ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: The New York Knicks

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Last season: If you’ll recall, New York’s offseason leading up to last year was widely regarded as a joke. Jeremy Lin was let go, Raymond Felton was brought in, and then the Knicks seemed to sign all the oldest players available in free agency. But with the benefit of hindsight, the Knicks did about as well as you could hope for given their lack of flexibility thanks to Amar’e Stoudemire’s albatross of a contract.

Maybe it’s because a championship was never a realistic goal, but the New York’s season felt like a resounding success. Winning 54 games, battling a very, very good Indiana Pacers team in the second round of the playoffs, and developing a style of play to set the table for future teams turned what should have been a wasted season into a building block going forward.

Signature highlight from last season: Do we really have to pick just one from the KnicksTape? Well, alright.

Key player changes:

IN: Metta World Peace, Beno Udrih, Andrea Bargnani, Tim Hardaway, Jr.

OUT: Chris Copeland (signed with IND), Jason Kidd (retired), Marcus Camby (traded to TOR), Steve Novak (traded to TOR), Quentin Richardson (traded to TOR), Kurt Thomas (retired), Rasheed Wallace (retired), James White (released)

The Knicks certainly added some players with name recognition, and replaced a lot of end of the bench filler with some pretty solid depth. Buying way, way low on Andrea Bargnani is a risk worth taking (if it wasn’t for that rascally draft pick surrendered), and Udrih and MWP can still produce, even if their games are in the shadows of their names at this point.

The biggest mistake may have been letting go of Chris Copeland. He was under-utilized last year under head coach Mike Woodson, and his ability to stretch the floor and score might be missed. Seeing him go to a conference rival had to sting.

Keys to the Knicks’ season:

1. Can the 3-point barrage continue?

No team in NBA history attempted or made more 3-pointers than the Knicks did last season. The decision to fire up an unheard of amount of 3-pointers certainly paid off, as the Knicks pieced together the 3rd best offensive efficiency in the league last year. The Knicks are on to something on the offensive side of the ball, but can they keep it up with all the personnel changes?

Jason Kidd’s shooting ability with his feet set and his masterful extra passes on the perimeter helped father New York’s perimeter ball sharing that led to a lot of really high quality looks. He’ll be missed along with matchup nightmare Chris Copeland, and it will be interesting to see if Udrih and Bargnani curtail their usual mid-range based attacks and opt to take more 3-pointers. Will old habits die hard?

2. Can Tyson Chandler hold the defense together?

Thanks to a little duct tape, WD-40 and the presence of Tyson Chandler in the middle, the Knicks were able to muster out the 18th best defensive efficiency mark in the league. Now, that might not sound great, but given the injuries, age, and minus defenders on the roster, it probably should have been much worse.

There is good news on the horizon though. Iman Shumpert is fully recovered from his ACL injury, Pablo Prigioni is a known entity now, and Metta World Peace and Tim Hardaway, Jr. should provide some muscle and speed on the perimeter. Ultimately, however, everything defensively for the Knicks boils down to the big man in the middle. If Tyson Chandler gets hurt for an extended period of time, this thing could ugly fast. Having Kenyon Martin a full season will help, but the Knicks will be playing defensive sieves like Bargnani and Stoudemire real minutes. Chandler has to be healthy, and he has to erase a ton of mistakes his frontcourt partners are bound to make.

Something to keep in mind: Over the last decade, no team with a defensive efficiency worse than 15th in the league has made an NBA Finals. Only 20% of those below-average defensive teams have made the playoffs.

3. Can all the personalities co-exist?

The Knicks are two-deep at every position. Everyone won’t be healthy at the same time, but it isn’t hard to imagine there being junctures where playing time becomes a big issue in the locker room. Adding Metta World Peace to this eclectic group of characters may seem like it would push this thing over the top, but in reality the Knicks played some of the most unselfish ball in the league last year. So long as Carmelo is getting his, J.R. is allowed to be J.R., and the big dog in the paint gets fed every now and then, the Knicks just might make it. But if they don’t, it will sure be entertaining.

Why you should watch the Knicks: When Carmelo Anthony catches fire, there isn’t much quite like it in the NBA. The Knicks are a little goofy, but a lot of fun to watch offensively when the ball is really swinging around the horn. Also, J.R. Smith is a national treasure.

Prediction: 51-31. For all the hand-wringing over the Bargnani deal, the Knicks didn’t seem to do an awful lot to swing the needle either way this offseason. There might be some early stumbles as the new additions acclimate to their roles, but so long as Carmelo Anthony is on the floor and the threes keep flying, the Knicks have enough firepower to be finish safely in the 50 win area. That said, this preview will self-destruct if Chandler misses a significant amount of time.

LeBron James on the Finals: “I feel good about our chances. Very good.”

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If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.

If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.

Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.

What else is he going to say?

And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.

From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.

However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.

John Wall: Bench was Wizards’ ‘downfall’

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John Wall left the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Celtics talking about how badly Washington’s bench got outscored.

Now that he has time to reflect and isn’t just speaking with raw emotion shortly after a devastating loss, how does he feel?

Wall, via CSN Mid-Atlantic

“We need to help our bench,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played.”

It starts from upstairs – just building the right bench guys and building the chemistry. That’s all it is.

I think that’s where they won the game at. I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs. He’s basically right. I don’t make excuses. I’m going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I’ll live with it. I know people will say he finished oh for 11, but I play – I took everything I had in me to keep fighting.

It’s just that their bench guys came in and played well. I think Kelly Oubre could’ve played a little bit more. I wish he would’ve played a little more than Jason. But coach makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent. I feel like those two guys could have really helped us.

Wall – eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension but reportedly unsure about signing one – is clearly telling the Wizards what he wants. Marcin Gortat similarly criticized Washington’s bench earlier in the season, and he apologized. Wall has the leverage not to stand by his assessment.

Both Wall and Gortat were right. The Wizards’ bench was the source of much of their problems.

Washington’s starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Its bench (all other lineups) got outscored 15.5 points per 100 possessions.

Only the Thunder had a similar split in net rating:

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The Wizards knew their flaw and tried to hide it. Washington’s starters played 34.2 minutes per game together in the postseason – second only to the Pacers (34.5). Wall’s heavy workload contributed to him running out of gas late in Game 7 against Boston, which Marcus Smart noted.

What can the Wizards do to upgrade their bench? Spend.

They sound committed to keeping Otto Porter, a restricted free agent this summer. But that would push them near the luxury tax – so they could scrimp on the bench in a variety of ways:

  • Don’t re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, another restricted free agent. He’s in line for a raise.
  • Trade Marcin Gortat, elevating Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup and therefore weakening the bench.
  • Trade Jason Smith, who might be expendable at his salary (especially given Wall’s comments about not wanting him to play as much) but at least still provides depth.
  • Don’t use the mid-level exception. That’s Washington’s best mechanism for adding outside help, but it’d be costly.

Will the Wizards take any of those cost-saving measures? Wall is certainly watching.

Don’t like the wait for this year’s Finals? Here’s the top 10 plays from the last two (VIDEO)

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Que the Tom Petty

Nobody is enjoying the week-long break between the end of the Eastern Conference Finals and the start of the NBA Finals (except maybe a few of the older Cavaliers players trying to get healthy). For those of us basketball junkies, we just want to get on to the two best teams in the league battling it out.We need a fix.

Here’s the best we can do today: The top 10 plays from the last two NBA Finals, the last two Cavaliers/Warriors showdowns. Courtesy the folks at NBA.com. There’s plenty of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and a big shot by Kyrie Irving made the list. Enjoy. And just try to be patient.