Why the New York Knicks Still Have Work to Do to Become a Contender

Phil Jackson is in the early stages of molding the New York Knicks into a contender. Jackson re-signed Carmelo Anthony and established new head coach Derek Fisher. However, the roster will need more pieces to complement Anthony and a new outlook on playing style to compete in the Eastern Conference next season. 

The Knicks’ roster has been subjected to significant changes. New York lost two starters, Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler, to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Jose Calderon, Shane Larkin, Wayne Ellington and Samuel Dalembert.

Ellington and Jeremy Tyler were subsequently traded to the Sacramento Kings for Quincy Acy and Travis Outlaw. One can argue if these trades push New York closer or further away from an NBA title but Jackson is looking at the bigger picturea picture that’s still blurry at this point.

Looking through the rosters across the league, it’s clear the Knicks won’t contend for a championship in the 2014-15 season. The nuances in their coaching strategy, implementing the triangle offense, building team chemistry and weeding out parts that don’t fit will take at least a full season.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards—all currently considered top-tier teams in the Eastern Conference—added key players to their rosters. The Wizards acquired a proven veteran in Paul Pierce, and the Bulls signed Pau Gasol as they anticipate the return of Derrick Rose.

The addition of Kevin Love and LeBron James catapult the Cavaliers into competition to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. These major offseason moves place all three teams in contention to win now, while the turnover on the Knicks roster signals a rebuilding period.

The growth process will be painful but necessary. Players must alter their mindset to operate efficiently within Jackson’s game plan. The triangle offense places emphasis on making good shot selections, court vision, movement without the ball and court spacing.

Here’s a basic summary of how the triangle offense works.

Here’s the relative fluidity Fisher and Jackson hope to see from their players in the near future:

Fisher’s top priority heading into the new season is the lack of ball movement displayed last season. The Knicks ranked 28th in the league in assists, averaging 20 assists per game. Much of this was due to frequent isolation play. Many practices will be spent on getting the ball to the right player at the right time in specific situations.

Jackson made note of the lack of chemistry in an interview with Ian Begley of ESPN.com with this statement: “Watching them play I saw guys that looked at each other like, ‘You didn’t back me up, you weren’t here when I needed help.’ There just wasn’t the right combination or feel (where) it felt like everybody was in synch all the time.”

Another question mark when fitting the pieces of the roster into the triangle is developing Andrea Bargnani’s court vision from the post position.

Luc Longley, Shaquille O’Neal and Gasol were all able to raise their assist averages playing within the offense on championship teams. None of these centers became prolific passers, but they succeeded in drawing the defense in and kicking the ball out to perimeter shooters, or making an accurate pass to the player cutting to the basket.

Bargnani doesn’t garner enough attention in the paint to collapse a defense. Throughout his career he has been highlighted as a good shooter at his sizeto elevate his game play he’ll have to become a proficient passer.

Anthony’s weight loss is great for self-preservation but it takes the Knicks a step back as contenders. According to Melo’s trainer Idan Ravin, via Marc Berman of the New York Post, the star forward’s weight loss was inspired by wanting to set an example and lead the locker room vocally.

But was the weight loss necessary to achieve the role as an absolute leader? Psychology lessons on how to motivate his teammates would have been more suitable than burning calories at the gym for Anthony’s vocal leadership deficiencies.

On the court Melo has been exceptional.

Over the past three seasons with the Knicks he’s developed into a clutch player and led the team into the playoffs in two of his three full seasons with the team.

A confidant of Anthony was quoted in the New York Post per Berman as saying, “He wants to be as athletic as he was when he was a rookie. Plus he wants to be a facilitator in the triangle and speed will help that.’’

The major caveat to Anthony’s commitment to becoming a better facilitator at the 3 is the fact he flourished as a high-scoring power forward.

In his last two seasons playing at the 4, he has vastly increased his points per game average and three-point shooting percentage. This past season, Anthony’s three-point shooting reached 40 percent. In the 2012-13 season Melo won the scoring title averaging 28.7 points per game.

It’s also worth noting he worked out with Hakeem Olajuwon prior to that season to improve his offensive attack in the post. The hard work paid off.

Anthony’s ability to back down a defender in the post to reach a certain spot on the floor will be challenged with a heightened difficulty as players will attempt to box out his thinner frame.

The Knicks’ scoring consistency takes a significant fall following Melo’s 27.4 points per game. Streaky shooter J.R Smith averaged 14.5 points per game as the second-leading scorer on the roster last season. Anthony won’t have much support as a facilitator on a team previously ranked 20th in the league in scoring, at 98.6 points per game.

The reason behind Melo’s weight loss is logical, but it comes a bit prematurely as the roster lacks enough scoring which would allow him to focus on other parts of his game.

The offseason trade sending Chandler back to the Mavericks is a major detriment to the Knicks’ interior defense. Dalembert will pose a threat inside, but he lacks the ability to play extensive minutes to help the Knicks sustain a solid front at the basket. Last season, he averaged 20.2 minutes per game in 68 starts with the Mavericks.

