By John Schmeelk
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A summer of potential glory faded into one of solid progress for the Knicks, and now even those expectations have been tempered by a disappointing preseason. That’s where the Knicks and their fans sit before embarking on their 2010-2011 campaign.
There’s no need to rehash all the offseason moves, everyone knows them by now, and they’ll be judged as the season moves forward. Instead, here’s the most important questions and issues that will have to be addressed if the Knicks are going to be successful.
Is This Change We Can Believe In?
The franchise desperately needed a culture change in the locker room. The old group became way too accustomed to losing and didn’t understand the hard work it took to win. Enter Amar’e Stoudemire. He brings a winning mindset from the Suns, and is setting a much needed example that the young Knicks can follow. By all accounts he is the hardest working Knick, and is the first on the practice court and the last off. He is also trying to instill a toughness and nastiness that the Knicks haven’t had since the 90’s. Only time will tell if this passes on to the rest of the roster, but at least there’s a true leader trying to bring the team to the right place.
Who’s Going to Get Buckets?
When Amar’e Stoudemire isn’t throwing it down from point blank range, where are the Knicks going to get scoring in the half court? Who is going to step and be a consistent perimeter threat scoring on jumpers and taking the ball to the basket? It has to be Danilo Gallinari. The Italian sharpshooter needs to develop a game between his three point bombs and layups. Right now he has nothing in between. Gallinari has to become a consistent scorer in the 18 point range.
Is There a Playmaker in the House?
Raymond Felton is not going to be Steve Nash, but he has to be significantly better than Chris Duhon. There was progress towards the end of the preseason, but Felton still hasn’t mastered Mike D’Antoni’s offense. His ability to balance getting others involved with scoring his own points will be the fine edge on which the Knicks season will be determined. He also needs to have the stamina and determination to constantly push the ball. In the very least, Felton will be a far superior defender than Duhon.
Casting Call – Shooting Guard Needed
A rookie second round pick that most teams didn’t even have on their draft board is going to start at shooting guard for the Knicks. Not good. Landry Fields played well in Summer League and during the preseason, but this is really more of a desperate times call for desperate measures situation. Kelenna Azubuike will eventually be the starter but he is still at least a month away, still recovering from his patella tendon injury. Roger Mason hasn’t been able to hit the broadside of a barn, and Wilson Chandler isn’t a two guard in Mike D’Antoni’s system. Toney Douglas can play the position in short spurts but he lacks the size on both ends of the floor to be there full time. Fields better play well and Azubuike better hustle back.
Winning Close Games
One of the reasons the Knicks record has been bad the last few years, is their lack of a go to guy in the last two minutes of a game. With Amar’e Stoudemire that should no longer be a problem. Being a big man with limited range, opponents will eventually just bring the double team if the Knicks isolate him in tight games. Eventually, the high screen and roll with Felton and Stoudemire is going to have to become the go to play at the end of games, and they must master the two man game. In addition it would be nice if Danilo Gallinari would develop into a go to guy, but he doesn’t seem to be there yet. This is where the addition of Carmelo Anthony would make a biggest difference.
Can Anyone Play Some D?
Mike D’Antoni does not have a defensive philosophy or practice defense enough. The Knicks will never be a top ten defensive team, but they need to be competent if they ever want to truly compete for a NBA title. They took a great step this offseason by adding proven individual defenders. Stoudemire is mediocre at best but he is far superior to David Lee, especially at blocking shots. Timofey Mozgov, Ronny Turiaf, and Anthony Randolph can all defend the rim as well. The perimeter defense should be better too, with Felton, Mason, Toney Douglas, and Azubuike all good on the ball. When Douglas and Felton are in the backcourt together they should create a lot of steals. Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari can both guard the wing. But will they defend as a unit? Will they rotate? Will they play good help defense? All that remains to be seen.
Will He Break You?
In something that no one expected a few months ago, Timofey Mozgov will be the Knicks starting center. The Ivan Drago of the NBA, the 24 year old Russian has shown he is a NBA athlete, has a soft touch, can finish around the basket, and will run the floor. Foul trouble may be his undoing, but he adds much needed size to a relatively small team.
Who’s the Chairman of the Boards?
Alright, let me amend that. Is anyone even a member of the board? If the preseason is any indication, the Knicks might be the worst rebounding team in the league. That could be a HUGE problem, especially since the first thing needed to get out in transition is a defensive rebound. Stoudemire needs to get into double digits, and Mozgov must become more of a force on the glass. More rebounding from wing players crashing from the outside is a must as well.
Riding the Bench
With Wilson Chandler and Toney Douglas coming off the bench there should be some scoring punch. Bill Walker can hit the open three and play some defense, while Ronny Turiaf is a hustle player down low. The key to this unit will be Anthony Randolph, who looked absolutely lost in preseason. His jumper is inconsistent, he doesn’t have great hands, and he hasn’t finished well around the rim. At this point in his career, he really has no idea what type of offensive player he wants to be. His minutes will be limited until he figures it out.
As you can see, the Knicks have answered some questions, but certainly not them all. They are a flawed team that will have to play well to make the playoffs. This is not necessarily the roster the Knicks will end the season with. Carmelo Anthony is a name a lot of people have talked about, but even if he doesn’t arrive, smaller additions are possible. Donnie Walsh and Mike D’Antoni know that their jobs could very well be on the line if the team doesn’t make the playoffs. It’s not a position anybody wants to be in. The Knicks have assets in young players and expiring contracts making the possibilities endless.
For now, I’ve decided to settle on the side of optimism: 42-40, and the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference.
Enjoy the season everyone – and if you want some more Knicks and NBA nuggets throughout the season, follow me on twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/Schmeelk.