For the Knicks, at least, the NBA offseason is more or less over. Donnie Walsh, Mike D’Antoni and the Knicks fans know who is going to be taking the floor come the 2010-11 season. The Knicks additions all have short and reasonable contracts, giving the team flexibility to make trades and sign free agents down the road. After missing out on the big fish, the Knicks have gotten better, yet maintained their cap flexibility.
For someone that follows the Knicks closely, it’s so refreshing to be able to look at a roster and be more concerned with talent than cap numbers. Before I take the rest of the summer off, let’s take a look at the Knicks current roster and whether or not it will make the Knicks relevant again.
It’s no secret that D’Antoni was coaching against a stacked deck the last two seasons. His roster was fit with a hodge-podge of players that didn’t fit his system. Finally, he and Walsh were able to put together a roster that fits the system:
Production at the Point: The PG makes everything work in D’Antoni’s system. The last two years he had the slow-footed and unproductive Chris Duhon, a knucklehead and sideshow in Nate Robinson, a rookie in Toney Douglas, and a bit player in Sergio Rodriguez. Raymond Felton is not Steve Nash, but he will get the team up and down the court fast, get into the paint, and create offense for himself and other people. More important, he is an excellent perimeter defender. Larry Brown commented on how he loves Felton’s heart. That’s high praise. He is a huge upgrade and everyone should expect his numbers to improve in D’Antoni’s system.
Shooters: D’Antoni needs guys that can stretch the floor. Danilo Gallinari is the team’s sniper from behind the arc, but do not sleep on Kelenna Azubuike. He shot 45% from three-point land in 08-09 and if he recovers from his knee injury he will be a rotation player. Felton had his best year as a pro shooting the three last year, nearing 39%. Bill Walker and Douglas showed proficiency from behind the arc last year. Andy Rautins was an accomplished shooter at Syracuse. Watching these guys shoot threes will be a lot better than watching Duhon, Al Harrington, Quentin Richardson, and Jared Jeffries jack them up.
Athletes in the Frontcourt: David Lee is a good scorer but he is not Amar’e Stoudemire, who brings a much different dynamic on offense, and will draw double teams and run the floor. Anthony Randolph might be the most athletic 6’10 player in the league and he has a wingspan surpassing seven feet. Ronny Turiaf is a gritty player that can rebound and block shots. Gallinari is a 6’10 player that can do a bunch of different things. The newly acquired Russian center Timofey Mozgov is 7’1 and is supposed to be a big time athlete. I won’t mention Eddy Curry, but he’s there too. These guys will run the floor allow the Knicks to play at the pace their coach wants to.
Defenders: D’Antoni’s system is not known for defense, but the Knicks managed to put together one of the worst set of individual defenders in the history of basketball the last couple years. Stoudemire isn’t known for his defense but he averages more than a block per game and is far better than Lee. Turiaf averaged two blocks per game in 08-09 and is known for his gritty rebounding and defense. Randolph averaged a block and a half per game last year playing just over 20 minutes a game. Mozgov is supposed to be a shot blocker as well. Remember that Gallinari and Chandler also both averaged nearly a block per game last year as well. It will not be a cakewalk taking the ball to the hoop at the Garden anymore.
The perimeter defense should be much improved as well. Felton is a very good defensive guard, and Azuibuke is known to play hard on defense. Wilson Chandler has always been a good defender and Gallinari showed a lot of improvement last year on that end of the floor. Douglas is known as a good perimeter defender as well.
All in all it is a far stretch from the ineptitude of Duhon, Robinson, Lee, Harrington, and Rodriguez. It won’t be the 90’s again, but it will be better.
Youth: Believe it or not, the Knicks have a young team. Stoudemire, Felton and Curry are the elder statesmen at 27. Sure, that means there is a lack of experience, but it also means a lot of these guys are going to still get better and improve. Randolph and Gallinari could turn into All-Stars. Felton could put up numbers in the area of 17-18 points and 8 assists. These guys are not finished products and can still improve.
What does all this mean? The heat will be on D’Antoni to get the Knicks to the playoffs. A .500 record and a playoff berth are now going to be expected. The Knicks will actually be about winning now, even more so than the future. It will be a welcome change, and the Garden should once again become a place to be in New York sports.
July Prediction: 45-37, 7th seed.
– I’ve watched both Summer League games, and Toney Douglas hasn’t seemed to make a whole lot of progress running a team. He still isn’t creating for teammates off the pick and roll, a must to play point guard in Mike D’Antoni’s system.
– Bill Walker has lost a lot of weight, but he still doesn’t look like he has gotten to the point where he can create his own shot on offense. But as long as he plays defense, finishes around the basket, and hits the open three, he’ll get playing time.
– Of the second round picks, Landry Fields has impressed me the most. He seems to have a decent clue of how to play, and is pretty athletic. His jump shot, though, leaves something to be desired.
– This will be my last Knicks blog for a while, barring any breaking news. I’ll be back once training camp gets started in October. I will still be tweeting random Knicks and NBA opinions, so follow me at: http://twitter.com/Schmeelk. I’ll also start delving back into Yankees baseball.
Enjoy your summer everyone!