Chandler averaged 9.6 rebounds per game with the Knicks ranking 26th in rebounding. Without Chandler, expect players averaging double-doubles like Love, Joakim Noah and Al Jefferson to dominate the paint.

Anthony grabbed a career-high 8.1 rebounds per game as the second-leading rebounder. As a nimble small forward in the upcoming season he will contest for fewer rebounds when the Knicks need it most. Every other player on the roster averages fewer than seven rebounds per game.

The Knicks will depend on a mix of Amar’e Stoudemire, Bargnani and Dalembert for the bulk of their rebounding—all of whom have struggled in the category or will play limited minutes in the upcoming season.

Expect New York to struggle with making stops on the defensive end and creating second-chance opportunities on offense.

Improvements to reach a level of contention will require shrewd roster moves, progression from key players on the bench and exploring trade scenarios.

The starting lineup should feature Dalembert, Bargnani, Anthony, Smith and Calderon. Dalembert must be on the court to compete on the boards.

At center, Bargnani struggled last season in rebounding, grabbing 5.3 rebounds per game. The Knicks should look to bring in another defender in exchange for Bargnani before his contract expires at the end of the season. The core of the defense needs improvement.

Another defender is insurance for Iman Shumpert if he continues to struggle. On offense, he struggled as a jump-shooter; 330 of his 484 shot attempts were jump shots on 37.8 percent field-goal shooting, via nba.com. Fortunately, the third-year guard is capable of using his athleticism to attack the basket, taking advantage of the spacing within the triangle.

As a defender he’s still worth a spot in a starting lineup; it’s also the reason he remains on the trade block. Begley reports that Shump could be on the move, with an excess of guards on the roster. Shumpert’s upside is a valuable trade tool, and for the right deal he’s expendable for an established player.

It’s about winning championships. Established productive players trump potential productive players. The Cavaliers’ front office would agree, as they traded away promising rookie Andrew Wiggins for Love.

The Knicks are well-known for trading budding players too soon, but Shumpert’s trade value is worthy of landing a game-changer alongside Anthony.

Smith was openly shopped around to other teams after his shoelace antics, but still he remains, and he will expect to be a starter in the upcoming season.

If Smith’s request isn’t granted by Fisher, it will be difficult to put trust in his temperament. He still has two years on his contract, and it won’t be easy moving a publicly disgruntled player.

Placing Melo back at the 3 creates competition between Shumpert and Smith as the starting shooting guard; Smith played at the 3 while Melo played at the 4 last season.

Shumpert needs to regain his confidence on the court. Fisher can benefit from utilizing his energy as a spark off the bench. The gradual reintegration of Shump’s talents as a sixth man also helps avoid another headache from Smith.

Significant skill development from the bench will be essential in propelling the Knicks to the next level. The management of Stoudemire’s minutes should benefit Cole Aldrich. The 6’11″ center played sparingly in his first season in New York, but he displayed a glimpse of his potential, averaging 14.8 points per 100 possessions via Basketball-Reference.com.

Second-year guard Tim Hardaway Jr.’s rookie season was so impressive that he’s already coveted by the organization. According to another Begley report, the front office isn’t looking to move Hardaway—and rightfully so. He averaged 10.2 points per game as a 36 percent three-point shooter, showing early signs of stardom as a rookie.

The Knicks will reap the benefits from the budding sharpshooter off the bench in crucial moments.

It’s too early to place value on first-round draft pick Cleanthony Early’s NBA projection. However, his physical attributes are valuable to the triangle offense.

Early has similar physical advantages to Melo—he can play a backup role at the 3, or stretch the floor as a 4. The ability to score in the paint and drive the lane creates more scoring opportunities within the triangle.

Rebounding isn’t his strong suit, but if he learns to use his body frame to crash the boards, he will quickly find himself in the rotation.

The Knicks have undeveloped talent with a system that needs to be tailored to their roster strengths. The fit between Jackson’s triangle offense and the players is inconclusive, and as a result it’s fair to say that the Knicks won’t contend this year.

Instead, Coach Fisher will experiment with starting lineups, rotations and play-calling, in an effort to get the most out of a season of learning.

More changes are inevitable as the anticipation for a talented free agent pool follows in the 2015 offseason. At that point, the Knicks will make significant moves to complement their franchise player and push the younger talent.

Until then, championship contention is a distant goal—an objective Knicks’ president Jackson views as achievable with patience.

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Carmelo Anthony on leaving Knicks: ‘It was close’

Jason Whitney New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony was coaching a celebrity game at the Barclays Center when he dished out some details about his free agency this past July. Melo said that he was close to leaving New York, but ultimately decided to stay with the Knicks, agreeing to a five-year, $124 million contract. In fact, Anthony was […] Sports-Kings – The Kings of Sports Lists – Sports bloggers that cover the NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA, fantasy sports, college sports and much more. From funny videos to pictures we have it all

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Will Carmelo Anthony Have to Reinvent Himself for NY Knicks Next Season?

