The New York Knicks enter the protracted season with high hopes and deep playoff aspirations. Why should they not? This is a team that has, since the trade deadline in February, been one of the largest movers on the market. They have brought in star talent to contend now. However, with all the moves that they have made, are the Knicks ready to compete with the likes of the Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat, or the Boston Celtics? It appears that everything is riding on this season no matter the fact that it is shortened and they have a heap of new players to work into the rotation. The clock is already ticking and the start of the season is less than 24 hours away.
Though they did not make the biggest splash in the hectic free agency period, that honor goes to the Los Angeles Clippers for wresting Chris Paul away from the New Orleans Hornets, the Knicks did land the most coveted center on the market. Tyson Chandler, coming off his career defining championship season with the Dallas Mavericks, chose New York over a host of suitors. New York was a likely fit for Chandler because they could offer him the money he thought that he deserved; roughly $56 million over four years.
During his time in Dallas, Chandler proved to be the backbone of a stout and flexible defense that was quite adept at employing complex zone schemes which allowed Chandler to operate autonomously in and around the paint. As defensively porous as the Knicks were a season ago, a defensive rating of 110.1 which was good for eighth worst in the league, it is no wonder why they spent the money to acquire Chandler. They need defense, and badly.
Yet, one player cannot change the defensive structure of an entire team, it takes each individual on the court to put forth a concerted effort. Carmelo Anthony knows this and believes that the Knicks “can be a great defensive team.” As with anything, words are easier to come by than action.
Last season the Knicks’ best defenders, in terms of defensive rating, were Amar’e Stoudemire and Ronny Turiaf. Each checked in with a rating of 108. Cult hero Anthony Randolph had a lower rating than either Stoudemire and Turiaf but his time on the court was so negligible it renders the rating moot. Determining defensive ratings for players relies heavily on the defensive rating of the team so it is understandable why all the players would own bad ratings.
Mike D’Antoni, the head coach since 2008, is known for an offense first game plan. Defense is an after though, if it is even thought of at all. Chandler is not an offensive powerhouse and can take seven seconds or more to run the length of the court if he is caught under the defensive rim when the Knicks transition to offense. How will he integrate into D’Antoni’s uptempo system? It will be D’Antoni who will have to adjust to Chandler’s presence.
With the lackluster defensive talent on the Knicks’ roster it would behoove D’Antoni to implement similar zone schemes to the ones Chandler anchored in Dallas. From there an individual mandate and trust can be passed to each player when the team plays man-to-man. Trust will be one of the most important issues for the Knicks to cultivate this season if they are truly committed to improving defensively.
On the opposite end of the floor, D’Antoni’s team packs an offensive punch, with two players at least. Combined, Anthony and Stoudemire were used in 60 percent of the offensive sets. The next five players in terms of offensive usage are no longer on the team. In terms of scoring, the four players immediately behind Anthony and Stoudemire are also gone. Toney Douglas is the next player on the list, in both categories, that is still on the team.
Of course there is Chandler, but as stated above he is not going to be a go-to guy on offense. Instead, the Knicks will have to rely heavily on some new and returning players. This includes the aforementioned Douglas, who will quarterback the team, Landry Fields, Iman Shumpert (oh, how he is hyped already), Bill Walker, Mike Bibby, Jared Jeffries, Steve Novak, and Baron Davis. Davis, however, will not take the court for some time as he is dealing with a bulging disk in his back. Not only that but he has lost a step going into his thirteenth season.
This is a team with serious depth issues. This is none more apparent than at point guard. D’Antoni’s system relies on strong play from his point guard (see: Steve Nash) and his options going into the season are far from promising. Douglas is far from Nash and had a two-to-one assist to turnover ratio last season. Now that Raymond Felton is in Portland, Douglas’ ratio could become worse. Since coming to New York, D’Antoni’s teams have committed the most turnovers. Until Davis is healthy, Bibby will be the backup point guard. Anyone who watched his play with the Miami Heat last season knows that his time on the court is met with groans rather than cheers. The turnovers will continue to be plentiful.
New faces are nothing new for the Knicks, they have also had the most player turnover of any team over the last four years. Therefore, the current Knicks situation is no different that it has been during D’Antoni’s tenure. Nothing in New York should ever be all that easy. Unfortunately for D’Antoni, this is the last year of his contract. If he cannot but all the new pieces together he could be in a long unemployment line.
To expect much of this team in a shortened season would be foolish. Despite their formidable frontcourt, there are too many places where they need to improve, especially defensively, and be able to integrate new players. Not only that but their lack of depth will really hurt them with the increased number of back-to-back games and the inclusion of back-to-back-to-backs. Finishing sixth in the East, as they did last season, would seem to be about right for the new-look Knicks of this season. The Anthony trade gutted this team of a young core and the effects of that will be seen this season. Knicks fans can take solace, though, now that Eddy Curry is no longer on the team. That is a win in and of itself.