It took almost twenty years, but last season the New York Knicks finished atop the Atlantic division and second in the East for the first time since 1993-94, when
Patrick Ewing & company’s run ended in a Game 7 loss to the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals.
The 2012-13 incarnation, as we know, wasn’t as fortunate, advancing as far as the second round before being ousted by the Indiana Pacers. Expect the Knicks to get back to the second round (and potentially beyond) this season, thanks to a deeper roster loaded with talent.
New York boasts one of the league’s most dominant scorers (Carmelo Anthony), an athletic centre just two seasons removed from Defensive Player of the Year (Tyson Chandler), an unabashed gunner coming off a Sixth Man of the Year win (J.R. Smith), an elite defensive guard and uber-athlete (Iman Shumpert), and a game-show’s worth of X factors (Andrea Bargnani, Amar’e Stoudemire, Metta World Peace, Pablo Prigoni and Tim Hardaway Jr.).
The new-look Brooklyn Nets will give the Knicks a run for their money (the two franchises sit one and two, respectively, in total player salary) when it comes to
repeating as division champs. But as long as Melo is around, the Knicks are poised to remain a staple at the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
Man, the Isaiah Thomas era seems like a distant memory at this point, doesn’t it?
Additions: Andrea Bargnani, Metta World Peace, Tim Hardaway Jr., Chris Douglas-Roberts, Jeremy Tyler, Beno Udrih.
Departures: Chris Copeland, Jason Kidd, Steve Novak, Marcus Camby, Rasheed Wallace, James White.
Raptors fans won’t like to hear it, but Andrea Bargnani is going to have a solid season. Despite his unceremonious ending in Toronto, the former first-overall pick remains an effective scorer and a matchup nightmare. Playing alongside the likes of Chandler and Metta World Peace in New York, his defensive inefficiencies should be masked, plus he won’t have to deal with the same expectations he faced with the Raptors now that he’s able to stand in the shadows of the Knicks’ established stars. Both Bargnani and Toronto needed the split, and all parties are better for it.
World Peace is in the waning years of his career, but his toughness, defensive intensity and competitiveness are contagious, so you’ve got to love any team that chooses to bring him aboard. This is Jeremy Tyler’s last chance to avoid being officially labeled a bust, while rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. should be a nice fit in New York’s backcourt. Mike Woodson and Chris Copeland were never compatible, and so the team opted not to match the Pacers’ three-year offer this off-season, but they will more than make up for his production off the bench with the pieces they brought in.
- The continuing evolution of Carmelo Anthony: Power Forward of the Future. Despite the Bargnani acquisition, the Knicks remain thin in the frontcourt, especially considering Amar’e Stoudemire’s status as a walking question mark.
- Hey, speaking of Stoudemire… It’s amazing what two years can do to a career. Thanks to a laundry list of injuries, the once-elite big man has become New York’s $23-million nightmare (that’s actually how much Stoudemire will make this season). Though never a particularly strong rebounder, there is still a need on this team for his scoring and ability to stretch defences out to 17 feet with his shooting range. Still, he remains wholly unreliable due to his health, and his inconsistent presence in the lineup (Stoudemire’s played just 76 games total over the last two seasons) hurts the development of the team’s rotation.
- How long until Andrea Bargnani and Metta World Peace become the funniest odd couple in sports history? The chances of these two hitting it off are so high Vegas has already taken it completely off the books.
- #PointGuardProblems: Can a team with the trio of Ray Felton, Pablo Pirogni and Beno Udrih running the offence win a championship? A Felton injury will be cause for concern, but with Iman Shumpert’s ability to play the one, plus the Knicks’ Melo-centric crunch-time offence, it might not really matter.
Breakout Player: Tim Hardaway Jr.
Every year there’s a rookie who looks instantly comfortable making the adjustment to the NBA and makes us all ask: How the hell was that guy not a lottery pick? This season that guy will be Hardaway Jr., who’s ability on both ends of the floor should carve into some of J.R. Smith’s minutes and put the former Michigan Wolverine in coach Mike Woodson’s good books.
Scale of Decency: Quite Decent.
Melo is one of the most captivating athletes to watch in all of sports: a versatile scoring tactician with more tricks in his arsenal than Tony Hawk. Factor in walking highlight reels like Chandler and Smith, and this is an extremely watchable team that should be playing deep into the playoffs. It won’t be easy to repeat the 54-win success from last year thanks to an improved East, but that doesn’t mean that New York isn’t ready to take on the challenge.
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