The New York Knicks made exactly one splashy move this offseason: re-signing Carmelo Anthony to a five-year contract worth $124 million. All other transactions served as window dressing, with Anthony returning to play a salary-cap waiting game for the 2014-15 season, before the Knicks actually free up money to sign talented free agents next summer.

But can Anthony’s potent game fit seamlessly into the Phil Jackson system?

The present incarnation is the only scenario where Carmelo works in New York as a meaningful playoff threat. Serving under the confident leadership of Jackson, an 11-time champ as a coach, Anthony has a strong opportunity to lead the franchise to long-forgotten success in the playoffs if Jackson can build a bona fide contender around his star player.

The Knicks have been doomed before by having one great player and a decent, though not championship-caliber, cast around him. This time around, they just so happen to have a star player and a skilled scorer uniquely suited to the new system, meaning he won’t have to reinvent himself, but merely tailor his previous prowess to suit the team’s new approach. 

 

The Melo We Know

Carmelo Anthony led the league in scoring for 2012-13, then produced the best rebounding season of his career last year with 8.1 boards per game, all while carrying an otherwise discombobulated Knicks team.

Anthony will not have to reinvent himself as such, but he will certainly have to adapt his style of play to suit. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who won a national title in the only season he coached Melo, put forth that Anthony stayed in New York solely because of a belief in Jackson. As Boeheim said following Monday’s Team USA practice at West Point, per ESPN New York’s Ian Begley:

“Just from a basketball point of view it would have been better to go to Chicago because they’ve got better players. But he wanted to be in New York and he wants to see if they can turn it around there. I think that’s a great thing … He stayed because he believes Phil.”

The easy route would have been joining Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls. Instead, Anthony wants to stay in New York and build a championship contender with Jackson as rookie head coach Derek Fisher takes the helm. As Boeheim said of Fisher: “If you’re going to pick a coach who hasn’t coached, he would be the guy I would pick … He’s really smart. I think he’ll be a really good coach.”

Carmelo has bought into the incoming system; now it’s just a matter of playing in it and fostering success through ruthless efficiency and execution. The ball cannot stick; no more isolation on possession after possession after possession.

As Anthony told the New York Post‘s Fred Kerber, there is undeniable cause for optimism in New York. Melo thinks the Knicks will “absolutely” return to the playoffs, but expectations beyond that have been tempered for the time being. As Melo stated: “I can’t wait to get started. No goals. Not setting any goals, but I just can’t wait to get it back on.”

The Melo we don’t yet know is the triangle Melo, a far cry from the “iso Melo” days of Mike Woodson, among other Knicks skippers, but the new system will not be all that drastic a change for Anthony’s game, and his skill set should adapt fittingly to it.

 

Effects of the Triangle

Phil Jackson coached the triangle offense from 1989 through 1998 with the Bulls, and from 1999 to 2004 and 2005 to 2011 with the Lakers. So how did the triangle affect the production of his best scorers?

In Michael Jordan’s first season under Phil, 1989-90, he improved on his league-leading scoring average by one point per game and attempted 1.8 more shots on average while playing 1.2 fewer minutes per game. Jordan saw his rebounding and assist totals dip slightly.

In Kobe Bryant‘s first year under Jackson, 1999-00, he saw his field-goal attempts increase by 2.3 per game and his scoring went up by 2.6 points while his minutes held steady around 38 per night. Kobe’s shooting percentage ticked up slightly; he also added one extra rebound and assist per game from his 1998-99 average.

This is not to compare Melo to the “Black Mamba” or “His Airness” but merely to illustrate the effect of introducing the triangle around a team’s marquee scorer.

Anthony will still have the offense run through him, but even as he remains the focal point as with previous seasons, a game plan for success has been laid down, and the most important star has bought in on Jackson’s plan.

 

Melo in 2015

Already, Melo has lost weight to be more of a combo forward in the triangle, per Marc Berman of the New York Post.

According to an “Anthony confidant,” Melo “wants to be as athletic as he was when he was a rookie. Plus he wants to be a facilitator in the triangle and speed will help that. Some NBA opponents have confirmed Anthony’s improved fitness. Orlando Magic forward Tobias Harris worked out with Anthony in June and confirmed, He looked real good.”

A slimmed-down Melo will rely less on his size and physicality to dominate opposing small forwards, instead capitalizing on his quickness and athleticism that vexed opposition 4s trying to guard him.

There will be an adjustment period, to be sure. A whole host of new players have joined the team, chief among them the new starters in center Samuel Dalembert (who has not averaged more than 22.2 minutes per game in any of the last three seasons) and point guard Jose Calderon, both of whom will be 33 years old when the season begins.

