Andrea Bargnani could be part of the Knicks solution for 2014.
For the New York Knicks, team success during the 2013-14 season will become only more important as Carmelo Anthony's impending free agency draws nearer. Despite an encouraging 54-win regular season a year ago, a repeat of the 2012-13 Knicks—who fell victim to the Indiana Pacers in the second round of the playoffs—just won't suffice.
Last year's team undoubtedly took a step in the right direction, especially for a franchise that went without a postseason series victory in over a decade. Replicating that overall success would be wise, but this year's team must improve on last year's postseason finish. And to the Knicks credit, they've put themselves in a position to do so.
Many of the improvements expected for this upcoming season won't be strategic at all—Raymond Felton not playing with an injured finger, Pablo Prigioni and Beno Udrih playing more productively than 40-year-old Jason Kidd did in 2013, Iman Shumpert playing in his first 82-game season—but Mike Woodson will still be held accountable for his Xs-and-Os come opening night.
Utilizing Shooters More Effectively in the Offense
According to ESPN's Hollinger efficiency stats, the Knicks offense was better than every Eastern Conference team outside of the Miami Heat. But despite its 108.6 points per 100 possessions, New York's attack wasn't flawless. Look no further than Steve Novak's stat line for the year, which suffers when compared to that of the prior season, played mostly under Mike D'Antoni.
Novak, like Chris Copeland, found it hard to get into tight games and make a difference from behind the arc. Both players have since moved on from New York, but the point remains as apparent as ever: Woodson must insert shooters into the offense.
Luckily for the coach, the team's newest sniper by trade, Andrea Bargnani, should be easier to integrate into the system.
Unlike Novak, Bargnani's offensive ability expands beyond shooting the three. He can score from inside the arc and make poorly positioned defenders pay should they charge at him—outlined perfectly by Dylan Murphy here. Compare the two players below and how they react to defenders closing out:
The big man's more expansive skill set—and his $12 million salary—makes it easier for Woodson to dish out significant minutes to Bargnani. But the onus will also be on Woodson to get his shooters to shoulder some of Carmelo Anthony's scoring load, in addition to spacing the floor for their star.
Stick With Small-Ball/Dual-PG Lineups
This seems to be a recurring topic when talking about strategies for this upcoming season: Woodson must be cognizant of what worked for the team last year.
Although the addition of Bargnani likely eliminates the possibility of starting Anthony at the power forward—his full-time position last year—the team should still go small to exploit opposing matchup problems whenever possible.
The table below breaks down Anthony's performance last year by position, via 82games.
Player 48-Minute Production by Position
As often he can, Woodson should replicate last season's schemes and lineups, if only to benefit Anthony. Although Bargnani will likely hold down the starting power forward spot, there's no excuse for Woodson to limit 'Melo strictly to the 3.
The same can be said about the team's point guard situation. Iman Shumpert seems to have earned a starting job at the shooting guard, which leaves Udrih and Prigioni as the reserve point guards. A typical NBA team doesn't rely heavily on a three-point guard rotation, but that's not the case for New York.
From the outset of the 2012-13 seaon, the Knicks were forced—almost by accident—to run a starting backcourt of Felton and Jason Kidd. After a week or so of action, it was clear that the point guard-heavy lineup was necessary to counteract the isolation tendencies of Anthony and J.R. Smith.
Below is a graph of the Knicks' 2012-13 record sorted by games in which a single point guard started versus games that featured two Knicks point guards at tip off.
Glen Grunwald nabbing Udrih off the free-agent market—even after re-signing Prigioni—shows that using three point men will be still a priority. It will be up to Woodson to divvy up sufficient minutes to each.
Preserve Tyson Chandler
It's clear that Tyson Chandler is the Knicks' best frontcourt defender and rebounder. If you watched New York battle the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers in the postseason, though, you'd never believe that for a second.
Chandler's horrid playoff output was a direct result of the injuries he suffered late in the regular season. While rehabbing knee and back ailments last spring, the center also caught a sickness that caused him to lose a significant amount of weight. By playoff time, Chandler was a hobbled, shrunken version of himself who could barely keep his head on a swivel.
The slew of injuries that plagued Chandler could be attributed to overuse during the season. After injuries to Rasheed Wallace, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas, the Knicks had no true backup for Chandler until Kenyon Martin was signed in February. By then, most of the damage had piled up.
Chandler had 20 games of 36 minutes or more. He averaged more than 33 minutes per contest over the second half of the season and did so while playing through injuries.
With Martin back for another season in New York, Jeremy Tyler inked after an impressive summer league and either Hamed Haddadi or Earl Barron possibly signing, Woodson will have more frontcourt depth than what was at his disposal last year. It'll be the coach's responsibility to keep Chandler fresh and healthy for the long haul to avoid a rerun of last year's postseason disappointment.
Not Being so Quick to Switch or Double-Team on D
The Knicks defense came under fire for much of the team's struggles last year, and deservedly so. The team finished 16th among NBA teams in defensive efficiency, and it rarely seemed to provide a timely stop.
A few serious issues became apparent as the season progressed, and one was the tendency to switch far too early on simple pick-and-roll sets run by opponents. For a better visual, here's Posting and Toasting's Seth Rosenthal breaking down a loss to the Boston Celtics.
This was a problem that developed in the middle of the year, seemingly out of the blue. During the Knicks' blistering 18-5 start, players seemed pretty capable of fighting through screens and hanging with assignments when defending pick-and-roll sets. The GIF below is from the first game of the 2012-13 season.
New York is capable of sticking with opposing offensive players, so letting undisciplined and lazy switching burn them won't be excusable a second season in a row.
The second glaring issue that was on display in the playoffs was New York's premature and poorly executed double-teams. Far too often, Knicks players would leave their man to aid a teammate who didn't need any help, allowing their assignments to get wide-open looks.
See two examples from last postseason. In both GIFs, you'll see that neither opposing ball-handler has the rock for more than a second or two before Knicks defenders rush to double. The offense is quick to realize the mistake and cashes in for easy buckets.
It's unclear whether these gaffes came while following Woodson's instructions or were the results of mental lapses. Whatever the case, such breakdowns need to be rectified, or the defensive issues that plagued New York last season won't be just a thing of the past.
Follow John Dorn on Twitter at @JSDorn6.