Metta World Peace has already made his mark on the Knicks, just a week into camp.
The New York Knicks approached the season with a few unanswered questions, and after just one week, we're beginning to see some answers trickle out of camp.
The team has several starting lineup combinations to choose from, and coach Mike Woodson has hinted towards deviating from last year's formula. The addition of Andrea Bargnani will likely bump Carmelo Anthony back down to his natural small forward position, and almost eliminate the possibility of starting two point guards—a key to last season's success.
The injury bug hasn't quite bit the team just yet, but there are a few health situations to keep tabs on, namely Iman Shumpert's shoulder situation.
The team still has one roster spot up for grabs, and Woodson has begun to articulate who he thinks has the best shot at cracking the 15-man group. New York has a total of six non-guaranteed camp invitees with it.
There's still plenty of camp left to play out, including the entire preseason. But we're starting to get a feel for how the Knicks may look this season. Ahead are 10 takeaways from Greenburgh, NY this past week.
All offseason long, it appeared that Mike Woodson had three realistic options for the starting lineup:
- Raymond Felton
- Iman Shumpert
- Carmelo Anthony
- Andrea Bargnani
- Tyson Chandler
- Metta World Peace
- Pablo Prigioni
After a week of eyeing out his options, Woodson has essentially viewed option A as his first unit, with those players running on the "blue" team in scrimmages. Newsday's Al Iannazzone tweeted Sunday that Woodson is inclined to see how that lineup looks in game action.
This lineup could pose defensive issues, with Anthony being forced to defend quicker small forwards, and with Bargnani a liability on that end. If defense is the focus, option B could be a better solution.
The bigger starting five would contradict last year's strategy of small-ball and dual-point lineups. But Woodson acknowledged that line (option C, above) by saying he knows "he can always get back to" it, according to ESPN New York's Ian Begley.
So judging by the coach's actions and words early on, it appears that the traditional lineup could be the starting option, but last year's playoff lineup will still be relied on when needed—i.e. when offensive stagnancy becomes a problem.
Of the six Knicks players in camp who aren't on guaranteed deals, three are guards. And after Mike Woodson's comments Friday, none of them seem likely to make the final squad.
Jonah Ballow of KnicksNow.com tweeted that Woodson believes the team has enough ball-handlers on the roster already—with three point guards and three shooting guards, he may be right. Woodson added that the three bigs in camp—Josh Powell, Ike Diogu and Cole Aldrich—all have a real shot at making the Knicks, according to Ballow.
So we can all but rule out Toure' Murry, Chris Smith and newly signed Chris Douglas-Roberts for the final roster. The Knicks have a need at center behind Tyson Chandler, with no true 5 behind him as Jeremy Tyler rehabs from foot surgery. A lack of depth behind Chandler last season led to his ultimate demise come playoff time.
Of the three big-man options, Aldrich may make the most sense. At 6'11", he provides true-center size, unlike Powell (6'9") and Diogu (6'8"). He's a former lottery pick, and at 24, would serve as the youth the team needs behind Chandler and Martin.
While Iman Shumpert may be the Knicks' brightest young piece, he's fought his fair share of battles with injuries over his brief NBA career. He's missed time in each of his two NBA seasons, and his 2013-14 campaign isn't off to the smooth start New York was hoping for.
Though likely for precautionary reasons, the 23-year-old was forced to miss most of the first week with, as the team called it, "shoulder soreness." He tweaked it while going up for a jump shot during a three-on-three drill. No MRI or x-ray was needed.
“I think rest right now would be good,” Shumpert said on Oct. 3, according to the New York Daily News. “They just don’t want to push me. If it’s sore today, just chill out, there’s no rush right now. We just need you healthy for the first game. That’s all.”
This projects to be Shumpert's first full 82-game season, with the lockout and a torn ACL interfering with his first two pro years. This new shoulder ailment seems to be minor, but it'll be worth keeping an eye on. Shump shot over 40 percent on threes last year, which bettered all of his marks from long range—pro or college.
The jumper has become a key cog in Shumpert's offensive game, so any limitations there would be especially discouraging.