The triangle will benefit greatly from Calderon’s three-point shooting (44.9 percent, 191 threes made) in addition to Pablo Prigioni’s marksmanship (46.4 percent from downtown last season), which placed both of them in the top five among all three-point shooters for 2013-14.

However, the jewel in the crown will be Melo‘s play in the pinch post. It will be up to Anthony to become the prototypical scorer from that floor position, where he is uniquely capable of thriving.

The lost weight will help Anthony man the small forward position, meaning highly paid and divisive big men Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani will see more duty at the 4 and 5 to complement Melo and spell Dalembert at center.

The new system will orbit not so much around Anthony reinventing himself. He will continue adapting, but no reinvention will be needed. His attitude has been subsumed under the direction of Jackson, and that’s the most significant adjustment Melo can make. Don’t expect another scoring title from Anthony, but he should see an increase in his scoring efficiency as the triangle takes hold. 

The coming season will allow the Knicks star to build a familiarity and a comfort level in the new scheme while Jackson continues constructing his ideal roster with subtle moves until the team has cap space to make a significant signing.

Now that Melo has committed to winning in New York and placed his trust in Jackson, the gradual adaptation continues for the Knicks star, from isolated scorer in a moribund offense to the focal point of a proven system. Nothing as grand as a reinvention will be required from Melo, merely an update of his style and approach.

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Surprising Name Who Will Make a Big Impact for NY Knicks in 2014-15

The New York Knicks are in need of help across the board if they are to turn things around and be competitive in the East this year, but with the help of a surprising name, they may just be able to do it.

Andrea Bargnani once again fell victim to false expectations after being acquired in exchange for three draft picks, but upon his return from injury—and in a new regime—he could still turn out to be an important player for the Knicks.

Bargnani clearly wasn’t a great fit alongside Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler, but now that the former is gone, he should be able to find minutes at center, where he’ll truly be to able help spacing, as opposed to clashing with Melo at forward.

The triangle offense should also help create open shots for the Italian, although he will need to work on his passing if the system is to work properly.

Bargnani’s 2013-14 season will be remembered for a few embarrassing moments and his career-low three-point percentage, but it wasn’t all bad, and there were some positives to take before he bowed out with injury.

For starters, Bargnani was actually one of the few players who put in consistent effort on a rather apathetic team, highlighted by his aggressive head-to-head matchup with Kevin Garnett in December and the injury that ended his season while he was driving to the rim.

Admittedly, Bargnani was still fairly pathetic as a team defender, although he did manage to record a career high in rebounds per 36 minutes (not that 6.4 is particularly impressive) and had his moments as a one-on-one defender.

At this point, Bargnani has faded almost completely into the background. No one’s talking about him anymore, and the general consensus, understandably, is that he brings nothing to the table other than his expiring $11.5 million contract.

However, there is still a chance Bargnani could turn into a real contributor for the Knicks. He’s in a contract year and has every incentive to work hard. He has also been reunited with Jose Calderon.

The last time he was in a contract year with Calderon as his point guard, he averaged a very efficient 17.2 points per game and earned a five-year contract from the Toronto Raptors, which didn’t seem quite so bad at the time. 

New York is unlikely to bring back Bargnani in any scenario, but the center is very much playing for his next NBA contract. He’ll be a completely unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career next season and stands to take a huge pay cut on his current contract at this rate.

Even Phil Jackson is of the belief that Bargnani will fit well in his system.

“He’s overlooked. We think he’s going to really do well in the system we have,” Jackson said on MSG Network during Summer League, per the New York Daily News. “We have a couple of guards he likes to play with, Jose Calderon and Pablo Prigioni, and I think he’s going to be a surprise and a pleasant one for our fans.”

Chemistry with the two point guards is going to be very important, as is the additional spacing afforded by Chandler’s departure, and Bargnani has the skill set to capitalize on it if he puts in the effort.

Bargnani has always had the talent to be an efficient role player, but no coach has been able to bring it out of him. If anyone can finally do it, you’d have to think the Zen Master would be the one, especially with Bargnani in a contract year and playing with his favorite point guard again.

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Can New York Knicks Sneak into Eastern Conference Title Hunt?

If New York Knicks fans were still holding out hope that the 2014-15 would find them back in the conference-title title hunt, Carmelo Anthony’s recent appraisal—“I do not expect to win a championship this year”—must’ve been disheartening indeed.

With a spotty supporting cast and new leadership at the controls, the Knicks don’t exactly strike an intimidating pose. Throw in the return of Derrick Rose and LeBron James’ latest superteam, and the prospects sure seem downright dreary.

Until you realize the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls are quite literally the Eastern Conference’s only two sure things, and so double back to the original question: Can the Knicks actually sneak into Eastern Conference conversation?

In ranks this unpredictable, anything is possible.

