New York Knicks' Backcourt Lies in Mike D'Antoni's Hands

Shahi BabarCorrespondent IOctober 28, 2008

The Garden sells out another game, and the crowd leaves with their heads down and patience at a minimum.

One of the primary reasons that Mike D’Antoni was brought into the New York Knicks organization by Donnie Walsh was because many felt that D’Antoni can best complement the up-tempo makeup of the New York Knicks' backcourt to help produce an energetic product on the arena floor.

Is it a crowded backcourt? Yes. However, some of them may benefit from D’Antoni’s pseudo-European pace of basketball that has given the USA Men’s basketball team plenty of fits throughout the course of the past two decades.

Unfortunately, these Knicks do not have the names nor chemistry to shove opponents out of the way to mimic the fashion of the “Redeem Team.”  Nevertheless, a common theme for the Knicks' locker room will be redemption for the past few years.

One of the big changes that Walsh and D’Antoni implemented with the roster was the attempted formation of a backcourt. Knicks fans were anxiously waiting on that June night to hear their team represent the number-one pick. Heck, number two would have worked just fine as well.

Of course, luck isn’t a common characteristic in the World’s Most Famous Arena, as Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley passed by them, and the organization had to settle for an energetic but unproven international player in Danilo Galinari.

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Without Rose, the Knicks looked elsewhere. Chris Duhon, a Duke alum who showed a couple flashes of brilliance with the Bulls, will have to transition to the D’Antoni style of play. Duhon is best known for his perimeter defense, an element that has been at a dearth for the Knicks of recent years. However, when healthy, Stephon Marbury should be that player and will compete for some time on the hardcourt.

Yet when we think of Stephon Marbury, we think of the off-court problems and dissenting attitude. It won’t be a party for him, like when Isiah Thomas came onboard and made additions such as Zach Randolph to his new regime.

Wait, are we still trading draft picks for Stephon Marbury? Yep, a first rounder is lost next year as a result of acquiring Starbury—why, Isiah, why? 

But in D’Antoni’s system, Stephon is going to have to earn his playing time. As D’Antoni indicated, none of the players are really his own, so while the starters are determined, he’ll play who he sees fit throughout the course of the game.

This means that some Knicks will reap the benefits of the rest and relaxation warranted by the bench—see: Eddy Curry. 

So far, Marbury has reported to be in the best shape of his career. We’ll see if that translates to the All-Star-caliber player he was on the Nets, or the narrow-minded dud seen the past couple of years.

This is a year of pessimism. We’ve been fooled for years on end about moves Isiah made and how each year could be different. Whether it’s acquiring the 20-10 caliber Zach Randolph, the second-overall pick of the 1995 NBA draft in Antonio McDyess, picking up the speedy and talented Steve Francis, or clogging Eddy Curry in the middle, the Knicks have always acquired someone to pique, trying to return interest to a state that hasn’t seen an NBA championship since the ‘70s.

With this in mind, the Knicks' backcourt is one that will be evaluated and shifted as the games pass by. Will Duhon continue to man point? Or will a 6-15 start force Marbury back into the starting lineup, applying the same Marbury-Crawford backcourt which has generated little success—much to the dismay of the Knicks loyalists.

While small additions such as Anthony Roberson will provide a spark, the Knickerbockers will remain a team that will continue to rely on its up-tempo pace, as opposed to hoping to become a slightly-better perimeter shooting team (paging Allan Houston).

Here’s how the backcourt will breakdown:

Starters

Chris Duhon: PPG: 10.8    AST:  5.6    REB 4.4     STL: 0.9    3FG% .313

A somewhat odd fit for Duhon in D’Antoni’s system, as he’s not an uptempo style of player. Nevertheless, he will obtain every opportunity to solidify the starting spot, as he very well could be the best backcourt defender this group has. He may potentially be one of the assist leaders in the East—if D’Antoni can get this group running and playing together.    

Jamal Crawford: PPG: 19.8    AST: 3.2   REB: 3.7    STL: 0.6    3FG% .348

The biggest beneficiary of Mike D’Antoni may very well be Jamal Crawford. A slasher and pull-up shooter, he very well could be a more prolific scorer under the new system. However, with the Knicks' crowded backcourt, minutes will be slightly more difficult to come by. In addition, his play at defense may cost him some time, as it needs plenty of improvement.  With D’Antoni at the helm, that may not happen.

Spectators, who will eventually play too

Stephon Marbury: PPG: 13.7   AST: 3.6   REB: 2.5    STL: 0.9    3FG% .333

Coming off the bench, Marbury will be hard-pressed to reach his season averages in the main statistical categories. There are some signs of optimism as he comes into camp in shape and has some familiarity with D’Antoni.  But he is going to have to do a lot to win over his coach and the Garden faithful to be a mainstay in the Knicks young lineup.  He must especially focus on improving his defense—and his attitude, which has declined over the past couple of years.

Nate Robinson: PPG: 13.2   AST: 2.5    REB: 2.3    STL: 0.7     3 FG% .360

Percentage-wise, he may be the best long-distance shooter the Knicks possess. While his leaping ability excites the Garden faithful, his consistency on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball is going to have to improve for him to maintain the minutes he will receive at the start of the season.

Mardy Collins: PPG: 5.7     AST: 1.3     REB: 1.7   STL : 0.3    3FG% .300

Best known for his flagrant foul that incited the Knicks and Nuggets to brawl, Collins will be sought upon to sure up the perimeter defense and will be called upon to provide a couple baskets. The former Temple guard may be used in Iso-Motion sets to free up some shots.

He will earn more playing time over the course of the year. Let’s be serious for a second—anyone that can slightly defend will get their opportunities.

Anthony Roberson: PPG: 3.7  AST: 1.3   REB: 1.0   STL: 0.8     3FG% .344

Roberson is a player that Walsh and D’Antoni are excited about. He is one of the extremely limited additions of D’Antoni-Walsh era. He posted career highs in long distance shooting and showed the ability to slash in the preseason. Unfortunately for Roberson, it was the preseason.

While he will get some minutes and opportunities to move up the depth chart because of D’Antoni’s plug and chug offense that will be incorporated, look for Roberson to take some time to adjust to the system before he starts to make a significant contribution.

The Knicks, while not projected to compete for a playoff spot, will be a team to watch over the course of the year. It will be in this time where the Walsh-D’Antoni duo will see who will remain on this team and contribute (possibly for some years to come) and who will be spectating from the sidelines.

Regardless, the biggest move the Knicks may need to perform to improve the backcourt could possibly not happen until 2010. I think we know the names available at this point.

Well, at least there’s one thing for sure this year—the Knick fans will be screaming something other than “Fire Isiah!”  Whether they consistently chant a new positive phrase or another negative one will have to be determined over the course of the season.