Only a year-and-a-half ago, the Knicks were starting Mike Bibby and relying on the likes of Bill Walker and Toney Douglas for production off the bench, but they now have what is arguably the best second unit in the entire league.
The Knicks bench was pretty good to begin with at the start of the offseason—they already had the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, a six-time All-Star and one of the league's most feared defenders—but the additions of Metta World Peace, Beno Udrih and Tim Hardaway Jr. make them as deep as anyone around.
You could even make the argument that New York's second unit—featuring a lineup of Pablo Prigioni, J.R. Smith, Metta World Peace, Kenyon Martin and Amar'e Stoudemire—could beat a few of the NBA's starting fives in a head-to-head matchup.
These are all players who've spent a significant portion of their careers as starters (or even stars) and they're coming together for a shot at the Larry O'Brien trophy.
New York has a perfect mix of offensive and defensive personnel in the lineup. At point guard, despite his age, Prigioni is still a capable defender, especially when it comes to causing turnovers. Even his backcourt partner, Smith—despite his poor reputation—has improved significantly on that end of the floor during Mike Woodson's tenure.
Offensively, Prigioni is one of the more unique distributors in basketball, wanting nothing more than to create for his teammates, to the point where he even passes up good looks for himself. Meanwhile, scoring comes naturally to Smith, who has one of the smoothest jumpers in the game today and can get to the rim with ease when he wants to.
In the frontcourt, MWP and K-Mart are two of the better defenders the NBA has seen over the last decade, which should help to cover for Stoudemire's deficiencies on that end of the floor. On the other end, STAT will be the go-to option, but World Peace was still a good enough offensive player to average double-figure points with the Los Angeles Lakers last season.
Even beyond that, the Knicks have a quality pair of third-string guards in Udrih and Hardaway, with summer league standout Jeremy Tyler hopefully being ready to help reduce the strain on Tyson Chandler at center later in the season.
Having a bench like this is essential for New York and could be the difference between the team being genuine title contenders and falling short in the second round again.
While the Knicks' performance against the Indiana Pacers in the second round was under par, it's hard to ignore the role injuries played in that series. Chandler was worn out, Amar'e Stoudemire had only just returned, Carmelo Anthony had a hurt shoulder and Smith was dealing with a meniscus tear that ended up needing major surgery.
Now that their bench is younger and deeper, the Knicks will be able to rest key players ahead of the playoffs, which they weren't able to do last year when Melo was forced to play at center for a few games and Amar'e Stoudemire had to play over his minutes limit on consecutive nights.
The Knicks aren't the only team in the league with a deep bench. The Los Angeles Clippers and even the rival Brooklyn Nets have gotten a lot stronger this offseason, but neither can boast the same mix of experience and raw talent as the Knicks.
With training camp underway, there is a worry that Mike Woodson will struggle to find playing time for everyone, but that's a good problem to have, and as the season progresses the depth will prove to be a blessing.
These are all professionals, and the majority of them signed new deals this offseason knowing what they were getting themselves into. It's not about individual playing time, it's about sacrificing to compete for a championship.