To be sure, with training camp mere weeks away, the Knicks face more rotational uncertainty than just about any other NBA team. Beyond Anthony and the newly-acquired Jose Calderon, three of New York’s five starting slots are wholly up for grabs.

Complicating matters even further, head coach Derek Fisher wields the unenviable task of installing a brand new offensive system—Phil Jackson’s triangle, or some hybrid thereof—completely from scratch. Even with the form’s master in the Knicks’ midst, reorienting a team for years beholden to isolation-heavy offense toward one of the game’s most nuanced and complicated schemes won’t exactly be paint-by-numbers easy.

That the Knicks could stumble out of the gate is, at this point, a distinct possibility. But the quicker Fisher can secure full basketball buy-in—particularly from Anthony—the better chance New York has of remaining in the playoff fold.

To his credit, Jackson has pulled out just about every stop possible to prepare the Knicks for the looming transition.

“Given what little resources the Knicks had, Jackson’s offseason activity—from acquiring Jose Calderon to drafting Cleanthony Early to re-signing Anthony–equates to him working small miracles,” Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale recently wrote. “The Knicks are a deeper, more well-rounded team on paper, built to contend for the playoff spot they missed last year.”

For his part, Melo seems more than keen on redefining his role as the team’s unquestioned leader. Case in point: Anthony’s recent, very noticeable weight loss, the product of a stricter diet and workout regimen implemented by his trainer, Idan Ravin.

“Amazing people have been hired over there and he wants to come in as the leader and a top-three player in the world,’’ Ravin recently told Marc Berman of the New York Post. “If [he’s] being meticulous, you should not just follow [his] word, but follow [his] actions.’’

Beyond Anthony, the Knicks are awash in uncertainty. Can J.R. Smith rebound from a slump season? Will Iman Shumpert finally assert himself as the team’s unquestioned shooting guard? What About Tim Hardaway Jr.? How much game remains in Amar’e Stoudemire’s knees? Has Andrea Bargnani already worn out his welcome?

Still, if the Knicks can expect any return from Jackson’s planned overhaul of New York’s sense of culture and community—one of the principal talking points of the Zen Master’s inaugural press conference back in March—it stands to reason some of these questions will yield promising answers.

All this will be moot without a vast improvement on the basketball court, of course. Even so, New York’s improved depth and positional coherency should make them a lock to make last year’s 3-13 start to the season a distant memory.

From there, it’s largely a matter of counting on the flaws of conference foes to rear their own ugly heads.

The Miami Heat? Impressive as their on-the-fly rebuild was, they have chemistry and cohesiveness issues of their own to sort out.

The Indiana Pacers? They’ll be hard-pressed to recover from the losses of Paul George and Lance Stephenson.

The Brooklyn Nets? The health of Deron Williams and Brook Lopez will, once again, be paramount. And that’s before you even get to Paul Pierce and Shaun Livingston’s respective departures.

The Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors? Last year’s surprising success could easily turn the other way. Ditto the Charlotte Hornets and Atlanta Hawks.

Biased though he may be, Fisher at least seems to sense the East landscape for what it is: rife with mines, to be sure, but with enough in the way of space between for a halfway competent outfit to navigate it without incident. From Berman:

My opinion is, based on our roster and who we’re going to become, we can compete for playing in the playoffs and playing for a championship in the Eastern Conference. When that happens, putting dates on it, that’s not my job…I believe in our guys. Even if nothing else changes, we’re good enough to be a playoff team in the Eastern Conference, but we have to go out and prove it.

The Knicks of the past two seasons have been nothing if not enigmatic. Looking back, New York’s 54-win blitzkrieg in 2012-13 was as unexpected as last year’s chaotic crash. Chalk last season’s swoon up to what you will—coaching, a too-nebulous offensive system, sheer happenstance—but it’s by no means obvious that that Knicks teams was somehow a more faithful representation of the talent and tactics at hand than the one of two years ago.

All of which dissipates in the wake of a simpler truth: When you have one of the game’s most gifted scorers at your disposal, pleasant surprises are far from a mere flight of fancy.

For as much as New York might be looking forward to the summer of 2015, with its impending cap relief and ranks of potential free agents, saving face this season would go a long way in repositioning itself as a promise-laden destination.

Carmelo Anthony was 100 percent right in saying the Knicks don’t stand a chance to win the championship. But given where they’ve been and where they plan to go, success should be measured not by being the best, but being among them.

