Last season: 42-40 — good enough for a middling playoff seed and a first round sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics.
Head Coach: Mike D’Antoni, who has an intriguing roster but will have to step out of his comfort zone. As a playmaker, Toney Douglas isn’t Steve Nash…or Raymond Felton…or Chauncey Billups. As such, D’Antoni’s typically PG-heavy offense will have to evolve in order to better feature Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, all while keeping everything from devolving into an intolerably lengthy series of isolation plays.
Key Departures: Chauncey Billups, Ronny Turiaf
Key Additions: Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert, Mike Bibby, Baron Davis
Best case scenario: Chandler becomes the centerpiece of a competent (but obviously sub-elite) defense, and the Knicks’ offense soars behind the sheer power of the team’s two highly productive scorers. That pushes New York toward a favorable playoff seed, a first round victory, and an improbable second-round toppling of a deflated Boston Celtics squad. The Heat still swoop in to quickly usher the Knicks out of the postseason, but what really matters is the journey, not the destination, right?
For that to happen: Toney Douglas will have to Do What Toney Douglas Do each and every damn night. Mike Bibby, Baron Davis and Iman Shumpert each have their strengths, but Douglas is the team’s best option at the point, and he’ll have to make the most of a pretty incredible opportunity. (Davis will give you flashes of brilliance but more consistently bad decisions, like pull up threes 5 seconds into the shot clock, taking shots away from ‘Melo, Stoudemire. And his defense will put more of a strain on Chandler. Douglas is the better option.)
That goes beyond shooting well from the perimeter (which Douglas often do) and pestering every defender in sight; Douglas will need to be a more functional creator this season than he has been in years past, and help Stoudemire, Anthony, and Chandler fit into a coherent offensive system. That’s a lot of responsibility to put on a player who’s only played limited minutes to date, but the situation calls for Douglas, and New York hopes he’ll call back. Or at least text or something?
Beyond that, the non-Chandler Knicks will have to make their newly acquired center’s life as easy as possible. That means no more pointing for you, Melo. And no more biting on pump fakes for you, Amar’e. Keep your man in front of you, shuffle those feet, and let Chandler serve as a safeguard rather than a one-man team defense. He’s clearly capable of providing a dominant defensive influence, but the degree of difficulty in New York is far higher than it ever was in Dallas.
More likely, the Knicks will: Boast one of the league’s best offenses, but nonetheless allow their defense to get them into some serious trouble. Chandler will be killing himself to thwart pick-and-rolls and challenge drives to the hoop, but the various defensive sieves on the roster (Anthony and Bibby being the prime offenders) could create more turmoil than he could ever hope to counter.
New York’s robust scoring is enough to nab a solid playoff seed and a first round victory, but this team just isn’t yet equipped to grapple with the truly elite clubs. A second-round out by the hand of the Bulls or Heat seems imminent.
Prediction: 40-26, good for the East’s fourth seed.