Biggest Roadblocks in NY Knicks' Championship Pursuit for 2013-14 Season

Vin GetzCorrespondent ISeptember 4, 2013

Biggest Roadblocks in NY Knicks' Championship Pursuit for 2013-14 Season

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    Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks face 2013-14 with a little more talent and a lot less room for error. This year, the slightest missteps in the most tightly contested Eastern Conference of the century so far will be especially costly to New York’s championship pursuit.

    In 2012-13, the Knicks almost coasted to the Atlantic title, busting out of the gate with a win against the Miami Heat and a 20-7 record, owning the division most of the season and eventually taking the two seed by a comfortable four-and-a-half games over the Indiana Pacers.

    That won’t be the case this season. The Knicks will need to navigate their typical road blocks of the past few years, along with some new and re-emerging (and daunting) ones.

    As few as one or two additional losses over the course of the season will have repercussions that reverberate straight into the playoffs…and beyond (see: Anthony’s player option).

Ball Movement

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    The New York Knicks were 30th in assists during 2012-13. That’s hard to believe given their frequent and successful two-point sets.

    Clearly, isolation still rules the roost, whether it’s Carmelo Anthony dominating the play, J.R. Smith in the zone (be it good or bad), Raymond Felton making ill-advised scrambles to the hoop or Tyson Chandler banking a put-back.

    No one other than Felton really pushed the ball last year. Even Jason Kidd, brought in to facilitate, fell short when he was playing his best early on (never mind his disastrous finish).

    Pablo Prigioni actually led the Knicks in assists per 36 minutes with a handy 6.7, but he just didn’t get the playing time.

    Outside the backcourt, forget it: not a Knick with three assists per game.

    Starting Andrea Bargnani at power forward with Anthony at small forward is one remedy—it affords a second potentially reliable scoring option on the front line. In other words, someone else to pass to.

    But that challenges the Knicks’ most potent lineup with Anthony at the 4.

    Whichever way coach Mike Woodson goes, the onus does lie on him to instill the importance of all-around ball movement in the development of a true title contender.

The Boards

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    Rebounding is the other fundamental lacking in the Knicks’ game, with the responsibility also falling on mostly one person: center Tyson Chandler. How bad did this hurt New York? It did them in, in the end, according to Eric Goldschein at sportsgrid.com:

    Last year the Knicks were ranked 26th in the league in total rebounds, last in blocked shots, and last in offensive rebounds allowed. These things absolutely killed them in their second-round matchup with the Pacers.

    With Chandler subpar in the postseason, no wonder New York was bounced once they hit the No. 1 rebounding team in the NBA.

    The Knicks were 14-15—more than half the team’s total losses—against the top 19 rebounding teams in 2012-13. That’s a list that includes not only the Houston Rockets and Washington Wizards, but more importantly the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls and glass-improved Brooklyn Nets.

    While the Knicks’ issues with ball movement seem fixable, even if only by coaching, the boards will continue to be a major source of concern in 2013-14.

    The weight still lies heavily on Chandler’s aging shoulders, and there’s not much backup. Relative-unknown Jeremy Tyler is the only inked backup at center, and the offensive, seven-foot Andrea Bargnani is no help here.

Poor Shooting

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    When the Knicks’ primary scorers (Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith) are inefficient, they lose.

    In games where Anthony shot less than 30 percent, New York was 2-4.

    Smith’s poor-shooting impact was even greater. He shot less than 30 percent in 17 games (more than one-fifth of the season). The Knicks record? 7-10.

    When Melo and J.R. shot their career averages (45 and 42 percent, respectively), the Knicks were 26-7 and 32-10. A huge difference.

    And that was just the regular season. The playoffs were more indicative.

    When Anthony shot under 40 percent in the postseason, the Knicks went 1-5, with defenses focusing on him alone.

    Meanwhile, New York won every playoff game where Smith was at least 35 percent from the field.

Head Games

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    It’s started already, and of course it involves J.R. Smith, whose suspension in Round 1 signaled the beginning of the end.

    After the Honey Nut Cheerios incident early in the year, Carmelo Anthony did recognize where he faltered and made Zen-like mental adjustments to put a lid on it for the remainder of the season (including follow-up games against the Boston Celtics).