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Knicks expected to trade Amar’e Stoudemire to Philadelphia 76ers

Believe it or not, Amar’e to the 76ers is the perfect trade — Mandatory Credit: William Perlman/The Star-Ledger
Amar’e Stoudemire is a series of unfortunate events.
Who would think that the Philadelphia 76ers — or anyone for that matter — would be willing to take on the New York Knicks big man and his anvil of a contract? But alas, reports are coming out that the 76ers want the NBA’s 2nd highest paid player in Stoudemire.
In fact, the trade is perfect — so perfect that Basketball Insiders writer Steve Kyler expects it to happen at the deadline in February.
NBA’s latest quarry — blown to smithereens — needs some filling. The 76ers got so far into exploding their roster they burrowed themselves too deep. In order to meet the cap minimum, they need a big contract like Stoudemire’s. It just so happens that the Knicks want the fire-extinguisher-punching, game-missing power forward out of town.
If Phil Jackson wants change in New York, it means the departure of Stoudemire. Right now, Jackson

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What New York Knicks Must Do to Climb Back into 2015 Playoff Picture

Redemption is only a playoff berth away for the New York Knicks.

The stench of last season’s 37-win disaster still lingers. No amount of coaching, roster or systematic changes will erase the memory of a lottery-lost campaign that sent the Knicks and their fans into a panic-stricken frenzy.

What would happen next? What could Phil Jackson do without any cap space? Would Carmelo Anthony leave for the win-now Chicago Bulls?

Given what little resources the Knicks had, Jackson’s offseason activity—from acquiring Jose Calderon to drafting Cleanthony Early to re-signing Anthony–equates to him working small miracles. The Knicks are a deeper, more well-rounded team on paper, built to contend for the playoff spot they missed last year.

Only flirting with a postseason appearance won’t constitute success. Not after Anthony was overcome with enough optimism to guarantee one.

“Yeah, I think so for sure,” he said when asked if the Knicks would return to the playoffs next year, per the New York Post‘s Fred Kerber. “Absolutely.”

Making good on that promise is essential. It just won’t be easy.

 

Offensive Preeminence

There is only offense in New York. 

Next year’s Knicks aren’t built to defend. They flipped their best, albeit intermittently disinterested, defender in Tyson Chandler for a middling protector in Samuel Dalembert and a defensive liability in Calderon. Even when factoring in Raymond Felton’s departure, they didn’t upgrade defensively.

Such action invokes a new mandate: Score, score, score. 

Last season’s Knicks ranked 11th in offensive deficiency. That’s not going to be enough. They’re a group that needs to finish in the top seven or top five of offensive efficiency to really establish themselves as a threat.

To do that, the Knicks will turn to Jackson’s famed triangle offense—or some version of it. Derek Fisher was hired as Mike Woodson’s successor for that reason: to implement the system he won five NBA championships in.

Bits and pieces of what the Knicks need are already in place. Calderon is a triangle-ready floor general who can make an impact on or off the ball, they have a glut of wings ready to contribute and—most importantly—Anthony has slimmed down with the intention of taking his game to a different, more profound level.

“He wants to be as athletic as he was when he was a rookie,’’ an Anthony confidant told The New York Post‘s Marc Berman. “Plus he wants to be a facilitator in the triangle and speed will help that.’’

Grasping the intricacies of the triangle is paramount for everyone involved, and, incidentally, everyone must be involved. 

This is a system the Knicks are trying to install. They’re trying to be the San Antonio Spurs without actually being the Spurs.

Succeeding within the triangle demands players make reads and have foresight. It’s a cohesive ball of energy in which hero ball is embraced only as a bailout or last resort.

“It can be manipulated to run almost anything: low-post chances, elbow isolations, pick and rolls, spot-up threes, anything,” Bleacher Report’s Zach Buckley wrote. “It’s all about reading and reacting to the defense, a process that ideally becomes organic over time.”

Time is something the Knicks won’t have if they wish to end their brief playoff sabbatical. They’ll need to excel in the system immediately.

Anthony will have to become a full-time facilitator and scorer. J.R. Smith, Pablo Prigioni, Iman Shumpert, Tim Hardaway Jr., Andrea Bargnani, Calderon, Early and everyone else must become accustomed to moving and acting without the ball for stretches at a time the way New York’s “Summer Knicks” did.

The Knicks will need to resemble the offensive force they were during the final 30 games of last year, when they boasted the league’s sixth-best offense. Only they’ll have to match that potency from start to finish, for a full 82 contests, without games-long furloughs and deviations from what must be a new norm.

 

About That Defense…

Offensive perfection is impossible to reach and subsequently sustain.

For all the Knicks are built to do on offense, they’re not emblematic of the perfect triangle model. They lack one critical part of said system: a playmaking big man.

Unless Amar’e Stoudemire, Cole Aldrich, Jason Smith and Dalembert are poised for career passing years that see them steal Pau Gasol‘s court vision, there promises to be growing pains on the offensive end. To keep the good vibrations rolling, they’ll need to do what they couldn’t last season and hold their own defensively. 

And that won’t be easy. Or perhaps even possible.

Woodson’s switch-happy, “Who am I guarding again?” Knicks finished 24th in defensive efficiency last year. Matching that standing might wind up being an accomplishment worthy of fist- and chest-bumping parties. That’s how feeble they figure to be defensively.

