The New York Knicks, in the eyes of their faithful fans and in their own eyes, believe that they will be a much improved team from a year ago and will find success in the unpredictable eastern conference. Many of the players see themselves cementing a top-five seed in the eastern conference, however the Knickerbockers are an ‘on-paper’ and a ‘if this happens’ team meaning that they are not without their fair share of question marks and worries. If the Knicks are to be a top five or even a top four team, and secure home court advantage for the first round, a lot has to correctly fall into place. For New York to be successful this upcoming year, who will prove to be the most critical ingredient?
Kristaps Porzingis was not featured in this piece as he will produce, and it would be astounding or jaw dropping if he were to regress from his rookie campaign. Porzingis is alongside Rose and Anthony on the offensive end which will see him have countless open looks which with the work he has put in during the offseason, will fall. He may see a drop in rebounds and blocks per game simply due to the fact that he is playing alongside a defensive force in Joakim Noah. Basically, Porzingis isn’t an x-factor and he will definitely produce, meaning that New York’s success won’t hinge upon him.
Joakim Noah was also omitted from this piece due to the fact that he will consistently be doing he’ll be paid to do and the coaching staff won’t have to worry about it. Noah isn’t an offensive player but he will defend, rebound, hustle and talk without fault. There are no ‘ifs and buts’ with Noah, you can count on him doing these things which translates to meaning that the Knicks’ success will not depend on him. If you like, New York’s success majority depends on the question marks.
In my not-so-professional opinion, no single player or factor will catapult the orange and blue into contention in the Eastern Conference, but rather a multitude of ingredients mixing well together will do so.
The Knicks have known for the better part of two seasons that they needed to find a replacement for the ineffective Jose Calderon and that came to fruition in June when New York acquired Derrick Rose from the Chicago Bulls.
Rose displayed that he is still one of the better point guards in the league that in the last 21 games of the season Rose put up 18.4 points per game, 4.8 assists per game and 3.1 rebounds per game on 47% from the field and 38% from long distance, which as he third fiddle, is impressive. This also bodes well for New York, in that when compared to first half of the year, where Rose put up 15.5 points per game, 4.4 assists per game and 3.4 rebounds per game on lowly 40% from the field and a woeful 25% from long range. The numbers do not lie and clearly Rose came along in leaps and bounds following the All-Star break.
Rose will be instrumental and the key factor in getting the offence in motion in regards to the first option which is to run and attack an unset defence. Rose displayed last year that he still has lightning quickness and is a problem for the opposing defence when going downhill and as the lead guard, he is critical to New York’s success offensively. As is common knowledge, both Anthony and Porzingis will attract much of the attention in the low post which will mean Rose will be open and as coach Hornacek put it “he’s going to have to shoot them”. Rose is perennially a low percentage shoot but if he able to shoot somewhat close to the 38% mark he finished the season on New York will be even stronger offensively.
The 27-year-old also not only has to be looking to score but to find open teammates as well, both in transition and in the half court (pick-and-roll). However this has been Rose’s achilles heel in that he is a serial committer of the cardinal sin of passing; leaving your feet. For his career Rose averages right on three turnovers per game and in four of his seven seasons has given the ball up more than 3.2 times per contest. Rose will have to improve this aspect of his game given that he will be in control of the ball regularly and New York have been a perennially weak team transition defensively in the past five years or so.
Rose is critical to New York’s success due to the fact that he will be the initiator of New York’s offence in transition and also handle the ball frequently in half court sets in that he has had a propensity in the past to turn the basketball over. Moreover Rose has never been a great defender and if the effort is not there it could harm the Knicks, although Noah and Porzingis will be behind him. However the greatest concern surrounding Rose, externally that is, is his health and most are familiar with his extensive injury history.
If Derrick Rose can continue to produce offensively, reduce his turnover rate as well as improve the assist to turnover ratio, play somewhat component defence and remain healthy the former league’s Most Valuable Player will prove vital to New York’s success.
Anthony, a 9x NBA All-Star and now a 4x Olympian, is New York’s unequivocal leader both through play and vocally. The 32-year-old is entering his sixth full season with the orange and blue and is New York’s elder statesman. It is quite obvious why Anthony is most vital to New York’s success, he is the centrepiece at the end of the day and the player who gets the ball when the coach says “hey, go and get us a bucket”. Anthony is the focal point of the offence for a majority of his career and despite having Rose and Porzingis around him, that will not change.
However, being the focal point doesn’t necessarily mean that Anthony has to shoot every single touch. Ideally, it should resemble something similar to that of last season where Anthony, statistically, had the best all round performance of his career. Anthony posted 21.8 points per game on 18 shots, which was the lowest average attempts since his second second season, 7.7 rebounds which is highly respectable considering he was alongside Lopez and Porzingis, as well as a career-high 4.3 assists per game, 1.1 steals per game and a career high defensive field goal percentage of 39%.
For the better part of his thirteen year career Carmelo Anthony has been labelled as a ball-stopper and also a ball hog, however the who paid close enough attention to New York last season will realise that is far from the case. Whenever Anthony posted up, his eyes were searching the floor looking for the open teammate and more often than not he’d give the ball up willingly, especially in crunch time. Further to this, Anthony also did not hesitate to push or move the ball quickly up the floor in transition, in fact of all players last year he seemed to be the one whom most wanted to quicken the tempo.