    Smith, though, just keeps on going and going.

    The latest tete-a-tete began with a volley from ex-Celtic Paul Pierce, as reported by ESPN’s Mike Mazzeo:

    "I think the hate [for the Knicks] has grown a little. Everybody knows how much I disliked the Knicks when I was with the Celtics, but I think it's grown to another level," Pierce said on ESPN NewYork 98.7 FM's "The Michael Kay Show" on Thursday. "I think it's time for the Nets to start running this city."

    Not to be undone, Smith made an outrageous (and pressure-loaded) guarantee.

    During a question-and-answer session with kid golfers at Chelsea Piers, Smith was asked how sure he was of the Knicks ending their title drought this season. “I’m 100 percent sure,” the swingman said. Smith was then asked why he joined the Knicks over the Nets when he came back from China in February 2012. “The Nets weren’t good,’’ Smith said. “Now they’re still not good.’’ (via Marc Berman of the New York Post)

    The Knicks must avoid a single suspension this season. Is that possible? New York was third in technical fouls last year and fourth in personal fouls per possession.

    Suspensions mean losses, and it will only take one or two suspension-related losses to change the Knicks’ Eastern Conference playoff vista.

    Lose the head game in the postseason and go home early.

Improving Contenders

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    The New York Knicks did improve this offseason. Andrea Bargnani, Metta World Peace and a healthy Iman Shumpert and Amar’e Stoudemire from the get-go make New York look better on paper than it did at last year’s opener.

    Beno Udrih adds nice depth on what might again be a point-centric backcourt.

    The problem is: The Knicks’ main contenders all got better, too, and even more so.

    The Miami Heat are still the class of the conference and are essentially unchanged, but a year older, wiser and more titled. It’s borderline irrelevant if Greg Oden can make an impact. But if he does, that spells trouble, especially given the Knicks’ difficulties with big, physical players (perhaps Miami’s main weakness a season ago).

    The Indiana Pacers currently own the Knicks and now have Danny Granger back, multi-talented former Knick Chris Copeland and potential sixth man C.J. Watson. They added rugged Luis Scola to counter opponents’ second-unit offensive edge.

    The Brooklyn Nets are technically an All-Star team now: Paul Pierce, Brook Lopez, Kevin Garnett, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson have 35 All-Star Games between them. If Williams fulfills his potential, we’re looking at three Hall of Famers.

    The Chicago Bulls dominated New York in 2012-13 without Derrick Rose. Now what?

Age and Injury

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    The Knicks are still old, even with the departures of Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Rasheed Wallace and Kurt Thomas.

    Other than rookies Tim Hardaway Jr. and C.J. Leslie, meek backup-center Jeremy Tyler and Iman Shumpert, everyone is 27 or older. Metta World Peace, Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Kenyon Martin, Beno Udrih and Pablo Prigioni are all in their 30s.

    Carmelo Anthony will be 30 late in the postseason.

    Still, age is much less of a concern than injury. The Knicks improved on the former front this offseason. Injury will loom much larger in 2013-14.

    By 2012-13’s end, New York was the land of the walking wounded.

    Chandler was a shadow of himself in April, having suffered a simultaneous neck injury and energy-depleting stomach ailment.

    Anthony finished the season with injuries in both shoulders. He “played through the NBA playoffs with a partially torn labrum” (NBC Sports). He has opted to heal without surgery.

    Stoudemire is practically guaranteed to miss 30 games or more—and that’s on top of his restricted minutes.

    J.R. Smith surprised everyone with his offseason surgery announcement. He was scoped for “a tear in the lateral meniscus of his left knee.” (ESPN) Maybe he’ll be ready for the opener, but he won’t exactly be game-ready for some time.

    Bargnani has missed more than half his team’s games the past two seasons with hard-to-pinpoint, nagging wrist and elbow injuries.

    Martin managed 18 games before getting hurt. What can be expected of him over this whole season?

    Even Shumpert tweaked his left (ACL) knee in May, requiring an MRI. You wouldn’t know it from Shump’s arrival in the playoffs, though.

    Hopefully, Madison Square Garden acquired cortisone this offseason, too.