With Phil Jackson at the helm and his disciple Derek Fisher as head coach, the New York Knicks organization and fan base, are on the cusp of some glorious years. Although this upcoming season is considered a transition year, there are many variables at play that lead me to believe that they’ll be a very dangerous team come April.
The Summer That Was
Going from shorts to suits, Derek Fisher was hired as head coach; he’s a proven leader and is well respected among NBA circles. The former president of the players union will be implementing Phil Jackson’s Triangle Offense with the hopes of creating better ball movement and therefore more efficient shot opportunities. While there may be some growing pains as a rookie coach, Fisher is well suited for the challenges ahead.
Phil Jackson made a shrewd move in trading the Mavericks controversial point guard Raymond Felton and a declining defensive center in Tyson Chandler. They both underachieved and missed a combined 44 games last season, trading them was the epitome of addition by subtraction for the franchise. Phil was still able to turn lemons into lemonade by acquiring Jose Calderon who is one of the most efficient point guards in the NBA along with a serviceable defensive-minded big man in Samuel Dalembert. The trade also brought in 3 young prospects: Shane Larkin and two second round draft picks, Cleanthony Early and Thanasis Antetokounmpo.
Could Stoudemire and Bargnani be next to go? Sure looks that way. They are both entering contract years, neither has played up to their contracts consistently, and both have been plagued by injuries. But the talent is always there with these two. If the contract year phenomenon truly exists, we’re about to find out. Regardless of how they play this year Amare and Bargs’ expiring salaries combined are worth over $35 million as the Knicks prepare to make a splash in the strong 2015 free agent class.
Make the Playoffs They are in a transition year, but play in one of the weakest divisions in the NBA which only increases their chances.
Improve Defense Derek Fisher’s first practice as head coach was focused on defense only, and for good reason. The elephant in the room with this team is that many of their key players are weak man-on-man defenders. While they won’t be juggernauts, they won’t be nearly as bad as “experts” are predicting. Team defense, which includes a strong effort and communication will go a long way. Fisher is driving this message through to the team from the very beginning of his tenure. Their top three defenders entering the season are Shumpert, Dalembert and Acy which is a solid foundation.
Keys To The Triangle
Under Phil Jackson, the triangle offense has produced 10 scoring champions in 20 seasons. Although it will take some time, Melo’s game should translate well in this system. While it consists of ball movement, floor spacing and ultimately developing a rhythm, it also requires a talented offensive star, the bailout guy, especially in situations when the clock is running out or there’s an offensive break down. He slimmed down this summer and will mostly be playing out of the small forward position this season. We’ll find out if Melo will be this generation’s Jordan, Pippen and Kobe in due time.
The goal is to use Amare Stoudemire in 8 minute spurts for around 30 to 32 minute per game, If he can manage that, you’ll see extremely efficient scoring. He can still score with the best of them and it can’t hurt that he’s been bathing in red wine. If it leads to a healthy, productive season, he’ll have the last laugh. So bathe away Amare, bathe away!
Bargnani’s game is perfect for this system because he is automatic from within 20 feet. He hasn’t been as efficient from the arc as he was earlier in his career but if he can pick and pop from the mid-range, good things will come.
Jose Calderon is one of the most efficient players in the league; his assist to turnover ratio was godly last season at 4.09-1 and he made over 44 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. This is what you look for from the PG position, smart and unselfish. The fact that Bargnani’s best season came with Calderon as his point guard can only inspire confidence here.
Shumpert, Hardaway and J.R Smith each bring their own jazz to the SG position. Shumpert is the best defender, Tim Hardaway Jr. can score from anywhere on the floor and Knicks fans are excited to see his game develop from a terrific rookie season, J.R Smith is the wildcard of the group, great talent all around and can score with the best of them, but you never know which J.R you’re getting. Phil Jackson insinuated this past month that the leash will be short with his antics and compared him to Dennis Rodman behavior-wise. Regardless, the Knicks have options here and will look to utilize them as effectively as possible.
Dalembert, Acy and Jason Smith are three serviceable big men that will play major roles this season. Dalembert is still a very disruptive center on the defensive end and his game is an upgrade over anything Chandler gave them last year. Quincy Acy had such an impressive preseason that the Knicks are considering starting him at the PF position. He rebounds well, plays tough defense down low and finishes strong at the rim flashing all of these skills during the preseason. Jason Smith is a talented hard worker that will fill a big void for the Knicks, he has good range on his shot and battles for everything he gets offensively and defensively. He has been overlooked in many circles because he’s coming off a major knee surgery, but he’s looked good in the preseason as well.
PG – Jose Calderon
SG – Iman Shumpert
SF – Carmelo Anthony
PF – Jason Smith
C – Samuel Dalembert
6 seed in the playoffs
Eastern Conference Finals is a possibility if the deck falls right.
The Knicks have a talented team with depth, if they can stay relatively healthy, the young talent continues to develop, and it doesn’t take too long for them to learn the triangle offense, they’ll be just fine.
Worst case scenario they own their first round draft pick this year and have tons of money to spend next summer. The arrow is pointing up for this team for a long, long time.