The New York Knicks have been the most embarrassing team in the league for quite some time. This offseason, though, the Knicks have made giant strides in their attempt to get back to credibility. It all started with the hiring of Donnie Walsh, and subsequent firing of Isiah Thomas. Zeke has plagued and handicapped this franchise with unmatched spending, irritable trades, and humiliating on, and off the court issues. Scott Layden was terrible in New York, and no one thought that things could possibly get worse for the Knicks after his dismissal, but they sure did. The firing of Isiah Thomas signaled the end of an era in New York, the end of futility. One awful remnant of the Thomas administration is point guard Stephon Marbury, who is currently still on the squad, rakin’ in the dough. More than likely, he will be bought out before the season starts, and no matter what the Knicks end up paying him, it’s worth it to just get him away from the team. Mike D’Antoni is a proven coach, and will bring much needed leadership to the bench, which is something Isiah Thomas clearly lacked as a coach. The drafting of Danilo Gallinari was widely criticized, but may pay off if he finds a place in the D’Antoni system. The Knicks accomplished quite a bit this summer, but are still a huge mess. The Knicks are headed in the right direction, but it will take some time to get to the point they were at ten years ago.
Offense: The Knicks were in the bottom ten in terms of scoring last season, but this year they will put up more points, maybe over 100 a night. Mike D’Antoni is a teacher of one of the most adept offensive systems in the game, and though it might take some time getting the players to adapt, the Knicks will feature his run and gun schemes on a nightly basis. With Jamal Crawford, the Knicks have a great backcourt scorer who can also make plays for his teammates. Crawford was New York’s leader in scoring and assists last year, and he should be close to the top in both of those offensive categories once again this season. Assuming Zach Randolph is not traded, he provides a great offensive weapon in that he is big enough to score on the inside, but can take his man out past the elbow, and spread the floor. Z-Bo isn’t a terrible passer, either. The problem, though, is that both Randolph and center Eddy Curry are not the quickest players in the league, and will have some trouble fitting into D’Antoni’s full-court offense. If they do begin to assimilate into the system, and play off of Jamal Crawford and new point guard Chris Duhon, the Knicks will be a dangerous team on offense. If not, well, maybe the Great D’Antoni has something up his sleeve.
Defense: What do Marcus Camby, Chris Kaman, and Josh Smith all have in common? Each one of these guys averaged more blocks per game than the entire New York Knicks’ team last season. That’s pretty shocking when you think about it. Zach Randolph and Eddy Curry are the two big men in the post for New York, but shy away from contact as if their afraid they’ll catch some deadly disease. David Lee is a solid defensive player, but just doesn’t get the time to have the impact this team needs. If Lee gets more time in the lineup, the Knicks will see an increase in defensive productivity, especially with the addition of Chris Duhon in the backcourt. Also, Wilson Chandler is a talented offensive player, and should be a favorite of D’Antoni, but he is also an effective defensive player. If D’Antoni is not afraid to play David Lee and the young Wilson Chandler, the defense will improve, if just a little. Either way, though, the Knicks will give up 100+ points per game once again.
Strengths: Even though the team is still in shambles, this a talented roster. Zach Randolph is a beast on offense, and even big Eddy Curry has shown that he has great potential to help this team. Jamal Crawford is best remembered for scoring 50 points in a game a few years ago, and is always a threat when he has the ball in his hands. David Lee, Nate Robinson, Chris Duhon, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari…..these are all very talented players, and will give this team depth, and a bright future. The Knicks certainly are not a force in this league, but their talented roster may finally get a chance to show its true strength this year under Mike D’Antoni.
Weaknesses: The defense is horrid in New York. Other than David Lee, Chris Duhon, Quentin Richardson, and Wilson Chandler, this team is devoid of any player who puts an actual effort into their defense. Gallinari might prove to be a good defensive player, but that’s not enough. This team will get crushed in the post, and get run all over by the quicker teams. They will be improved from last year, but they will still be atrocious until each player takes personal responsibility for their defense.
Five Players to Watch:
Jamal Crawford - Crawford has benefitted from playing without Starbury in the backcourt. With Mike D’Antoni at the helm, and a new offensive system on the way, Jamal Crawford should flourish in the Big Apple. Crawford is the go to guy in the clutch, and is not afraid to take the big shot, which is a rare ability. Jamal Crawford should have a career year under D’Antoni, and his scoring numbers should soar even higher.
Zach Randolph - It is no secret that Donnie Walsh has been shopping Zach Randolph all summer, and he could be traded any day. Until that happens, though, he is a member of the New York Knicks, and is their most reliable player in the post. Randolph is one of the most gifted offensive big men of all-time, but at times lacks the desire to play at a high level on a consistent basis. Mike D’Antoni might be able to get through to him, but if he doesn’t, Randolph will probably be heading out of town.
Chris Duhon - Chris Duhon doesn’t really have a tough job in replacing Stephon Marbury in the lineup. All the Knicks need from him is some stability, and low-risk offensive plays. Duhon is also a fairly solid perimeter defender, and should prevent some easy baskets that Starbury would have just given up on. I don’t expect big numbers, or an All-Star year from Duhon, but he will bring steady leadership to the point guard position that his predecessor certainly could not do.
David Lee - After being booed on draft night back in 2005, David Lee has emerged as the most efficient, and hardest working player on the New York Knicks. Lee gives 100% every night, and the fans notice it. His offense isn’t spectacular, but he is effective, and hopefully Mike D’Antoni realizes how valuable Lee is to this team. David Lee is the best defender on the Knicks, and a great teammate, and if the Knicks can prosper under D’Antoni’s coaching, a Sixth Man of the Year nomination could be in the works for the former Gator.
Mike D’Antoni - Lenny Wilkens is a Hall of Fame coach, but failed to turn the Knicks around. Larry Brown is a Hall of Fame coach, but failed to turn the Knicks around. Mike D’Antoni is hoping not to follow in the footsteps of those two legends, and it is unlikely that he will. D’Antoni has a reliable team president in Donnie Walsh, whereas the other two were stick with Isiah Thomas. It will take some time for D’Antoni to get this team back on track, but if he can instill his ideas and philosophy into the minds of this young squad, the transition to becoming a good basketball team will be much smoother down the road.
Playoff Hopes: If the players in New York attach to Mike D’Antoni’s system right away, and everyone fits in, this is a Playoff team. That is a very big if, though. This team is still a huge mess, and needs to continue to rebuild and grow together, minus Isiah Thomas and Stephon Marbury. A spot in the Playoffs is very unlikely, and a spot at the bottom of the Eastern Conference seems reasonable. Even if the Knicks do struggle to stay out of the basement, this team has made great improvements, and is finally heading in the right direction. All they seem to be waiting for is the summer of 2010, and what that brings doesn’t mean too much unless they continue to rebuild from the shambles left by Thomas and Marbury.
Prediction: 5th Place, Atlantic Division