It was yet another offseason of heavily amending the previous year's roster, but the New York Knicks should feel confident about the group they've put together for 2013-14. No longer is the team's mean age creeping into dangerous territory, and Mike Woodson's crew is much deeper than the second-place Knicks of last year.
Starting with the draft, New York added undeniable talent all summer long. Its acquisitions make for a much more athletic and competitive team, considering the stark improvement of the Eastern Conference.
Ahead, we grade Glen Grunwald, Steve Mills and the entire Knicks front office on their performance over these last months.
On draft night, New York already sported a loaded backcourt. Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni were presumed to handle the point guard duties, while J.R. Smith was believed to return and Iman Shumpert is blossoming into a solid all-around cog.
There are two possible explanations of the Knicks' pick at No. 24: They were either severely concerned about Smith leaving the Knicks for a team with cap space, or they were simply drafting who they viewed as the best available talent.
With Felton, Prigioni, Smith, Shumpert, Beno Udrih and Toure' Murry also battling for minutes in the backcourt—and under a coach known to shun greener players in favor of experienced ones—it's difficult to see where Tim Hardaway Jr. immediately fits into the team's plans. But there's certainly no lack of promising characteristics to the rookie's game.
While nobody will confuse the 21-year-old for a defensive mastermind—the Knicks would simply settle for competence on that end right now—Hardaway is a well-rounded athlete with very good potential overall. He's displayed questionable shot selection through three seasons at Michigan, but this is an area that tends to better with maturation. He shot 42 percent as a Wolverine while posting a 54-percent true shooting percentage.
With the Knicks, Hardaway will be relied on for long-range shooting primarily at the 2, and may be called on to log minutes at some small-ball 3 in spurts. He looks to be part of a second unit that theoretically can include Beno Udrih, J.R. Smith, Amar'e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin.
The knock on Hardaway's selection would presumably be where he fits in with the Knicks' other guards right now, while the team had—and still has—a need for a reserve center to spell Tyson Chandler. New York viewed the available frontcourt crop of Rudy Gobert and Jeff Withey, among others, unworthy of a selection at 24, and went with who they deemed the best all-around option.
An immediate critique of the pick was leaving swingman Reggie Bullock on the board—he was immediately taken by the Los Angeles Clippers at No. 25. After three seasons at North Carolina, Bullock brings arguably better scoring to the table with slightly more size. He posted a true shooting percentage over 62 percent in his junior year at UNC.
In the preseason, Hardaway shone brighter than most expected. He was the team's second-leading scorer behind Anthony with 12.6 per contest, and shot 41 percent from long distance. Woodson gave early indications (via the New York Post) that the guard's performance has earned him a slot in the regular rotation.
Only time will be able to tell if Hardaway was the best direction to go on draft night, but it can't be denied that he has an advanced scorer's mentality in the early stages of his career. Once he can hone his game and limit his shot selection to only clean looks—which there will be no shortage of while defenses load up on Smith and Anthony—Hardaway can become a respectable accessory on an already formidable offense.
Legitimate arguments can be made for each of the Knicks' acquisitions, as every newcomer has a clearly defined role where there was a previous need on the depth chart.
The summer got off to a controversial beginning in late June, when New York traded for underwhelming 7-footer Andrea Bargnani. The team sent Steve Novak, Marcus Camby, Quentin Richardson and three draft picks to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Bargnani's horrendous $24 million contract.
The deal has been a topic of debate among Knicks fans ever since: One side views the deal as exchanging spare parts for a bona fide scorer, while the other can't dream up any scenario in which trading a first-round pick for another team's albatross contract is ever acceptable.
It's possible that the Knicks could've yielded a better return for the outgoing package, but in terms of 2013-14, the team certainly got better. Camby's days as a major contributor are over, and Novak's role with the Knicks diminished to benchwarmer in the postseason. Richardson was included exclusively to make the money match. Bargnani is a better basketball player than the sum of those three.
But it will be interesting to monitor how Woodson handles Bargnani's role, and how much he deviates from what guided the Knicks to running the third-most efficient offense last season.
Acquiring Bargnani will more than likely bump Carmelo Anthony down to his natural small forward position full time. With Anthony at the 3, it'll also be difficult to court lineups of two point men. The small-ball technique brought incredible results last season; 38 of the team's 54 wins came in games with a dual-point starting five.
It'll take an impressive coaching job to properly integrate Bargnani into the Knicks' plans. Through the preseason, he looked fine with the ball in his hands, but often created spacing issues by setting up inside the arc. He shot just 3-of-15 from distance, so we'll need to see better results there, too.
The Knicks dealt a handful of non-difference-makers, and returned a piece who could either ruin the Knicks efficient offense with a bad season, or transform it into a powerhouse with a career year.
Valid points can be made in either direction in approving or disapproving of the Bargnani swap. But the moves that followed are much easier to back as a supporter of the team.
New York returned its own free agents, Pablo Prigioni and J.R. Smith, on very affordable deals. Smith will be making just over $5.5 million this year—certainly not outrageous for a scorer of his magnitude—and can be a free agent again after 2015-16. Prigioni was brought back for three seasons at just a portion of the mid-level exception.
Smith is perhaps the most combustible Knick, but the team's offense simply wouldn't be able to survive without him. It's still up for debate whether he's a complete No. 2 weapon for New York, but the reigning Sixth Man of the Year provides the Knicks with offense they can't find elsewhere—especially at that affordable price tag.
Prigioni, although an afterthought for much of the regular season, played a prominent role in the Knicks' late-season push to secure the No. 2 seed. At 36, he won't be relied on for major minutes, but his presence in the offense is a must—providing vision and ball movement to an offense based around isolation-heavy players.
