As of last year’s offseason the Knicks finally made some good decisions, became aggressive and actually gave themselves a chance to win several games and be a legitimate factor in the Eastern Conference again.
For a team that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2001 and hasn’t won a series since the year before that, a little bit of legitimacy and relevance would be more than welcomed.
When Carmelo Anthony joined the team during the season last year, expectations were high. Anthony and Amare Stoudemire struggled to find chemistry, though, and the team struggled down the stretch and was unimpressive in its brief playoff appearance.
With the messed up offseason and a couple of key offseason additions, it remains to be seen if there will be more chemistry this year. That is, of course, going to be crucial to the success of this season.
You have to give Coach Mike D’Antoni credit for recognizing that he needs defensive accountability and the front office for getting that in place while building one of the best frontcourts in the league.
Anthony and Stoudemire are joined by Tyson Chandler this year. He’s as defensively sound as can be, and he makes this team dramatically better.
The biggest loss is point guard Chauncey Billups—a salary cap victim in the pursuit of Chandler. Two veteran bodies will attempt to fill that void at point guard—Mike Bibby, an early addition, and Baron Davis, who was claimed after Cleveland waived him.
Davis is injured and likely out about two months, but the team was still aggressive in its pursuit of him. In the meantime Bibby will back up Toney Douglas.
The other notable addition is rookie Iman Shumpert, the defensively focused guard from Georgia Tech who was picked 17th overall.
This team is all about the frontcourt this year. The Knicks have to find their way and prove themselves, but Stoudemire, Anthony and Chandler have a chance to be the best front three in the Eastern Conference.
They may not be as flashy as some groups out there, but they will be fun to watch and could be very effective as well.
What’s striking is that they should have a nice blend of offensive and defensive ability if they can work together. Anthony has never been great defensively, but he won’t have to be if Chandler is at his best, and vice versa.
They aren’t going to be a great defensive team—D’Antoni is still the coach after all—but they will be better than they have been.
The backcourt isn’t as impressive as what it has been, but it could be worse. We’ve talked about the point, with Shumpert another possibility there as well. Landry Fields will start at shooting guard and will likely see a lot of playing time. He was lousy after the trade last year, but hopefully a year of adjustment will see him return to what he is—a solid and at times impressive guard.
Depth is a concern for this team, as it is for any team that is so heavily invested in stars. The main replacements up front hardly inspire—Jared Jeffries, Bill Walker, rookie Josh Harrellson and the impossibly disappointing Renaldo Balkman. Walker can play shooting guard as well as small forward, and will likely have to as the backcourt is just as shallow.
This is a big year for Mike D’Antoni. It’s his fourth in New York, and he has so far only had one winning season—barely—and boasts an 0-4 playoff record. If he doesn’t get things rolling quickly then the seat will get very hot for him.
He has the tools to score a ton of points and has at least a little bit to work with defensively. If he can make it all work then a bit of his supposed genius could be on display again.
With the season as condensed as it will be this year, back-to-back games are a sad fact of life, and the Knicks will play many.
What really stands out when you look at their schedule, though, is a potentially soul-crushing run to start February. On three consecutive nights they host the Bulls, travel to Boston and then return home to host the Nets. All three games will be tough, and that’s the kind of stretch that could send a vulnerable team into a spiral.
For a team that needs a fast start, the schedule makers didn't give them any favors to start the season, either. After hosting the Celtics on Christmas Day, the Knicks play three games in four days in California against the Warriors, Lakers and Kings.
Oddsmakers are more optimistic about this team than they have been in a long while. Bodog has installed them at 18/1 to win the NBA Championship on NBA futures odds — the eighth lowest odds in the league, and the fourth in the East behind the Heat, Bulls and Celtics.
This is a much better team than it was, thanks to the added comfort we should see from Anthony and the addition of Chandler. If all goes well the Knicks should be able to host a first-round playoff series, and they should be able to win it as well.
The problem, though, is that that would lead to a likely second-round showdown with either the Heat or the Bulls, and I don’t see that going well for this team.
In short, they are a top-four Eastern Conference team, but I’d be shocked if they were more than that.
Doc Moseman is the owner of Doc’s Sports NBA picks Web site.
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