New York Knicks: 4 Areas They Need to Improve in to Become Title Contenders
While Mike D'Antoni and the New York Knicks were one of the most formidable teams on offense last season, finishing with the second best offense in the NBA, a tremendous amount of work needs to be done on the other side of the floor if they expect to contend for an NBA title.
Since NBA players don't have access to team facilities during the lockout, many teams have seen their players disperse in pairs or even singularly to work out on their own. During this time many players are also in various tournaments and big name pick-up games as they are all trying to stay active and be ready to go whenever the NBA decides to resume play again.
Considering this has been happening so often, it is a major positive to hear that the Knicks are still sticking together and will be working out as a team, as reported by the New York Post. While it was reported in the article that these group workouts are unlikely to commence until September, it is still a step in the right direction as the Knicks work on team chemistry and getting to know each other on and off the court.
Although the team's chemistry is sure to evolve this summer as the players spend more time with each other, the Knicks still have several areas that need to be addressed. While some of these areas can be fixed with the Knicks' current roster, the Knicks have to think about making some additions to their roster that will help them to improve as a team in the following areas.
4. Moving the Ball Better
This is one of those areas that will likely require the Knicks to add a true point guard to the roster, but can certainly be improved by the current players.
Until the Knicks are able to land a true point guard, whether it be via trade or free agency, the improvement in passing will fall on the shoulders of the team's superstars: Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony.
While neither player is an exceptional passer, knowing when to pass the ball off to the open man or having to take it upon yourself to take the shot is something both players are in the process of learning. Learning this will be invaluable to their development individually, while also being beneficial for their team as well.
The most intriguing idea would be for Carmelo and Amar'e to play off each other and be able to move the ball between each other when the rest of the team is struggling offensively to find the most efficient shot.
This is an area that is sure to develop between the two of them and their teammates after they have played an entire season together. Having Chauncey Billups on the team will help this as well, because he has a very high basketball I.Q. and both players can learn the nuances of basketball and leadership from such a savvy veteran.
The picture really says a tremendous amount about the New York Knicks' rebounding woes.
Landry Fields' and Carmelo Anthony's rebounding averages for last season were 6.4 and 7.3 RPG respectively. Now take into consideration the fact that Fields is a shooting guard and Carmelo is a small forward and those numbers are very impressive.
When the shooting guard and small forward rebound at such a high rate, you would think the Knicks would make a pretty formidable rebounding team. Unfortunately for them, that hasn't been the case.
While Fields and Carmelo have been cleaning the glass well, especially in respect to their positions Stoudemire and Ronny Turiaf could certainly stand to improve in this area.
Stoudemire is averaging 8.2 RPG, which isn't too bad. Until you throw into the conversation the fact that he's the team's superstar power forward. Then it seems reasonable to expect at least 10 RPG from him.
You might wonder why I'm picking on Turiaf when the Knicks seemed to have everyone except the Madison Square Garden janitor start at center last year. The reason is because out of everyone that trotted onto the court as a starting center for the Knicks, Turiaf's style of play is the closest thing to a center that we saw.
Although a tenacious shot blocker for an undersized center, Turiaf only averaged 3.4 RPG. Kind of odd that the worst rebounder in the above picture is the man who started at center, isn't it?
This is an area that I think warrants an off-season free agency signing as soon as negotiations commence. If the Knicks expect to truly compete with the elite teams in the league, going with a center by committee that includes Turiaf, Shelden Williams, Shawne Williams and especially Jared Jeffries isn't going to cut it.
The Knicks will have to look to free agency as there are several players available who could give them a center to bolster their front line while fortifying their ability to rebound the ball better as well.
2. Shot Blocking
This is an area the Knicks are absolutely crying for help in. While many argue that playing Amar'e at center could help to alleviate these issues because he is a legitimate 7-footer, that solution isn't a true answer for the Knicks because Stoudemire is more comfortable and better suited to play the power forward position.
As was mentioned in the previous slide, the Knicks ran with a center by committee that was unfortunately not very effective for them.
Acquiring a legitimate 7-footer to play alongside Stoudemire would allow the Knicks two luxuries. It would allow Amar'e to slide over to the power forward position where he is more comfortable while also more importantly covering up his deficiencies on the defensive end of the floor.
While Ronny Turiaf gave a valiant effort in the shot-blocking department, he is too undersized and too injury prone to be a true answer for the Knicks at the center position.
My recommendation would be to sign someone like Aaron Gray or Jeff Foster. I wrote in great detail about what these and other big men would bring to the table for the Knicks as well in a previous article.
Most of the players mentioned in the above article would help the Knicks rebound the ball better and also give them someone to prowl the paint and keep the opposition from driving to the hoop for an easy layup every time they come down the floor. I also believe hiring a big-man coach who can teach the Knicks the ins and out of the game would be an important acquisition as well. Someone like Charles Oakley, who has played the game and can help the Knicks' erratic frontcourt play improve.
1. Man to Man Defense
Defense comes down to one word: effort!
The perfect example of this, comes from the Knicks' long-time division rivals, the Boston Celtics.
When Kevin Garnett arrived in Boston, the Celtics were a mediocre defensive team at best. The team basically had Rajon Rondo and Tony Allen at the time, who were solid defenders and not much else.
What Garnett taught the Celtics was that, although all of them were not All-Star caliber defenders individually, if they worked hard together, they could become a dangerous defensive team collectively.
It was clear that Garnett ushered in a new era defensively for a team that had stagnated in this area.
The Knicks are in a similar situation (although they are not lucky enough to have a bloodhound like Garnett to show them the ropes, Chauncey Billups can help them develop in this area with his high basketball I.Q). They have Toney Douglas, Iman Shumpert and Landry Fields as solid man-to-man defenders, the rest of the team being mediocre in that area.
When Billups was acquired along with Carmelo Anthony, his message was very similar to that of Garnett's. All the Knicks need to do now is put the effort in and they can become a solid defensive team.
Having Mike D'Antoni as coach certainly hinders growth in this area, since he does not focus or even glance at the defensive side of the ball. I believe that the hiring of a defensive assistant coach will help to improve this for the team, though. Especially if they are able to hire Mike Woodson, as has been the most recent and popular rumor via the New York Post. Woodson played one season under the legendary Red Holtzman and seems to be a great fit to complement D'Antoni's offensive style of play.
If the Knicks communicate on defense and are able to stop playing up and down to their competition, and find a way to get motivated for every game, regardless of the competition, they should be on their way to climbing up the ladder that leads to the NBA championship.
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