By John Schmeelk
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As this wild season and playoff run demonstrated, the Knicks are not yet championship ready. But they aren’t miles away from being a contending team, either. Once Mike Woodson solved the team’s woes on defense, their main issues can be traced to ball movement, shot distribution and teamwork. Nearly all of those problems can be partially solved by better point-guard play.
The Knicks played their best basketball this season with Jeremy Lin on the floor under Mike D’Antoni. Unfortunately, we only saw Lin play for Mike Woodson a few games before a knee injury ended his season. Figuring out exactly what the team has in Lin is really the key to the team’s future. Anyone who thinks Lin can sustain the play he demonstrated during the heights of “Linsanity” are fooling themselves. All point guards that play under Mike D’Antoni have inflated numbers, and Lin is no exception.
Expectations need to be realistic, and should land somewhere in the 13-15 points and 7-8 assists territory. He had the 10th best player-efficiency rating among point guards this season, and is loved by his teammates. It’s important for a point guard to have the trust of his teammates, and it’s no small feat for Lin to still have it. Something like Linsanity has the tendency to alienate teammates out of jealousy, but by all accounts he handled all the attention perfectly. A great point guard is exactly what’s separating this team from moving into the upper-echelon of NBA teams.
Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler are both most effective when receiving the ball on the move in pick-and-roll situations, and for that they need a good point guard. If Lin showed anything this year, it’s that he knows how to run the pick-and-roll. Carmelo Anthony needs to be a scorer and not a creator. We saw how stagnate the offense looked against the Heat without a real point guard. Jeremy Lin should be able to solve that problem as well. Though his perimeter show isn’t elite, it’s certainly good enough to force teams to respect him when double teaming Anthony or Stoudemire.
But there are tons of questions as well. How much will Lin’s production and effectiveness decrease with Mike Woodson as head coach and not Mike D’Antoni? Can he hold up physically over an entire season? Can he defend the position well enough to keep the Knicks a superior defensive team? What Jeremy Lin is worth could end up being the biggest question. The Knicks can match any offer by another team when he becomes a free agent this offseason. But if another team backloads a contract and makes it worth nearly $35 million over four years, should they commit so much money in years three and four of a contract ($12 and $13 million) to re-sign someone who comes along with so many questions?
Another team might offer Lin that much money only because of his marketing power. If the Knicks match it, they are committed long-term. He would be the final big piece the team, and would be able to add as the Knicks move into serious luxury-tax territory. If Lin doesn’t put them over the top, this team won’t get over the top. He’s a young player with a bright future, but the question needs to be asked: If a veteran like Steve Nash is available, is he preferable?
At 38, he is obviously not a long-term move for the future, but Nash certainly improves the team more in the short-term. The Knicks are a win-now team with a three-year window, with Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler under contract. If that costs the franchise Jeremy Lin, isn’t it worth it? If the goal is to win a championship, Nash for the next three years has a better chance of getting the Knicks there than three years of Lin does. Then again, Nash can make far more than mid-level exception if he chooses to, so getting him at this point might be little more than a pipe dream. How about a veteran like Andre Miller or Raymond Felton? I would prefer Lin.
Whomever ends up manning the spot, and it will likely be Lin, the point-guard position will make or break this team in their championship window. They have three years with this group playing together, and the Knicks need a point guard to help bring it all together. Otherwise, all Knicks fans will have in that three-year window are playoff disappointments.
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Do you agree that the Knicks are a point guard away from becoming an upper-echelon NBA team? And should Lin be that point guard of the future? Offer your thoughts and comments below…