Going from the West back to the East, the first of today’s previews looks at the maligned New York Knicks. A big thanks to Robert for contributing the guest preview of the Knicks.
Strengths: The Knick coaching staff and its 7 seconds or less offense-first system (which excels at providing roles for players of varying abilities) remains the team’s biggest strength, after a dormant summer where the front office chose to stay away from major acquisitions and preserve cap space for 2010. Player-wise, Danilo Gallinari, last year’s first round pick, returns at full strength (if reports are to believed): playing at 60 to 70 percent his rookie year, he was already showing tantalizing flashes of what could be, and there is plenty of optimism for him as a savvy shooter and play-maker capable of playing 3 positions in D’Antoni’s system. The Knicks also have more front line depth and overall size than the 2008-09 roster.
Weaknesses: Despite more new faces, this remains a defensively-challenged roster loaded with players with expiring contracts and no real stars – mostly mercenaries of varying stripes and rookies with modest potential. Such a roster will be full of people with something to prove, but there’s a reason players like Larry Hughes, Jared Jeffries, and Eddy Curry aren’t highly coveted around the league. Two of last season’s best performers, David Lee and Nate Robinson, have been held at arm’s length by the Knicks all summer, and Lee may yet be traded before the season starts. The point guard depth is particularly worrisome, leaving the team vulnerable to what happened last season when Chris Duhon broke down after the all-star break. The team has several streaky gunners, but very few efficient scorers outside of Gallinari, Al Harrington and Robinson, and only Gallinari seems well-matched to the ball-movement ethos of D’Antoni’s system.
Outlook: Shaky, though the fact that the coaching staff wrung 32 wins out of an even thinner roster last season gives fans some hope that there may be enough improvement to make a stretch for the final playoff spot in the East. Much will hinge on how much Gallinari and Wilson Chandler improve, how well the rookies (Jordan Hill and Toney Douglas) can contribute, and how productive some of the expiring contract players can be in their drive for their next contract. Barring a move out of the blue to acquire a quality player using Lee and/or Robinson, or a player dramatically exceeding expectations, it’s hard to imagine more than 37 or 38 wins.
Last Season Record: 2-2
Both teams expected more but pretty much sucked last season. The Knicks, with 2 bright stars, adjusted to a new coach but managed to work the Raptors in a couple of the meetings. The boxscores reflect that neither team was committed to play defense and all the games were high scoring affairs. While the Knicks maintained a balanced scoring attack through the series, the story for the Raptors was Andrea Bargnani (21.7 ppg).
Its no secret that the Knicks are holding out to land the big money guy in the summer of 2010. Their roster currently looks like a hodgepodge of untradeable contracts + cast-offs + minimum players trying to prove themselves.
The Bigs: David Lee’s return to the Knicks is still in limbo, Eddy Curry is still Eddy Curry and Darko is still a mystery like the rest of the Knicks front court. I have established the strengths and weaknesses of the Raptors up front but when they play the Knicks things get changed up. D’Antoni is all about the run and gun which leads to guys playing out of position. This was a challenge for last years Raptors, but adding players who can guard and play multiple positions should pay off. There will still be isolation basketball if the Raptors manage to impose their will. David Lee is an above average rebounder who will challenge Bosh in the post, but while Gallinari may have the length and quickness to guard Andrea, experience reigns supreme.
The Wings & Guards: Mike D’Antoni doesn’t do traditional so neither is this breakdown. In all honesty, when I looked at the Knicks roster to do the G/F match up, I was left scratching my head. They probably have the most players I have never heard of! Good news is, D’Antoni can make almost anyone look good on offense. The Bad news, that strategy only nabbed them 32 wins.
When playing run and gun, it helps to have multiple ball handlers on the court who can create plays. As mentioned earlier, the ability to play multiple positions is almost a necessity. The addition of Hedo should help the Raptors immensely when trying to keep up. New players like Belinelli and Amir Johnson could benefit as well since this style lends to a team defense, athleticism and being in the right spots.
At the guard spot, Jose’s methodical approach can hurt when trying to play uptempo. On the flip side, even though the Knicks want to keep running, Duhon and Hughes don’t really fit the description when you think of a Mike D’Antoni type PG. Nate Robinson flourished last season when he was given the freedom to play his game and Rookie Jordan Hill should enjoy the same freedom as the team tries to move in the right direction.
No one is expecting anything from the Knicks this season. The clock starts ticking for them once the season is over. Even though the team may have individually talented players, I don’t see them as a threat unless we start talking about Bosh getting lured to the Big Apple.
Predicted Record: 3-1 (I just don’t think the Raptors can pull off the sweep)