By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks begin for real next Wednesday in Milwaukee and their fans are trying to figure out exactly what the team is going to be this season.READ MORE: Kreider's Hat Trick Powers Rangers To Win Over Coyotes
The summer league and preseason gave some glimpses into what some of these new faces might be molded into, but much like March baseball, early looks in games that don’t count can be deceiving.
Here are some of the major themes that developed leading up to the regular season opener and whether or not I think they will end up being realities:
NOTE: Preseason stats do not include the game Thursday night against Boston
The Faster Knicks: After playing slower than all but two teams last season, the Knicks have revved up the temp this offseason, getting nearly eight more possessions per game in the preseason.
The prevailing thought is that rookie Jerian Grant and offseason acquisition Derrick Williams have been huge helps in this area, but the two players on the roster playing at the fastest pace are slow-pokes Jose Calderon and Robin Lopez. Whether or not this is an aberration there’s no reason to think this can’t be continued in the regular season, which should help the Knicks and their abysmal 29th offensive efficiency ranking last season. Buying it.
Improving Derrick Williams: The most questioned signing this offseason was Williams, the former No. 2 overall pick who hasn’t picked up the NBA game in his short time in the league.
Williams was great in the preseason, averaging nearly 17 points per game on 59 percent shooting and even passed the ball fairly well. Williams has always been good going to the basket and that has continued with the Knicks, and should be an asset during the season. His 10-for-19 shooting from 15-24 feet will not continue, nor will his 8-for-17 shooting from behind the arc. Williams can still be a sparkplug off the bench that can run the floor, finish and get to the line, but this type of consistent shooting is not likely to continue. Not totally buying it.READ MORE: New York Weather: CBS2’s 1/23 Sunday Morning Forecast
Improving Defense: With the Knicks’ inability to bring in a top scorer to supplement Carmelo Anthony, they decided to rely on their defense to win games with additions like Robin Lopez.
The Knicks were only better than two teams last year in terms of points allowed per possession, and if they want to even sniff the playoffs they will have to get to 20th or better in the league. In the preseason the Knicks have been the fourth-best defensive team in the league, and have the third-best 3-point defense, holding to just over 25 percent. They still allowed the seventh-most most 3-pointers, but that number is skewed by the long-distance bombing of the Brazil team they played in their first preseason game.
The defense should be better, but I’m not putting them in the top 10. Going against first stringers for entire games could change these numbers very, very quickly. Goal: Get better than 20th. Sorta buying it.
Less Triangle, More Points: At the end of last season, the Knicks went away from the triangle and into a lot more pick-and-roll sets, a move that helped get them their last few wins, which in turn cost them the first overall pick in the draft.
During the preseason, the offense looked much less like a robotic triangle of offensive destruction than it did a far more free-flowing pick-and-roll system that most other teams in the league run. With both Calderon and Grant capable of running the high screen and roll, it should create space for open shots behind the 3-point line, and for cutters going towards the basket. Buying it.
Rookies Playing Big Role: Early indications are that Kristaps Porzingis will be in the starting lineup opening night, but by the end of the season I think it will be Grant that will be more effective and get more consistent playing time.
Porzingis is not likely to be much more than a spot up shooter that can pass out of the high post to go along with some rim protection on defense. That’s fine. He will grow into his other offensive skills. Grant, on the other hand, is a four-year collegian that runs the pick and roll like a pro and has enough length to defend both guard positions. Don’t be surprised to see him emerge as the Knicks’ best guard by the spring. Buying it for Grant, not for Zinger.
Leading up to the first game of the season next week, I’ll delve into the Knicks’ likely rotation, examine some of the individual players in more detail, and give you a full blow-out preview. Can you believe the season is already here? I can’t.MORE NEWS: Bratt Helps Devils Rally For Win Over Hurricanes
You can follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants and the world of sports