Despite Amar'e Stoudemire's injury woes in recent years, the six-time all-star had never hesitated to iterate that he would somehow persevere, and regain dominant form once again. This was the case following S.T.A.T.'s back injury suffered in the 2011 playoffs, again after tweaking the back the next season and again last season following both knee surgeries.
He may not have had much physically, but Stoudemire always believed. He believed in himself, and perhaps unreasonably, his body. After all, it was just over two years ago that he was an MVP candidate, scoring, at one point in 2010-11, 26.4 points per game.
But, after yet another knee surgery last July, the Stoudemire that spoke was unlike any we'd seen to date. This man was brittle, broken down and defeated.
"The whole goal is to get strong and recover," Stoudemire said on media day, with much more narrow goals in mind this year. It appears that the last link between this Amar'e and the one that existed before his body's destruction—his own confidence—had finally been severed.
These days, Stoudemire likens reaching that level again as a miracle—he said as much when asked how he could help the team in 2013-14. "I believe in the most high. I think miracles can happen any time of day," he said. "My goal is to stay faithful and understand that anything can happen." Amar'e has yet to start running.
It's been fairly clear for some time now that the 11-year vet will never be the type of impact player he was just three seasons ago. Now, though, Stoudemire has finally conceded the same knowledge. His prior career is long since over. The remainder of his time in the game will likely be spent as a high-profile role-player, one injury away from hobbling out of the league forever.
A very concerning aspect of Tyson Chandler's career is how little—if at all—his offensive game has developed since he was drafted in 2001. Aside from a put-back or a mildly contested dunk, the Knicks' All-Star center, now 31, features no expertise with the ball in his hands.
But now, 12 years later, he's working on that.
Chandler has been working on implementing a mid-range jumper for this season, something he attempted to use sporadically last season, but never got around to. He attempted just 11 shots from 15-19 feet last season, making six of them.
He's made it a point to become more useful on offense this year, though. According to ESPN New York's Ian Begley, Chandler has hoisted more than 600 Js daily in preparation for the season.
"I think it can be deadly because if you can knock that mid-range jump shot right there, it exploits a lot of bigs, makes them come away from the basket where they're not comfortable," the center told ESPN New York.
Despite the shot being the most inefficient in all of basketball, Chandler brings up a good point when speaking on stretching the opposing center away from the rim. This was a major issue during the playoffs last year, when Indiana Pacers big man Roy Hibbert patrolled the paint with ease. Chandler, of course, was no threat from beyond eight feet, so Hibbert had no need to deviate from his painted domain.
(Mike Woodson could've countered this by playing Chris Copeland at the 5 in that series, but neglected to do so until it was too late. Copeland is now a Pacer. But that's all beside the point.)
Nobody's expecting Chandler to develop a Copeland-esque three-ball. But some ability to score—or even be a threat to score—certainly can't hurt.
Speaking of Tyson Chandler, he also grabbed headlines this past week when speaking on last year's playoff atrocity against other teams' bigs.
After battling knee and back injuries last season, to go along with a sickness that caused significant weight loss, Chandler was literally a shell of himself by the postseason. He was often planted on the bench in favor of Kenyon Martin during the series against the Boston Celtics, and Roy Hibbert made Chandler look like he'd never seen a true NBA center before.
"Obviously, I wasn't close to myself, but I can't even look at that. I have to look at it as motivation where I got my [butt] kicked, and next time I'm not going to let that happen," Chandler said Friday, according to the New York Daily News.
"Honestly, my motivation this summer was the playoff exit. I vowed to myself that I would never let that happen again. I would never let my team down and be in that situation again," he told the paper. "That's what I've been thriving off of. I will never allow that to happen. That's been my motivation."
According to ESPN New York's Ian Begley, Chandler has bulked up to 253 pounds. During the majority of last season, before getting sick and losing 10-12 pounds, he was playing at 240.
Chandler's presence on the inside is key to New York's success, and a motivated Chandler can do wonders for the team's locker room—devoid of much veteran presence this year.
The 2012-13 Knicks won 54 games and finished second in the Eastern Conference, but it was all despite—rather than because of—Mike Woodson's defense.
The side of the ball that Woodson takes the most pride in was especially pathetic last year, when the Knicks ranked in the bottom half of the league in efficiency. It came as a surprise, with Tyson Chandler, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, manning the middle, and the team on the heels of a fifth-place finish in D-Rating.
