By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks’ offseason has been nearly as crazy as their season. From the Early Bird Rights decision to the chase of Steve Nash to the additions of Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby — and finally the departure of Jeremy Lin — it has been a roller-coaster ride of epic proportions. But with the final pieces in place, it’s finally time to take a look at the Knicks’ roster and figure out exactly how good they are.
Point Guard: Despite losing Lin, the Knicks should be far better at point guard than they were for most of last season. Once Lin went down with his knee injury, the Knicks were a mess at point guard, with Baron Davis, Mike Bibby and Toney Douglas. Raymond Felton is a solid NBA point guard who should rebound from his bad season in Portland last year.
Knicks fans should not expect him to repeat his numbers from his days running Mike D’Antoni’s system, but he should be adequate running the pick-and-roll with Amar’e Stoudemire and finish with around 13 points and 7 assists. Kidd doesn’t have much left as a dynamic playmaker, but he can still pass, defend a little bit, provide leadership and hit the open three. Pablo Prigioni is a veteran that can run the pick-and-roll, but much can’t be expected from him at age 34. This group doesn’t have the upside it would if Lin was still with the team, but it should be solid. They need to make sure that the Knicks’ offense doesn’t degrade to “pass to Carmelo and watch”, a big responsibility. Grade: B
Shooting Guard: J.R. Smith is back for another year, and for all his flaws (shot selection, inconsistency, off-the-court nonsense) he is an extremely talented player. While driving viewers nuts, he can also hit some tough shots, drain the open the three and pass well. He will be forced into the starting lineup to start the season, but once Iman Shumpert returns, he will be the perfect spark off the bench. Shumpert can’t be expected to improve much from last season since he is recovering from ACL surgery. If the Knicks have him back on the floor and relatively healthy by January, everyone will be happy. All the Knicks need from him is defense, but an improved jumper could catapult him to the next level. James White provides some depth here as a defender and athletic wing. Grade: C+
Small Forward: With all the noise about the Knicks’ offseason additions, the season will really come down to whether or not Carmelo Anthony figures out how to be a winning basketball player, and not just a scorer. The Knicks aren’t going anywhere with the team watching Anthony do his thing. He needs to be a defender and a willing passer that makes his teammates better. Steve Novak backs him up, and provides great three-point range off the bench. Grade: A-
Power Forward: The other player that this season will depend heavily on is Stoudemire. Coming back from a back injury, his athleticism didn’t come back until the very end of last season. The Knicks need him involved in the offense, and the addition of Felton should help that, considering their past success running the screen-and-roll. Stoudemire needs to play like an All-Star with Anthony if this team is to reach their full potential. Improvement on defense would also be helpful, but that might be a pipe dream at this point in his career. He should be better offensively. Kurt Thomas is the oldest player in the NBA, but he’ll provide defense and rebounding behind Stoudemire in limited minutes. Expect to see a lot of Anthony and Novak at power forward. Grade: B+
Center: With such accomplished scorers at the two forward positions, all the Knicks need out of center is defense and rebounding. No other team in the NBA has a better combination than the Knicks, with Tyson Chandler and Camby to do just that. They will patrol the middle, providing help defense and dominating the glass. Chandler’s value as a defender and leader cannot be overrated. Grade: A
The Knicks still have some room to add some veteran minimum players, and they should focus on shooting guard and power forward. But this is the roster and it’s a good one. At this point, I’ll go in for 52 wins. That would put the Knicks in the third or fourth spot in the Eastern Conference, with an outside shot at the two seed. Anything short of losing to the Miami Heat in the playoffs should be considered a failure. Expectations are high once again at Madison Square Garden, and that’s a good thing.
In my final story on Monday, I’ll have a little fun with a Knicks-Nets comparison, and then I’m off to the Giants’ training camp in Albany. I’ll continue to provide coverage of NBA free agency on Twitter, and you can follow me here.
Do you agree with these grades, and are you going over or under on 52 wins for the Knicks? Let us know in the comments section below…