off of about four years from last season (via Rotoworld). Woodson will no longer be forced to put so much emphasis on minute restrictions and can focus more on individual game-planning.
Marcus Camby, Rasheed Wallace and Kidd—all of whom are no longer with NY—had an average age of 38.3 years old at the beginning of last season (via Basketball Reference). Although each member of that trio really contributed at some points in 2013, injuries and declined athleticism limited their effectiveness.
Metta World Peace, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Bargnani—New York’s top offseason additions—combine for an average of 27.3 years of age. In addition, youngsters C.J. Leslie and Jeremy Tyler are both 22 years old and are going to have the chance at some minutes next season.
The 2014 Knicks have revamped their roster with young talent that will not only contribute more than the elder statesmen of a year ago, but who will also be able to keep themselves on the court.
Yes, the Nets have gotten better—Garnett, Pierce and Jason Terry are warriors who are hungry for one last run at a championship. But can a completely inexperienced coach lead them to that title?
Kidd is an all-time great point guard, but he’s taking over a big-time coaching role without getting his feet wet on the sidelines.
Although he’s earned the respect of the entire NBA on the court, Kidd is going to have to deal with a veteran roster whose window of opportunity will most likely close after the next two years.
That's a ton of pressure on a first-year head coach, and it’s unclear whether or not Kidd will be able to live up to it.
Woodson, heading into his ninth season as a head coach, received six votes for the 2013 Coach of the Year award. He led the oldest team in the history of the league to 54 wins and a division title, turned Smith into the NBA Sixth Man of the Year and got his two best players (Melo and J.R.) to give a consistent defensive effort.
The Knicks have the best player and best coach in the division (now that Doc Rivers is gone), as well as a younger and re-energized roster.
After combining all three of those factors, the result will be a Knicks team that's going to finish atop the Atlantic Division for the second year in a row.