Rim protection will come at a premium for a team that doesn’t have an established shot-blocker. Neither Stoudemire nor Dalembert has the lift left to consistently contest shots at the rim—not that Stoudemire ever partook in such activities—and Bargnani remains a defensive disaster. 

Smith should be able to provide situational minutes at the 5 and somewhat deter dribble drives and point-blank opportunities, but he’s not your ideal iron guardian, either. Aldrich is now the Knicks’ best interior presence, which Bleacher Report’s Fred Katz paints as a borderline good picture:

The four-year vet averaged 3.3 blocks per 36 minutes last season, and swatted 8.1 percent of two-point shot attempts while he was on the floor, a figure that would lead the league by a hefty margin if strung out over enough minutes. And on a team that has just one guy who consistently defends on the perimeter (the Knicks need you, Iman), rim protection is a skill Derek Fisher’s squad can’t take for granted.

If you’re not going to stay in front of ball-handlers, you better have someone behind them. And now, Aldrich can actually go out and attack offensive players.

While problematic, though, rim protection isn’t the Knicks’ greatest defensive issue. They ranked in the top 12 of field-goal percentage allowed within five feet of the basket last year, and the 39.5 points per game they permitted in the paint was sixth-best in the league, per TeamRankings.com.

That the Knicks were able to maintain a semblance of respectability in that department—all while allowing opposing point guards to torch them—despite Chandler missing 27 games is encouraging. The chaos that ensued beyond the arc is not.

Opponents drilled 37.1 percent of their three-point attempts against the Knicks last season. Only the Milwaukee Bucks, Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings—not one of whom won more than 28 games—were worse.

Corner threes killed the Knicks more than anything. Opposing squads combined to shoot better than 39 percent from either corner when facing New York last season.

Pick-and-rolls created problems everywhere on the floor for the Knicks too. They ended last year with the worst defense against pick-and-rolls in the league, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required). It rarely mattered how or where the play ended; the Knicks were simply terrible.

Improvement starts on the perimeter. Last year’s perimeter players—with the oft-exception of Shumpert—were leaky faucets. Ball-handlers came off screens, and the Knicks looked confused and lost and then reacted the only way they knew how: by switching their way to implosion.

Somehow, someway that needs to change. They need to control the pace of games better and defend with consistency.

In lieu of numerous defensive stoppers, they’ll need internal development—player epiphanies that culminate in the defensively useless becoming useful, lest the burden of success fall solely on their offense.

 

Keeping Pace

Pinpointing exactly what the Knicks must do to reach the playoffs next season is difficult because of how incalculable it is.

They need to score a lot, because duh. They need to actually play defense, because obviously.

They need to fare better than last season, because yeah.

More than where and how they must improve, it matters what their tweaking and fiddling must amount to: keeping pace with other playoff teams.

This Knicks team wouldn’t sniff the postseason in the Western Conference, where powerhouses are standard and (most) one-sided outfits are eaten alive, then spit out for good measure.

Lucky for the Knicks, they play in the Eastern Conference—the much-improved, though-still-wide-open Eastern Conference.

At least 10 Eastern Conference teams project to contend for playoff spots next season, and that’s assuming the Indiana Pacers fall outside the postseason picture without Paul George.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors and Charlotte Hornets all look like playoff locks after making substantial additions or staying strong over the offseason. Throw the Miami Heat in there too. They couldn’t have rebounded any better from losing LeBron James to the Cavaliers.

That realistically means six playoff teams are already accounted for, barring catastrophic injuries. That also means the Knicks will have to beat out two of the Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets to breathe postseason air again.

Possible? 

Absolutely.

Likely?

Well, that’s up to the Knicks. It’s up to their need-to-be-dominant offense. It’s up to their unpredictable defense. It’s up to Anthony and his ability to continue playing like a top-seven superstar. 

It’s up to this Knicks team actually becoming a team. 

Keep pace with and ultimately surpass most of the Eastern Conference’s fringe playoff contenders, and the Knicks will be fine, their lottery-dwelling over, their ill-fated 2013-14 crusade a distant memory.

 

*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com unless otherwise cited.


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Can Cole Aldrich Play Real Role for the NY Knicks Next Season?

The New York Knicks need a rim protector. Good thing they already have one.

The team that finished 24th in points allowed per possession last season could use major defensive help on the perimeter and in the paint for the upcoming year. But the Knicks defense isn’t completely hopeless for 48 minutes. It does have one guy who was possibly underutilized throughout last season: Cole Aldrich.

Aldrich, who re-signed with the Knicks in July, averaged only 7.2 minutes a night last year, getting into just 46 games. He’s never played more than 8.6 minutes per game in his four-year career. But it may finally be time for him to get some burn.

The Knicks don’t have an abundance of defensive personnel. Going through the roster leaves you wondering exactly how many above-average defenders they have. 

Iman Shumpert is certainly in that category. Samuel Dalembert still has defensive value. Jason Smith does as well, though he can be inconsistent. But is that it? 

