The new look Knicks have completed the preseason and there were many bright spots, but the realist in me must also acknowledge the potential dark clouds still looming over the franchise.
The Bright Side http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHPOzQzk9Qo
Amar’e has come to NY and has taken over the Knicks. What we have seen from him so far is that he is embracing the chance to steer the ship, and wants to captain it to glory. You know about work ethic, shooting countless jumpers after practice, but in the Knicks training camp show on NBA TV, we saw that he is a vocal leader and is setting the tone for the whole team. Hopefully the culture of losing has been washed away and Amar’e can instill a new franchise wide attitude, and continue his winning ways in the NBA.
Young, Hungry Talent
The Knicks are among the youngest teams in the league, and there is a lot of competition for spots that hasn’t been present the last couple years. Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari may be the incumbents at the 2 and 3 spots, but Toney Douglas, Landry Fields, Andy Rautins, Billy Walker, Anthony Randolph, and (eventually) Kellenna Azubuike are desperate to prove themselves, earn a role in the rotation, and show they deserve big minutes. Nobody can relax and play laid back (Duhon) or chuck away ill conceived 3 pointers (Harrington), or suck at offense (Jeffries) and expect to play. Add in Mozgov, the mysteriously promising 7’1” Russian import, who by all accounts is a quick learner, astute, diligent and an elite athlete, and finally the Knicks have some promising prospects. These guys are scrappy and hungry, but they also have some skills. Gallinari, Douglas, Rautins, Walker, and Azubuike are all capable of shooting 40% from 3. Randolph could be a rebounding, shot blocking, slashing force like Shawn Marion, and Mozgov can protect the paint like David Lee (miss you) never could. The competition between these guys should raise everyone’s game to a higher level and create a more focused and determined vibe throughout the team.
A Real Team
The Knicks finally have got past the salary cap purging era of yesteryear, and now have built an out and out team. Nobody has to worry about being shipped out anytime soon(unless Carmelo or Chris Paul are involved), and the team can grow together knowing that they were brought to the Knicks for their skills and who they are as players, not for their cap number in the books. This is great from a fan’s perspective, as we can all cheer for the team and hope for this season, instead of pining for money saving trades and dreaming of the possibilities of the offseason. Also, the team’s chemistry will undoubtedly be better, since the players know they are in it together, playing for the team, and not just mercenaries playing for themselves.
Eddy Curry (Being Injured)
I think it is finally safe to say we have seen the last of Eddy Picante. It is sad, since he was once so awesome (I witnessed him score 24 points in a first quarter at the Garden a few years ago, and really thought he was going for 100.) But it is not sad, since he would not have helped the Knicks if he were healthy. Recently Coach D has mentioned that Eddy could resume basketball activities soon, but no worries, this just means his next calf injury is on the way.
The Knicks are going to challenge, disrupt, and block a lot of shots this year. Gallo, Chandler, Amar’e, Turiaf, Mozgov, and Randolph are all likely to block over a shot per game. No more swiss cheese defense! No easy buckets! Add Toney Douglas, Ray Felton, and maybe Andy Rautins pestering ball handlers up the court, and we may have an average, or maybe even above average defensive team.
Speaking of defense, Toney Douglas…The man is an idol for defensive specialists like myself, and he has shown a marked improvement on the offensive end as well. His shot has always been pure, but now he is finding rollers and orchestrating the offense with aplomb. Toney will play a much bigger role this year, either as the 1st guard off the bench or as the starting 2 guard. The backcourt combo of Felton and Douglas, although small, is tough, quick, and ferocious, and will be a joy to watch.
A Real NBA Point Guard
People may not be over the moon about the Ray Felton signing, but I love it. I myself play point guard, and watching Chris Duhon at the reigns of the team was absolute torture. Felton has shown he has a developing understanding with Amar’e, and also showed how he loves to push the pedal to the medal and get out on the break and get the offense going. He defends well, has an edge that New Yorkers tend to enjoy, and I think he will prove himself to be more than just a decent NBA point guard this season.
How could I not mention Danilo Gallinari? Last year was essentially his rookie season, and he dropped 15 and 5. Now we get to see if The Rooster is just scratching the surface, peeling of layers of his onion, or if he is what he is going to be. I obviously think he will make another huge leap forward in his second full season. I predict game winners, frequent trips to the foul line, stifling defense, and upgrades in rebounding and assists. We’ll have to watch to find out what caliber of player Gallo is going to turn into.
