Last season: The Knicks finished just a game out of the playoffs, but their final place in the standings is more than a little bit deceiving. New York had a largely dismal campaign that saw the team underachieve, especially when expectations were so high following a 54-win season and a trip to the second round of the playoffs. Injuries to multiple big men, a regression from J.R. Smith and consistently poor play from the point guard position left Carmelo Anthony trying to do it all by himself most nights, and the overall performance of the team was poor enough to see significant changes made this summer.
Signature highlight from last season: Carmelo Anthony is one of the game’s elite scorers, and he put on a stellar shooting display on Jan. 25 against the Bobcats which resulted in him scoring 62 points on 23-of-35 shooting. The Knicks were just 15-27 at the time and entered the game having lost five straight, and with this being a Friday night in Manhattan, it’s worth wondering how many season ticket holders made other plans, and missed seeing this incredible performance in person.
Key player changes: Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton were traded to Dallas in exchange for Jose Calderon and Samuel Dalembert, and New York also added Travis Outlaw and Quincy Acy via trade with the Kings.
Keys to the Knicks season:
The Triangle Offense: Phil Jackson was hired as president of basketball operations this summer, and while his health will prevent him from returning to a head coaching role on a full-time basis, he’ll be doing so by proxy as much as possible. Derek Fisher was hired as head coach, and Kurt Rambis was installed as his lead assistant — both of whom have extensive experience with the Triangle Offense that helped Jackson’s teams win all those titles. It can take time to teach, however, especially to a group of players that are completely uninitiated. New York’s offense wasn’t terrible last season (it ranked 11th in efficiency), but the Triangle is more of an equal opportunity system than whatever it was the Knicks were running under Mike Woodson. If run properly, it will not only help Anthony get the ball in a variety of positions to score, but it will do the same for his teammates, theoretically lightening his load in the process.
Fit of the new pieces: Trading away Tyson Chandler means there is a large hole in the Knicks frontcourt defense that needs to be filled, which is pretty important considering that the team ranked just 26th on that end of the floor last season. Samuel Dalembert can be a capable defender when engaged, but beyond that you’re looking at Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire, neither of whom have a reputation of being impactful defenders. While that area remains a question mark, New York massively upgraded at the point guard position with the acquisition of Jose Calderon — not only a solid floor general, but also someone who consistently ranks among the league leaders in three-point shooting percentage.
More moves on the way? The Knicks were stuck this summer without the ability to go after additional talent via free agency, mainly because of two problematic contracts that have the team over the salary cap. Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani are both in the final year of their respective deals, and combined they count for almost $35 million in salary for next season. New York is certainly eying next summer, when they’ll both come off the books in time for the team to try to be active in what’s expected to be a deep free agent market. But since the two aren’t in the long-term plans, Phil Jackson may try to move one or both to add some youth, or some talent more readily available to help the team win in the immediate future. It would likely require the Knicks giving up an asset of their own to entice someone to take on these unsavory contracts, but it isn’t out of the question, depending on who Jackson believes could be had in a trade that would fit his vision of the future.
Why you should watch: Carmelo Anthony is one of the game’s best scorers, and is one of the rare players in the league who occasionally goes through extended stretches where he seemingly can’t be stopped.
Prediction: With all of the changes, from the front office to the coaching staff to some key rotation players on the roster, it’s difficult to see this Knicks team getting off to a fast start. The Triangle Offense is complicated, and installing new offensive and defensive schemes at the same time can be a lot for players to grasp. A return to the playoffs isn’t necessarily likely, but there are only five or six teams in the East that you can pencil in as an almost certainty. New York has a chance to compete for one of the remaining spots, and in a season where championship aspirations are admittedly out of the picture, that’s really all you can ask for.