Saturday, October 18, 2014

2014-14 Season Preview: New York Knicks


NEW YORK KNICKS
37-45
Atlantic Division
Coach: Derek Fisher
Power Ranking: 21





Doesn't really seem like much happened with the Knicks in the off-season.  All they did was sign Phil Jackson as their GM, pick Derek Fisher to be their head coach, re-sign Carmelo Anthony to a massive five-year, $124M contract and trade Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton for Jose Calderon
and other assets.  While the change has been immense in New York, they lack the pieces to make Phil Jackson's vision become reality, and 2014-15 could be another development year for the Knicks.  Still on the Knicks' "to-do list" is the acquisition of a passing PF who can facilitate the Triangle offense, and finding depth up and down the roster.  

With Jackson and Anthony in tow, the Knicks are, if nothing else, relevant again.  Signing Andrea Bargnani and Amar'e Stoudemire to massive contracts set the Knicks back a few years, as they failed to provide reliable help to Carmelo Anthony.  In New York since the 2010-11 season, Melo has only produced one playoff series win (2012-13, Boston) and his squad failed to make the post-season last year.  With so much money invested in the team, a squandered season like last year's was bound to bring some changes.  Most of those changes came in the form of a front office and coaching shake-up, with major roster changes expected following this season.  The Knicks could conceivably cut up to $50 million dollars off of their payroll before the summer of 2015, as the bloated deals to Bargnani and Stoudemire both expire.  With all of that money freeing up, the Knicks are in a good position to make a run at any of the big name free agents likely to be available in 2015.  Don't be surprised if they make a run at (and possibly sign) a guy or two from the group of elite free agents, such as Rajon Rondo and Marc Gasol.  They will also likely be contenders for second-tier helpers such as Brook Lopez, Greg Monroe, Arron Afflalo and Paul Millsap.  With the light at the end of the tunnel, the Knicks may just be hoping that this season moves quickly.


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STATISTICAL ANALYSIS
Off. Eff.
Def. Eff.
FTr 3PAr TS% OReb.% DReb.% TOV%
105.4(11th) 106.5(24th) .248 .302 54.1% 25.1% 74.3% 12.5%

The Knicks were one of the league's better offenses last year, thanks in large part to another stellar year from Carmelo Anthony.  One source for the Knicks' offensive success was their excellent ability to take care of the basketball.  New York finished 4th in the league in TOV% a season ago, a number that isn't likely to change with the acquisition of sure-handed PG Jose Calderon.  Calderon's 11.7 TOV% last season ranked 3rd in the league among PGs.  The Knicks also excelled shooting the ball, finishing 10th in the NBA in 3P% at 37.2%.  Replacing Raymond Felton with Calderon should help the Knicks maintain or improve that number.  Areas of improvement for the Knicks include offensive rebounding (18th in OReb%) and getting to the FT line (25th in FTr).

On defense the Knicks were abysmal, as their inability to get stops kept them out of the playoffs in the weak Eastern Conference.  The Knicks finished 9th in opp. TOV%, 18th in opponent 2P% and DReb%; and those were their best metrics.  New York struggled to defend on the perimeter, allowing the league's 2nd-highest opponent 3PA-rate.  Knicks' opponents took 30% of their FG attempts from behind the arc and connected on 37.1% of those attempts, the 5th-highest mark in the league.  The Knicks were also horrendous at guarding without fouling, finishing 29th in opp. FTr.  With defensive anchor Tyson Chandler back in Dallas, the Knicks may be bad defensively again.  The addition of Calderon also figures to hurt the team's defense.

STYLE OF PLAY

Phil Jackson's Triangle offense is the world's best-known basketball offense.  He'll be trusting former Lakers' PG Derek Fisher to convey the system to the Knicks this season, in hopes of optimizing an already productive offense.  Chuck Klosterman took an excellent look at the mystery that is the Triangle offense.  Klosterman begins by admitting that despite interviewing several head coaches, he still doesn't completely understand the concepts.  However, he does understand that there are three basic principles:
"1. The Triangle is considered a “flow offense,” in which player movement is the most important detail (set plays are rare). It’s also considered a “mirror offense,” because the same things happen on each side of the floor. Neither of these qualities is unique or even uncommon.  2. The strength of the offense is that all five players are interchangeable and that anyone on the floor can occupy the post (assuming that player has the best post matchup).  3. There are passes players are automatically supposed to make if they receive the ball at certain positions on the floor against specific defensive alignments. These decisions are called “automatics” (and those automatics are what the players need to mentally internalize)."
One and two seem pretty simple, where things get complicated is item number three.  This is why the offense requires smart players as much as it requires talent.  However, Klosterman points out that Jackson (and likewise, Fisher) has always welcomed adaptations to the system in order to fit his personnel.  With Carmelo Anthony's skill-set in the post and off the bounce, the Knicks will likely utilize Anthony on the block to accentuate the shooting talents of Calderon, J.R. Smith, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Pablo Prigioni.  Due to the complexity of the offense, don't expect the Knicks to run it often this season, and when they do, don't look for it to remind you of Jackson's Lakers or Bulls teams.