The Dark Clouds
Lack of Rebounding
The biggest thing the Knicks will miss about David Lee is his incredible rebounding. Fans complain that he never boxed out, that he stole rebounds from teammates to stuff his stats, but the fact remains that David Lee was a force on the glass. Replacing Lee with Amar’e means the rest of the squad is going to have to pick up the slack in the rebounding department. In the preseason, the Knicks were dominated on the glass, illustrated by nearly being doubled in rebounds in a loss to the Wolves. It is a major cause for concern. Stoudemire, Turiaf, and Mozgov might be average rebounders. Gallinari and Chandler are decent, but could, and need to be better. Toney Douglas and Ray Felton will have to chip in. The one bright spot is Anthony Randolph, whose per minute stats show him to be a potential vacuum cleaner on the boards. It is a bit concerning that he did not crash the boards in the preseason like I expected he would… Double digit rebounds per game for Randolph would be extremely welcome, and beneficial to the team.
Lack of Cohesion
The Knicks added Felton, Rautins, Fields, Randolph, Stoudemire, Mozgov, Turiaf, Azubuike and Mason Jr. to the team. That’s 9 new players who will likely all play a role for this team. They return Douglas, Gallo, Chandler, and Billy Walker. Reports from the preseason say that while team chemistry is generally good, there is still a lot of uncertainty with regard to roles, tendencies on the court, and comfort level between players. In Real Training camp, we saw Amar’e hit a wide open Turiaf under the basket with a pass from the top of the key. Unfortunately, he hit Roni in the back of the head. I watched the 30 for 30 “Once Brothers” on ESPN, and what stood out to me the most was the footage of the Yugoslavian national team dishing. The chemistry was really like nothing I’ve seen before. Like Dino Radja said, they could have played with there eyes closed. When the defense thought Kukoc was about to lay it up, he’d drop off a dish to Vlade Divac. Divac would then dupe the defense, and lay off a pass to Petrovic, who would then find Radja for the dunk. To everyone it looked like the shot was going up, but the Yugoslavs knew where and when to find their teammates, and it led to easy buckets, and opponents with their shorts around their ankles. Team chemistry is something that grows organically, and the Knicks don’t and can’t expect to have it yet. We can only hope it develops, and soon.
I like to look on the bright side and the bright side of Randolph is blinding as the sun. Unfortunately, his preseason play was very disconcerting. He may have skills and talent, but he doesn’t know what to do with it. He shoots out of rhythm, travels often, and never seems sure of himself. I have faith that Mike D will be able to extract the sweet nectar that is his untapped potential, and hopefully it will be soon. Since the ‘Bockers are so short on rebounding, it would be nice if Anthony could figure it out and slot in at starting center, since he is probably the most capable rebounder on the team.
My Season Preview from Last Year
Yes I believed the Knicks would make the playoffs, and win a few post season games at that. Obviously I was wrong. This year I have even more belief in the team than I did last year, but I also have an inescapable feeling that my optimism is delusional. Am I a homer? Of course, my love for the Knicks keeps me from truly being objective. But does that mean I’m wrong in my optimism? This is a sport, and in sports, crazy, unexpected things happen. I think the Knicks can grab the 4 spot, behind Miami, Orlando, and Boston.
Looking into my crystal ball
ESPN’s team of NBA experts had the Knicks finishing about 2nd in the Atlantic, and 7th or 8th overall. I’m sure we’d all be thrilled with this, but on the bright side of things, I think the Knicks can reach the dizzy new heights of 4th place. Of course it is the general consensus that The Heat, Celtics, and Magic will be atop the East, but after them it is a little more murky. The Bulls should be good, the Bucks are getting some love, and of course the Hawks can’t be looked past, but it is my belief that the Knicks can topple these teams, with a record of 49-33. A first round matchup against the Bulls will bring the passion of playoff hoops back to the Garden, and a second round meeting with the Heat will spread NBA fever throughout the greatest city in the world. Could the Knicks get revenge after being shunned by LeBron? It is unlikely, but possible nonetheless. I may be dreaming, but what better time to be optimistic than Opening Night eve?