The rest of the roster seems to be far more offensive-minded. But then there’s Aldrich, the seldom-played former 11th overall pick who once averaged 5.2 blocks per 40 minutes while wearing blue and white in Lawrence, Kansas. 

Dan Devine of Yahoo Sports realizes just how much the Knicks’ woeful defense could hurt this team:

With the possible exceptions of Shumpert and little-used center Cole Aldrich, this roster features no player who seem capable of being as anything better than slightly-above-average on defense. That’s not the kind of foundation on which playoff teams are typically built. Even improving to something like the No. 20 defense in the league might be a hard sell for these Knicks, and if the offense takes any kind of step backward as it goes through Triangle growing pains, it’s going to be tough to crack back into the top eight.

At first, Aldrich didn’t adapt fluidly to NBA basketball. His offensive game wasn’t particularly refined, he got bullied down low and his feet didn’t move as quickly as his mind. Now, Aldrich is different.

He’s probably never going to live up to what many thought he could be when the Oklahoma City Thunder traded for him on draft night, but with new, reset expectations, Aldrich can help this Knicks team—mainly because he’s a plus defender who can play on the back line.

Above all else, Aldrich is a rim protector, the one guy the Knicks have who can honestly retain that title. 

The four-year vet averaged 3.3 blocks per 36 minutes last season, and swatted 8.1 percent of two-point shot attempts while he was on the floor, a figure that would lead the league by a hefty margin if strung out over enough minutes. And on a team that has just one guy who consistently defends on the perimeter (the Knicks need you, Iman), rim protection is a skill Derek Fisher’s squad can’t take for granted.

If you’re not going to stay in front of ball-handlers, you better have someone behind them. And now, Aldrich can actually go out and attack offensive players.

Often, guys will pop against Aldrich when they set ball-screens. That’s on his ability to intimidate at the rim, and the former KU star has become much more adept at closing out on those who do stray from the paint to shoot jumpers against him. 

On this play from last March, he closes out in time on DeMarcus Cousins to force DMC toward the basket. When the guy, who is arguably the most skilled offensive center in the league, penetrates to the hoop, Aldrich stuffs him:

This all starts when Cousins sets a weak screen on Pablo Prigioni during this short pick-and-roll. 

Failing to body up Prigs allows Aldrich, who is a better athlete than he gets credit for, to close out on Cousins once he gets the ball, taking away the 14-footer that he’s eyeing.

Cousins is still developing as a passer. His first instinct often tells him to score. Once Aldrich takes away the shot, he knows Boogie is going right and stays in front of him for as long as he should.

Aldrich is quick enough to keep his chest squared to Cousins, but once he gets to the restricted area, he halts—as Cousins leaves his feet—and goes for the block:

This is what the great shot blockers do. DeAndre Jordan is the king of this style, which can be high-risk, leading to fouls if executed poorly considering it involves pendulum-like arm swinging. But if a guy has the ability to wait for the scorer to make the first move, that’s how to get blocks in these scenarios. 

Cousins’ feet leave the floor before Aldrich’s, not only showing the Knicks center’s ability to understand tendencies and fundamentals but also displaying an underrated athleticism, an ability to end his momentum as he gets to the restricted area and propel forward to stuff a dominant player at the rim. It’s a skill that is valuable in a backup center, and one that Dalembert, Smith, Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire don’t possess.

The Knicks defense needs Aldrich for that reason alone. Add in an 18.6 percent career rebound rate, in line with those of Chandler, Tim Duncan and Kevin Love, and throwing Aldrich into the rotation should be a no-brainer, considering the Knicks’ struggles on the glass. 

It may not seem like he can sway their season, but for 15-plus minutes a night, Aldrich can alter an opponent’s offensive execution more than any other big on the Knicks’ roster. It’d be foolish to let that go unnoticed for a second consecutive year.

 

Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at RotoWire.com, WashingtonPost.com or on ESPNs TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are current as of August 20 and are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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Carmelo: Knicks will ‘absolutely’ make playoffs

Not only does Carmelo Anthony have a new, slimmer physique, the New York Knicks star has a new, positive outlook on the prospect of the team enjoying success next season. A few weeks after stating that he does not believe the Knicks have a championship-caliber roster, Anthony hedged his bets by taking a step back […] The post Carmelo Anthony says the Knicks will ‘absolutely’ be in playoffs next season appeared first on Sportress of Blogitude.

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Carmelo Anthony says the Knicks will ‘absolutely’ be in playoffs next season

Not only does Carmelo Anthony have a new, slimmer physique, the New York Knicks star has a new, positive outlook on the prospect of the team enjoying success next season. A few weeks after stating that he does not believe the Knicks have a championship-caliber roster, Anthony hedged his bets by taking a step back […] The post Carmelo Anthony says the Knicks will ‘absolutely’ be in playoffs next season appeared first on Sportress of Blogitude.

View full post on Yardbarker: NBA

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