The New York Knicks are a much younger team than they were a year ago, and, as a result, they could be short of leaders in the 2013-14 season.
Jason Kidd, Rasheed Wallace, Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby have all left the team, and though they appeared to have little left in the tank physically, their presence in the locker room will certainly be missed.
Still, all is not lost for the Knicks. Tyson Chandler is one of the best defensive leaders in the league, Pablo Prigioni brings plenty of experience from Europe and, apparently, Carmelo Anthony has been stepping up in that regard in preseason.
As great as that sounds, however, these players lead in different ways. Chandler organizes the defense, Prigioni sets the tone with his passing, while Melo leads by example with his offense and intensity.
What the Knicks still need is a truly vocal leader on both ends of the floor, and new addition Metta World Peace can be just that.
Throughout his career, World Peace has rightly been considered immature and a distraction, but he's undergone quite the transformation these past few years. Ron Artest, known as much for his role in the Malice at the Palace as for his on-court credentials, is now Metta World Peace—an NBA champion with his eyes firmly set on another ring.
As a player, World Peace showed us in preseason that he’s certainly still got it. He may not be an All-Star any more, but Tyler Hansbrough will tell you that he’s as intimidating as ever, and we also saw that he can still be an effective player on offense.
What we heard in interviews from World Peace was even more impressive. No longer is he focused on simply playing physical basketball. He wants these Knicks to play smart—something they failed to do consistently last season—and he’s relishing the opportunity to lead a young group of players.
He has high expectations for his teammates. In just a matter of weeks, he's labelled Iman Shumpert the "best shooting guard in the league," Tim Hardaway Jr. a "young All-Star" and Carmelo Anthony a championship-caliber player. While all that may not be true yet, it's about time New York had expectations like this.
But World Peace shouldn't just be here to play the hype man role. He needs to find a way to make his teammates better, and he's done that so far in camp. According to the NY Daily News, he was matched up with Melo in practice, pushing him to improve on a daily basis:
That’s the only way we can get better, if we push each other. Sometimes me and Iman are on the same team, we both guard Melo and we try to make it hard on him, so when he gets out there on the floor, it will be easy and he can, you know, be the leading scorer, and not only be the leading scorer, but be the leading guy this year in the NBA. We want Melo to be the leading guy in the NBA this year. But we’ve got to do that together.
On the court, especially in the absence of J.R. Smith, New York is going to need World Peace to repeat his production from last season with the Los Angeles Lakers. If he can provide consistent defense on the perimeter, knock down open three-pointers and take up a primary scoring role for the second unit, the Knicks will be set at small forward.
After all these years since being snubbed by the Knicks in the 1999 draft, World Peace is back in his hometown and is living the dream. He gets to ride the subway to work, play at the most iconic arena in basketball and, most importantly, show off his newfound maturity in the hopes of winning a title for his childhood team.
As much as we love to joke about MWP, he's going to play a huge role this season—as a player and a leader—if the Knicks are to repeat their success against a much stronger Eastern Conference. We all know they could use his defense on the perimeter, but, as strange as it is to say, his leadership will be essential, too.