Apart from being labeled a ball stopper, the 9x All-Star has also been given the title of an incapable leader but this is just a wild assumption based on no facts whatsoever. Tim Hardaway Jr spent his first two years in New York and he was taken under Anthony’s wing and mentored, getting Hardaway Jr off to the best possible start in his professional career. Similarly. Kristaps Porzingis noted how Carmelo has been somewhat of a big brother to him and helped him deal with everything that comes along with being a lottery pick in New York City. In interviews current and former Knicks in Lance Thomas and Robin Lopez also spoke about Anthony’s leadership in that he didn’t lose an ounce of faith when things began to derail last season, but rather he was the life of the team.
Anthony is the elder statesmen of the team and he has been there and done that, being that it is his fourth Olympic Games. Anthony has shared his wealth of experience relating to the international game with his new teammates and he has helped them immensely to get through their initial struggles. Consistent with this, Durant and Jordan have both said that Anthony is the clear leader on the team and that he is taking the reins with both hands and owning it.
Anthony will be vital to New York’s success in that he needs to sustain and maintain the mindset he had last season. Anthony was the leader both on and off the floor for the Knicks and if he continues to have faith in his teammates and move the ball New York will definitely find success in the win column.
The New York Knicks only have Jennings locked in for one year and they will most definitely need him to perform at his best or something that is somewhat reminiscent of his first three seasons in the NBA. The Knicks really don’t have a bench at all. Jennings headlines it with the only other certified player being Lance Thomas. Kyle O’Quinn is inconsistent at the best of times, Holiday is unproven, Kuzminskas and Hernangomez really didn’t show anything during the Olympics and Marshall Plumlee is an undrafted rookie.
When he inked his contract and was introduced to the media, Knicks President of Basketball Operations, Phil Jackson, said to Jennings that he expects him “to go out and win Sixth man of the year”. This seems like a tall order for a player still recovering from an achilles injury however without any real bench, the weight is placed squarely on Jennings’ shoulders. The Knicks have the vast majority of their offensive firepower in the starting lineup and Jennings will be both the go-to scorer and playmaker for New York’s second unit.
Jennings has proved over the course of his career that he can score the ball, with an average of 16.6 points per game over his first six years with a high of 19.3 in the lockout-shortened 2011-12. When he is fully healthy, Jennings is lightning quick and he use this speed to get to the bucket and in the process he draws the defence’s attention which allows for him to showcase his playmaking skills. jennings, a flashy guard, takes more enjoyment in setting up a teammate with a sweet dime rather than scoring a bucket and throughout his career he has averaged 6.3 assists per game and had a career year with Detroit in 2014, dishing out an average of 7.6 assists per game.
Clearly, when healthy, Jennings is a quality player and can contribute in multiple ways. With there being a sever lack of any proven reserves on the roster, Jennings will bear a majority of the workload for the second unit and their success as a group will heavily depend on the 26-year-old’s success. It would not be farfetched to say that Jennings’ will be the Knicks bench barometer in that he is the one who’ll lead the second unit in scoring and he is the one who has to get everyone else involved and find them easy looks.
The New York Knicks have a heavily loaded starting lineup however there are questions surrounding the bench unit and it seems as though Jennings will be the driving force off the pine. The Knicks starting five will not have any issues keeping pace with other starting units but when the bench comes in that is a different story. Jennings will have to be the main man and New York’s success will hinder on how well he lead the reserves in making sure not to undo the work that the starting lineup will have done.
It is not unfair to say that the New York Knick’s success in the 2016-17 season depends, largely, on the group’s’ health. Derrick Rose has an extensive injury history and his lifetime teammate, Joakim Noah, missed the majority of last year, Brandon Jennings still showed the ill-effects of his achilles injury, Lance Thomas missed the final 18 games last season with knee issues and Carmelo Anthony had reconstructive surgery on his knee in March of 2015.
The potential problem is that New York severely lack depth. Rose will be the starting point guard and if he gets injured Jennings will step into that role but his backup will be an undrafted rookie, or maybe even Sasha Vujacic. It would be the same if Jennings were to come down with an injury.
Courtney Lee has remained relatively healthy over the duration of his career but if he were to come down with his injury it would spell trouble for the Knicks in that they already lack depth at that position. An injury to Lee would Vujacic or Holiday start and also that Vujacic would see decent minutes which is not what the fans are after.
If Carmelo Anthony or Lance Thomas were to be injured that would thrust the slight-framed 26-yeae-old rookie Mindaugas Kuzminskas into the rotation and as of right now, the Lithuanian is unproven and a big question mark. Again, this is a danger sign for New York.
There should be no worrying about the power forward spot in that Kristaps Porzingis was very durable in his rookie year, especially for someone who severely lacked muscle mass. Yes Porzingis did miss the final ten games of last season but that was just due to the simple fact that there was no point in playing him during meaningless games if there was the potential for him to do more damage. Even more is that fact that is New York’s future and it was only his first season.
Arguably the center spot proposes the most danger for the New York Knicks. Joakim Noah injured the same shoulder twice last season and it reasonable to say that his shoulder is volatile and at risk of being re-injured. Hypothetically if Noah was to go down with an injury New York would be in all sorts. Noah’s backups currently consist of two rookies; Willy Hernangomez and Marshall Plumlee. Throwing rookies of their standard into big minutes rarely has positive outcomes and nor does it get any better under the bright lights of New York City.
New York’s collective health will be critical if they are to succeed and achieve their aspirations of being a top-five team in the eastern conference.
The NBA’s opening night and first game on the docket which pins the Knicks dulling with the Cavaliers in Cleveland in around two months away. At this point in time all that can be done is to speculate and right now it is unclear who will be most vital to New York’s success. Is is Derrick Rose? Carmelo Anthony? Jennings? Everyone? Health? The question is yet to be answered and only time will tell.