PERSONNEL
Acquisitions: SF Cleanthony Early (32nd pick), PG Shane Larkin, PG Jose Calderon, F Travis Outlaw, F Quincy Acy, C Jason Smith, C Samuel Dalembert
Departures: PG Raymond Felton, G Tour'e Murry, C Jeremy Tyler, C Tyson Chandler

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
PG: Jose Calderon
PPGPERUSG%TS%AST%3P%
11.4
15.2
16.2%
59.6%
22.4%
44.9%
Calderon was a useful piece in Dallas last season, and should be a massive upgrade at PG for the Knicks.  He's a horrendous defender, but he's a much better shooter and a smarter player than Raymond Felton.  Calderon has historically posted an AST% in the high 30s and low 40s, so expect that number to bounce back this season with a larger role in the offense.

SG: Iman Shumpert
PPGPERUSG%TS%TRB%3P%
6.7
9.6
14.1%
48.0%
9.2%
33.3%
I've never really understood why people are so impressed with Shumpert's game.  His career TS% is below 50, he doesn't get to the FT line at a high frequency and he isn't a strong outside shooter.  He's a good rebounder for his position and has a reputation as a strong defender, but the Knicks could get more overall by starting Hardaway or Smith at SG.

SF: Carmelo Anthony
PPGPERUSG%TS%TRB%3P%
27.4
24.4
32.4%
56.1%
12.3%
40.2%
Anthony is back for another run with the Knicks after a very brief flirtation with free agency this summer.  With little to no help on the roster, the face of the Knicks will need to be nothing short of a first-team All-NBA player to vault the Knicks into the playoffs.  Fun fact, Melo has never been a first-team All-NBA selection and failed to make any of the three teams last season.

PF: Amar'e Stoudemire
PPGPERUSG%TS%TRB%FTr
11.9
18.8
23.4%
59.6%
12.8%
.364
Stoudemire had a decent season last year, appearing in 65 games.  He was an efficient scorer and an okay rebounder, but the Knicks are paying him to be better than "efficient and okay".  In a contract year, Stoudemire may build on last season's raw numbers, but dip a bit in terms of efficiency.

C: Samuel Dalembert
PPGPERUSG%TS%TRB%BLK/36
6.6
16.8
14.8%
60.5%
19.4%
2.1
Dalembert was reliable for the Mavericks last season in a low-usage role.  He won't be as good as Tyson Chandler was defensively last year, but I don't think the drop-off will be immense.  The Haitian Sensation just needs to keep himself out of foul trouble.

BENCH
PG: Pablo Prigioni
PPGPERUSG%TS%3P%3PAr
3.8
13.0
9.3%
64.2%
46.4%
.733
Prigioni is steady and reliable, but he's also 37 years old.  He's one of the league's better three point shooters, despite getting minimal credit for that.  He's shooting 43.1% on 274 three point attempts over the past two seasons.

SG: J.R. Smith
PPGPERUSG%TS%FTr3PAr
14.5
14.0
21.6%
52.7%
.145
.503













SG: Tim Hardaway Jr.
PPGPERUSG%TS%3P%3PAr
10.2
12.7
19.6%
55.4%
36.3%
.521
Hardaway scored over 20 points 9 times during his rookie campaign.  Not bad for the 26th overall selection.  Needs to do more off the ball, as he was poor as a rebounder and playmaker.

PF: Andrea Bargnani
PPGPERUSG%TS%3P%TRB%
13.3
14.5
22.4%
51.0%
27.8%
10.4%
Bargnani is supposed to be known for his outside shooting ability, but as you can see above, he hasn't been very good from three.  Getting out from under his contract should be a major source of relief for Knicks fans next summer.

C: Jason Smith
PPGPERUSG%TS%TRB%FTr
9.7
12.4
18.2%
49.5%
12.7%
.177
Smith isn't an impressive player, but he's serviceable as a backup if he can bounce back from a down 2013-14.

SEASON EXPECTATIONS

The Knicks are on the outside looking in for a playoff spot, but with Carmelo Anthony around they have a shot.  Calderon is a major upgrade at PG, and should be a more reliable option than Felton.  Dalembert is an overall downgrade from Tyson Chandler at C, but the Knicks may have a better starting five than they did last season.  The lack of substance throughout the roster is what will hold them back though, as there isn't quality depth at any position except for SG.  Toronto is expected to be the dominant force in the Atlantic division, but beyond the Raptors, no dominant force exists.  The Knicks could do themselves a lot of good by beating up on the Celtics and Sixers in the eight games they play against those two squads.  It won't be an amazing accomplishment if the Knicks make the playoffs, but I have them closer to 30 wins than to 40.


SUMMARY

The light at the end of the tunnel that is three years of paying Bargnani and Stoudemire $30M+ can be seen.  With Phil Jackson running the show and Carmelo Anthony re-upping for five more years, better days are likely ahead in the league's biggest market.  However, Knicks fans will have to endure one more year of ugly basketball before they can cash in.  

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