After almost a month of negotiations, Kenyon Martin was brought back for a second Knicks season as well. He's the only proven option the Knicks have at center behind Tyson Chandler, so the team can use every minute he'll be able to provide. Chandler's overuse last season led to critical injuries that hampered his play in the postseason.
The Knicks pounced on Metta World Peace once he was amnestied by the Los Angeles Lakers, filling their need of a combo-forward wing defender with an ability to knock down a corner three. After Matt Barnes, Dorrell Wright, Carlos Delfino and nearly every other option at this position fell off the market, the MWP signing was the best possible move the organization could get done at the time.
At 33, World Peace likely won't start many games for New York, but will have a premier reserve role. He's the team's only plus-defender aside from Iman Shumpert, and he's shown he still has some off-the-dribble game in the preseason. Metta must learn to unleash an open three, rather than turn it down to launch a contested two-pointer, an issue prevalent in the exhibition season.
At a salary near the minimum, adding MWP was almost a no-brainer. He brings toughness to a defense that ranked 17th in the league last year, without sacrificing much—if anything—on offense.
After the dust was all but settled on free agency, the Knicks made one final splash by inking Beno Udrih to a minimum-salary deal, locking up a coveted third point guard. The move ensures that Woodson can, if he so chooses, run with two point guards at the controls of the offense.
If this proves not to be the case come midseason, either Udrih or Prigioni could be dangled in trade talks to land a reserve big.
Udrih, 31, can handle running an offense in spurts, and has experience playing off the ball as well. He'll be part of a second unit that should be improved over last year's elderly and oft-injured bench. He looked comfortable with the ball through the preseason, adding eight points and four assists on average. Turnovers were an issue for the guard, however, as he averaged more than 2.6 a night.
As the preseason approached, the Knicks added NBA Summer League standout Toure' Murry and Cole Aldrich, who have since been added to the final roster. Chris Smith "earned" the team's 15th and final roster spot, in what couldn't have been anything more than a favor to the Smith family. Chris averaged one point in under seven minutes across three preseason games.
Murry, 24, has looked very impressive, and his play was deserving of a NBA roster spot despite the logjam it creates on the Knicks' depth chart. At 6'6", he can guard both guard positions, and possesses several raw skills on offense. He's gotten to the rim with relative ease, but must work to clean up his offensive arsenal.
Over time—possibly later this year—Murry could develop into a reliable combo guard in the rotation.
The only major gaffe wasn't an acquisition, but rather a lack thereof. Aside from Martin and an unproven Aldrich, the Knicks lack a reliable center behind Chandler to count on for rebounding and stops in the paint. If Woodson is forced to lean too heavily on Chandler again this season, the 31-year-old's body may not be able to withstand such abuse.
The Knicks finished the preseason with an unimportant 2-5 record. What actually mattered, however, was how each new Knick adapted to their new roles with New York, and how different the team would look compared to last year's 54-win group.
The most important storyline was how Andrea Bargnani would adjust to being an offensive accessory, rather than a centerpiece, and exactly how Mike Woodson planned to use him.
After seven games, Bargnani showed New York fans he has an ability to score. He dropped 11 nightly and spent several possessions looking very impressive with the ball in his hands. But the main question, ever since Bargnani's arrival, is how he would affect spacing on the floor. And while teams generally honor his ability to shoot from the arc, Bargnani habitually sets himself up closer than he should, eating into valuable space for 'Melo to work.
Bargnani has done a good job at getting to the line and knocking down freebies once he gets there. He attempted a team-high 31 free throws and made all but three. But there are ways Bargnani needs to alter his game to better fit Woodson's offense, and those sacrifices have yet to be made.
One of those sacrifices—limiting the use of his shot fake in favor of simply taking an open three—leads into a positive takeaway from the exhibition season. The team is still shooting a high volume of three-pointers, which is a carryover from last season's three-heavy attack.
The Knicks attempted nearly 26 threes per game, and made an unimpressive 33 percent. But, as Scott Davis of Buckets Over Broadway points out, that average skyrockets near 40 percent by eliminating two awful games.
The shots will fall eventually; the Knicks still have able shooters. The issue was whether or not Woodson would shy away from chucking as many longballs, but it appears he's sticking to his guns.
Another pleasant surprise in the preseason was the play of guard Toure' Murry, who earned a spot with the team after six games of impressive basketball. He averaged 10 points, 2.8 boards and 1.4 assists in 22 minutes, while adding active defense in the backcourt—something the Knicks sorely lack. Per 82games.com, opposing 1s torched the Knicks at a PER over 17 last year.
But just as Murry impressed, the Knicks trio of big-man invites—all vying for a spot on the depth chart behind Tyson Chandler—largely disappointed. Cole Aldrich eventually beat out Ike Diogu and Josh Powell for the position, but that's not to say it was a spirited competition.
Over five games, the 6'11" Aldrich logged 11.4 minutes per, scored 0.8 points and grabbed 4.2 rebounds. This is the Knicks' new backup center, and presumably the first big man off the bench.
Diogu impressed more with the ball, and Powell played more solid defense, but Aldrich is the one that came away a Knick.
None of the three put up sufficient performance to warrant an NBA job, so it appears the organization simply chose the younger, bigger body—and the one with the least NBA service time, commanding a lesser minimum salary—to eat up whatever minutes Chandler can't throughout the year.
It's generally wise to take preseason fortunes with a grain of salt, but we saw a decent amount from these Knicks that showed what to expect in the early going of 2013-14.
There were positives and negatives, but we'll definitely need to see better overall performance from both the starters and reserve unit if the Knicks wish to compete with the championship contenders in the East.
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