Thursday, November 4, 2010

New York Knicks: What To Look For In 2010-11

2009-10 Regular Season: 29-53
2009-10 Playoffs: N/A
Additions: Amar’e Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, Kelnna Azubuike, Anthony Randolph, Ronny Turiaf, Timofey Mozgov, Landry Fields, Roger Mason, Andy Rautins
Key Losses: David Lee, Al Harrington, Chris Duhon, Eddie House
Projected Rotation Players: Amar’e Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Landry Fields, Timofey Mozgov, Ronny Turiaf, Anthony Randolph, Toney Douglas, Bill Walker

Look for the 2010-11 New York Knicks to be the franchise’s most exciting and likeable in a decade- and to restore hope at MSG.

Perception is all about managing expectations.

After all of that plotting and positioning, the much-vaunted “Summer of 2010” came and went, with neither LeBron James nor Dwyane Wade opting to become the face of hoops in the Big Apple. In that sense, the past two years- essentially lost years, with virtually all personnel moves aimed at freeing up cap space- are a disappointment. With that said, this organization, which has itself been lost for the past decade, has made major strides, emptying its bloated colostomy bag of ill-advised contracts, replacing it with cap flexibility, and retooling the roster with actual NBA-caliber talent.

Gone are, among others, Isiah Thomas, Stephon Marbury, Jared Jeffries, Larry Hughes, Jerome James and Quentin Richardson. In their place, Donnie Walsh (a key acquisition himself) has brought in Mike D’Antoni to man the bench, near-elite PF Amar’e Stoudemire (who excelled under D’Antoni in Phoenix) to be his star and loaded the roster with young (or at least not past-their-prime), NBA-quality players, all of whom have extremely cap-friendly contracts.

In Amar’e, the Knicks acquired their best player since Patrick Ewing and the first eight-figure salary of the post-Ewing era that will not make the fan base want to vomit in its collective mouth. At the offensive end, Amar’e is a matchup nightmare for opposing bigs- awesome on the pick-and-roll, able to handle the ball, athletic, nimble, with soft hands and a jumper that’s reliable to ~20 feet, making him a weapon on the pick-and-pop as well. It’s possible that his performance may slip a bit now that he’s no longer playing alongside Steve Nash, but the fact is that Amar’e’s got a sublime offensive skill set.

It should be noted, however, that for all of his athleticism and agility, outside of being a decent shotblocker, Amar’e is something of a disaster defensively- especially on the pick-and-roll. However, it should also be noted that if he stays healthy and puts up 24 and 12 for an exciting and improving team, this will not matter one bit. After a brutal decade, the MSG crowd wants a star that it can latch on to. Knicks fans desperately want to like Amar’e, and if he becomes the face of a likeable team that bring hope back to the Garden, they will not nitpick.

The man tasked with making the Knicks run smoothly on the floor is former Bobcats PG Raymond Felton, a more-than-capable lead guard who signed a two-year, $14.6 million deal over the summer. The brevity of Felton’s contract is a bit unusual for a player of his caliber, but stands to potentially benefit both parties. The short-term deal Felton with an opportunity to audition on a huge stage for long-term, big-money contract, while giving the Knicks an above-average point guard until the summer of 2012, when Chris Paul (the latest object of NYC's affection) becomes a free agent.

One the wings the 2010-11 Knicks feature a good amount of firepower, led by third-year sharpshooter and MSG favorite Danilo Gallinari, potential super-sub Wilson Chandler, rookie SG Landry Fields, Kelenna Azubuike, Roger Mason, former can’t-miss prospect Bill Walker and the object of every scout’s mancrush (I’m unfairly almost out on this guy!), moody but talented swingman, Anthony Randolph.

Joining Amar’e up front are “glue guy,” solid defender (found one!) and future MSG fan favorite (take this to the bank!) Ronny Turiaf and athletic seven-footer and FIBA World Championships standout Timofey Mosgov. Hope are high for the Russian rookie, who at 7’1”-270 has the size of a center, but the agility of a smaller player. He’ll be a factor right away at the defensive end and on the glass (with David Lee gone, all help here will be welcome), and has an efficient offensive game on which to build.

Bottom line: For the first in years, the Knicks are young, skilled, athletic and likeable. Combine this with Mike D’Antoni’s uptempo, fan-friendly system and fans at the Garden should take a liking to this team pretty quickly. Between having a good point guard in a PG-centric system, Amar’e’s (sure to be) excellent work in the paint and on the glass and plenty of open looks for Gallinari, points will not be short supply for the 2010-11.

However, as tends to be the case with D’Antoni’s teams, there are not a whole lot of defensive stops to be found here. In a trend that began with Rajon Rondo’s 24-assist explosion, look for a number of opposing players to put up some big numbers against the Knicks this season.

This team will struggle against smart, well-organized defensive units, but boasts enough weapons on offense to outscore a majority of teams. Think of these Knicks as a poor man’s version of D’Antoni’s Suns. Heading into the season, Vegas had the over-under on regular seasons wins for the Knicks at 35.5. This number’s probably not too far off, but given the infusions of talent, stability and positivity that this franchise has received, look for the Knicks to end the regular season in the neighborhood of 40 wins.

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