According to ESPN New York's Ian Begley, the head coach has put a number on his expectations for the team's defensive improvement. He said Friday that the goal is to finish among the top 10 defensive teams in the league.
With the lineup Woodson seems to be settling on—which includes Carmelo Anthony chasing 3s around the perimeter, Andrea Bargnani being included in the last line of defense and no true defensive weapon at point guard—the coach's goals seem a bit farfetched.
Make no mistake: The Knicks must be a good defensive team if they hope to advance farther than last year. Iman Shumpert is one of the best defensive guards in the NBA, and adding Metta World Peace certainly will help contain the perimeter. A healthy Tyson Chandler will make up a strong front line, no doubt, along with Kenyon Martin.
But New York will need team defense to come together, unlike last year. Woodson is liable for some strategic deficiencies as well, so it'll be his responsibility to tighten things up on his end, too.
It's no secret by now. There's no player in the NBA quite like Metta World Peace. His performance on media day just set that in stone, in case we managed to forget.
Part of his KnicksNow.com interview slate, "Metta's World"—in which he's responsible for the interviewing—included questions like, "What's your favorite toe?" and "What's the purpose of this banana?"
Aside from "Metta's World," Steve Serby of the New York Post hosted a great Q&A session with Ron Ron (h/t Posting and Toasting), in which the zany forward expanded on starting his own talk show, rapping, eating beans, trash talking, his childhood and even his daughter's battle with cancer.
In other Metta matters, his coach's struggle with the World Peace vs. Artest battle carries on. Via Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal:
Woodson has been hilarious in trying to call World Peace by his name. Has been a challenge. Just said, "Hey Peace ... I mean, Hey World!"
There's never a dull moment around Metta, as every Knick will soon learn firsthand.
On a basketball-related note, MWP seems to be doing everything he's supposed to early on. According to Jonah Ballow of KnicksNow.com:
Kenyon Martin played in just 18 games for the Knicks last season, averaging 24 minutes per contest. But this season—his first full campaign as a Knick—coach Mike Woodson is taking on a new cautious approach, that will attempt to preserve Martin over a full season.
“I’m not going to burn him like I did last year," Woody told the New York Daily News. The coach was more responsible for the flaming out of Jason Kidd, who averaged 30 minutes over the season's first half, and later scored a total of 11 points in 12 playoff games that spring.
Woodson vowed to show restraint, not just with Martin, but with Amar'e Stoudemire as well. Woodson broke team doctors' wishes last season, not only by playing him in each of a four-games-in-five-nights span, but by playing him in 21, 32, 31 and 29 minutes, respectively, in those contests. The oft-injured big man was on a strict 30-minute nightly limit. Those four games were the last Stoudemire would play that regular season before needing a second knee debridement procedure.
Martin seemed to agree with Woodson's preservation strategy. He told the News, “(I) got to be cool with it because last year I came in and just played a lot of minutes right away, had a couple ailments from that. But now, I’m just trying to limit the reps that I’m getting in practice to get ready for the season, which I understand because you don’t want to burn guys out. I’m cool with the plan.”
K-Mart's health—he'll turn 36 on Dec. 30—will be of utmost importance throughout the year, as he's the team's only proven talent behind Tyson Chandler on the depth chart.
This may not come as a total shock, but Mike Woodson won't be running out his primary lineups all that often just yet.
According to Newsday's Al Iannazzone, the coach plans on running the younger players through most of the preseason, with the true rotations getting a test run in the final exhibition or two.
This means the Carmelo Anthonys, Iman Shumperts, Tyson Chandlers, Raymond Feltons and Andrea Bargnanis of the world won't see true game action until Oct. 23 at the earliest, with the preseason wrapping up on Oct. 25 at Madison Square Garden versus the Charlotte Bobcats.
Until then, expect to see various battles take place between the three big-man camp invites: Josh Powell, Ike Diogu and Cole Aldrich.
Non-guaranteed invites Toure' Murry, Chris Smith and Chris Douglas-Roberts should receive a bulk of the minutes as well, but with the team expected to use its final roster spot on a larger body, the time will likely act as an audition for other NBA and D-League teams.
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