New York Knicks: Marcus Camby Makes Knicks the Team to Beat in Atlantic Division

Paul Knepper@@paulieknepContributor IIIJuly 19, 2012

MIAMI, FL - MARCH 08:  Marcus Camby #23 of the Portland Trail Blazers smiles after winning a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on March 8, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

For the past few weeks, all discussion about the Knicks' offseason has centered around the point guard position, from their unsuccessful attempt to acquire Steve Nash, to the signing of Jason Kidd, to whether Jeremy Lin would continue to call Madison Square Garden home.

Lost amid the chaos of Linsanity 2.0 was the Knicks' acquisition of a center/power forward who could tip the scales of power in the Atlantic Division: Marcus Camby.

Consider the teams that have won NBA championships over the past three decades. With the exception of  the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat, who had transcendent athletes in Michael Jordan and LeBron James, respectively, they've all had talented and long frontcourts.

There's currently a trend in the league of teams moving toward smaller and more athletic lineups, though teams must still control the glass and defend the rim in order to win games. Even at the advanced age of 38, there are few players in the game that do that as well as Camby.

Sure, Camby has lost a step or two since his first stint with the Knicks (1998 to 2002) and his minutes have decreased in recent seasons, but the 2007 Defensive Player of the Year has experienced minimal drop-off in productivity when he is on the court.

In fact, over the past two seasons, he grabbed the most rebounds per 36 minutes of his career—14.2 and 14.1, respectively—and according to ESPN.com's John Hollinger, Camby had the highest rebound rate (22.8) in the league last season.

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The Knicks' new big man actually averaged more rebounds (14.1) and blocks (2.3) per 36 minutes last season than the man he'll be backing up, reigning Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler (10.7 and 1.6, respectively).

Chandler was the Knicks' most valuable player last season as the anchor of their much-improved defense, but he lacked an adequate backup. New York’s center was often in foul trouble and the defense suffered when he was out of the game.

That's why Chandler supported the acquisition of Camby, saying, “One of the tough things last year was when I went out of the game, a lot of times we didn’t have rim protection. Having Camby now, that shot-blocker down there, a guy who understands the game, a savvy veteran, he’s really going to help us defensively.”

The second overall pick in the 1996 draft also received a ringing endorsement from the Knicks' marquee player, Carmelo Anthony, who played with Camby for five seasons in Denver. "I love Camby," Anthony said about the prospect of his former teammate joining him in New York.

Camby has been named to the NBA All-Defense First or Second Team four times, though defense isn't all he brings to the table. The 16-year NBA veteran is playoff-tested and knows what it takes to succeed in the Big Apple, having been a member of the 1999 Knicks team that advanced to the NBA Finals.

In addition to backing up Chandler at center, Camby can spell Amar'e Stoudemire at the 4, forming a defensive twin towers with Chandler for short stretches. He also provides the Knicks with insurance in case the injury-prone Stoudemire misses significant time.

The Knicks don't need to run any plays for Camby on offense, which is a bonus for a frontcourt that includes Stoudemire and Anthony. Much like Chandler, Camby is very active on the offensive glass and quite adept at creating extra possessions by batting the ball out to his guards.

The added depth Camby brings to the Knicks will be particularly crucial against their two biggest competitors for the Atlantic Division title, the Boston Celtics and the newly relocated crosstown rival Brooklyn Nets.

Both teams have excellent point guards who can break down a defense and get to the basket in Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams, so Camby's ability to protect the rim will be essential.

He can help check Kevin Garnett, who was dominant after Boston head coach Doc Rivers moved him to center midway through last season. The Nets also have a high-scoring center in Brook Lopez and two physical forwards in Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace for Camby to tangle with. 

The Nets have an impressive starting five after trading for Joe Johnson and re-signing the rest of their starting lineup, and the Celtics will be bringing the band back together for one more run, with Jason Terry filling Ray Allen's role. However, neither team has a big man of Camby's caliber on their second unit.

New Jersey and Boston can't wear teams down with waves of big men like the Bulls have over the past couple of seasons with Taj Gibson and Omer Asik coming off the bench, or how the Lakers did with Odom as their sixth man. Nor do they have the depth to absorb an injury to one of their key big men.

Camby provides the Knicks with those luxuries. The unheralded offseason acquisition makes New York the team to beat in the Atlantic Division next season.

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