By John Schmeelk
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The NBA regular season is finally here, with the Knicks expected to have home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, and having an outside chance of making a run at a championship. Here are the things to watch this year that will make the difference between a first round exit, or a magical run to the title:
1. Putting the D in D’Antoni: The Knicks talked a good game this offseason and made changes that could lead to a better defense. Mike Woodson was brought in to bring a better plan and more focus. Tyson Chandler was added as a defensive anchor in the middle that will help communication. Rookie Iman Shumpert is a strong defender that can guard both back-court positions. Whether it all comes together and the Knicks can rank in the top half of the league in defense will determine how serious they will be in May.
2. Getting the Point: The Knicks still have a huge void at the point guard position. Toney Douglas is a combo guard that can score in bursts but isn’t a distributor. He fits best as a spark off the bench. Mike Bibby was never a great playmaker. In his advanced age, he is little more than a ‘spot up shooter.’ Iman Shumpert also looks more like a 2, than a 1. That means the Knicks will need the perpetually overweight Baron Davis, who also has herniated disks, to be motivated and play well. They will also need him to understand his role as a pass-first point guard. They don’t need the Baron Davis that dribbles out the shot clock and heaves up off-balance threes. It is scary that the success of the Knicks this season has a lot to do with this guy.
3. Stay on Target: For Mike D’Antoni’s system to work and to keep double-teams off Anthony and Stoudemire, the Knicks will have to hit three-pointers consistently. Losing Shawne Williams was a huge loss that could be mitigated by the addition of Steve Novak. That being said, the Knicks back-court has to be a threat from deep. Toney Douglas, Landry Fields, Iman Shumpert, Baron Davis and Mike Bibby all have to make teams pay for clogging the paint. If they don’t, there will be very little room for Carmelo Anthony or Amar’e Stoudemire to operate around the rim.
4. Rookies: The Knicks need to get production out of their two rookies with little time for either to learn in summer league, training camp or preseason. Josh Harrellson has been a revelation with his soft touch and outside shooting. He doesn’t stand a true 6’10 but he has the bulk to provide rebounding and defense depth in the front court. Even more will be asked of Iman Shumpert, who many expect will take Landry Fields’ starting job sooner rather than later. He is an athlete, but without standout skills as a shooter or a passer, his effectiveness will be limited. If he can become a consistent shooter, combined with his defensive prowess, Shumpert could be a difference maker at shooting guard.
5. Bouncing Back: The Knicks need Landry Fields to return to form as a scrappy intangibles guy who runs the floor, does all the dirty work, crashes the boards, plays defense and hits the open three. They don’t need him to score in one on one situations or create for others. He just needs to always be moving without the ball and pick up all the points off of the double team that will be sent to Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire.
6. Stars Need to Stay Healthy: The Knicks rely heavily on their two stars and they need both to stay healthy in what will be a grind of a schedule. Without Amar’e Stoudemire or Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks won’t be very good. Similarly, without Tyson Chandler, the Knicks once again have a huge defensive void in the middle.
7. Carmelo the Complete Player: It’s time for Carmelo Anthony to lose the moniker of a great scorer and become a great player. That means he needs to commit to the defensive end on every possession. He needs to get his teammates involved. He needs to be a leader in the locker room. With the Knicks problems at point guard this year, the offense may very well run through him. His teammates need to trust him to do the right thing with the ball when he has it in his hands.
If the Knicks can somehow nail all seven of those factors, they could upset the Heat or Bulls in May. If they nail four, they’ll most likely face a second round exit after a competitive series. Anything less than that and getting out of the first round could be a huge problem. This season has been a long time coming Knicks fans and the start is a great way to celebrate Christmas! Enjoy it, Knicks fans. The NBA IS BACK!
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