Was last season’s bitterly disappointing campaign an anomaly? How quickly can the Knicks bounce back to respectability?
With a new head coach (Derek Fisher) in place, and a reinforced roster constructed by Phil Jackson, Knicks fans are hoping New York’s win total next season is closer to 54 W’s they posted in 2012-13, than the 37 wins they registered last season.
One thing seems certain: The Knicks should be able to score plenty of points. New York ranked 11th in the NBA in Offensive Efficiency last season, scoring an average of 105.4 points per 100 possessions.
Re-signing Carmelo Anthony for a near-max contract may come back to bite the Knicks on the back end of the deal, but it ensures the second best scorer in the NBA will wear orange and blue for the foreseeable future. Melo will be flanked by sharp-shooters J.R. Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr., the latter fresh off a resoundingly successful rookie campaign. (Last season, Hardaway became the second player this decade, and just the 15th player in NBA history, to knock down at least 130 three-pointers in their first professional season). Amar’e Stoudemire managed to stay healthy for 65 games in 2013-14, and averaged 19 points per-36 minutes, while shooting 55.7% from the floor.
Moreover, the Knicks were well above-average offensively last year in spite of the massive struggles of Raymond Felton, one of the league’s least effective starting point guards.
And in the first major move during his tenure as Knicks President of Basketball Operations, Phil Jackson addressed a glaring need by dramatically improving the team’s point guard play via a trade for Jose Calderon.
Despite creeping towards his mid-30s, Calderon is still a well above-average NBA playmaker. He possesses an impressively high basketball IQ and is a solid facilitator. He started 81 games for the Mavs last season, dishing out 4.7 assists and scoring 11.4 points per contest. Calderon has long been, and remains, one of the NBA’s elite marksmen. His calling card is his efficiency. In 2012-13, he led the NBA in three-point accuracy, shooting a scorching 46.1 percent from behind the arc (which makes him ideally suited for Derek Fisher/Phil Jackson’s ‘Triangle Offense’). Jose also hit 90 percent of his free-throw attempts. This is not an anomaly for Calderon. In fact, he is one of just two active NBA players shooting over 47 percent from the floor, 87 percent from the charity stripe and 41 percent from behind the three-point arc for their career. Steve Nash is the only member of this exclusive club.
However, Calderon’s weakness lies on the defensive end of the floor. He’s never been a great defender, and that is especially true now that he’s a bit older.
Unfortunately, that’s a common theme when examining the Knicks roster. Too many of New York’s rotation players are terrific offensively, but deficient on defense.
Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, J.R. Smith, Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon have all earned massive contracts by excelling on the offensive end, but have also earned reputations as below-average defenders.
New York ranked 24th overall in Defensive Efficiency last season. And they finished 27 out of 30 teams in total rebounds collected.
Furthermore, in order to upgrade at PG, New York had to sacrifice their best defensive player and top rebounder in Tyson Chandler. Chandler struggled last season recovering from a multitude of injuries, but his energy, defense and rebounding will undoubtedly be missed. Tyson led the Knicks in rebounding in each of his three years in New York and last season, despite playing in just 55 regular season games, he led the Knicks it blocks (63). Even more alarming, Andrea Bargnani was second on the team in swats, despite appearing in just 42 games.
New York received Samuel Dalembert back in the deal with Dallas, and while Dalembert is a decent rebounder and defender, he’s one the downside of his career, averaging just 20 minutes per game last season (after averaging just 16.3 mpg and fewer than six boards per game in 2013-13).
The Knicks did use their taxpayer mid-level exception to sign seven-footer Jason Smith last month. However, despite measuring in at 7-feet, Smith is not a bruiser or rim protector. He is more of an athletic ‘stretch four’ that is content to float around the perimeter. Consider this: Last season, only 17% of Smith’s total FG attempts were the result of layups or dunk attempts at/around the rim (within three feet of the hoop); in contrast, 61.3% of his FG attempts came on jumpers from between 16-to-20 feet away from the basket (data courtesy of basketballreference.com). For his career (199 games), Smith is averaging just 3.5 rebounds and 0.7 blocks. Smith’s per-36 minutes averages (7.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks) aren’t all that encouraging either.
In the Knicks most recent deal, they acquired small forward Travis Outlaw and Quincy Acy. Acy is a not afraid to mix it up in the paint, but listed at 6-7, he’s undersized for a power forward.
As it currently stands, the Knicks may actually need to rely on Cole Adrich to play meaningful minutes if they want to insert a defensive-minded big body into the lineup.
There is still nearly two months before the start of training camp, so Phil Jackson still has some time to re-tool the roster a bit, if he so chooses. It should be also noted that New York does have a $3.7 MM trade exception courtesy of the deal with Dallas.
There are also a number of intriguing free agents still available on the market that could potentially fit the Knicks needs.
Here’s a list of the best free agent big men that are still unsigned: Emeka Okafor Jermaine O’Neal, Andray Blatche, Elton Brand, Andrew Bynum, Andris Biedrins, Gustavo Ayon, Greg Oden, Kenyon Martin, Ryan Hollins, Charlie Villanueva, Greg Stiemsma, Aron Baynes, Marcus Camby, Ekpe Udoh, Jason Collins, Royce White, Louis Amundson.
However, an impediment to the Knicks adding another big body is the fact they currently have 15 players under contract, the maximum allowable amount. Phil Jackson would have to cut someone, or complete a 2-for-1 one trade in order to add another player.
Jackson and Fisher may also believe/hope that the system and schemes they implement may be able to hide some of the individual defensive deficiencies of some players.
Nonetheless, both Fisher and Jackson have won enough in the NBA to recognize that in order to be respected as an elite contender, a team needs to be extremely solid defensively. In fact, 18 of the last 20 NBA champions have ranked within the top-7 in Defensive Efficiency.
Right now, based on how the roster is currently constructed, it seems highly unlikely the Knicks will be even average defensively.
New York should have no problem scoring next season, but in order for the Knicks to regain respectability and challenge the top teams in the Eastern Conference, they will need to prevent opponents from scoring on them at will.
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