When the New York Knicks signed Amar’e Stoudemire in the summer of 2010, he proclaimed “The Knicks are back.” The team backed up his claim by making it to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2004. Although they were swept by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs last season, Amar’e and his teammates will have more expectations this season.
While Amar’e was surrounded by role players like Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton and Danilo Gallinari last year, this season he begins with a co-star in Carmelo Anthony who is arguably the most talented scorer in the game. The recent addition of Tyson Chandler should prove big, as he makes the Knicks perhaps the most talented front line in the NBA.
Amar’e and Carmelo will have to learn to play with each other, something that they didn’t have a chance to do for a long period of time last season after a February 2011 trade brought Carmelo to the Knicks. The shortened preseason and training camp won’t help either, so look for the Knicks to be a team that improves as the season continues.
The Knicks will have to give more effort on the defensive end of the court as well, as they gave up 105.7 points per game last season, good for 27th in the league. Assistant Coach Mike Woodson was hired for that purpose, and Chandler certainly will make a difference on that end. Chandler is a player whose impact is much more powerful than his numbers. His 10.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game last season won’t get him drafted in the first round of your fantasy league, but his impact on the defense and the locker room of the Dallas Mavericks was the addition that won them the championship last year. Toney Douglas supplied a lot of defensive energy off the bench last year, and he will be expected to do that from the starting line up this season.
On the offensive end of the court, The Knicks have huge question marks in the back court with Douglas as the starter. Mike Bibby was signed in the shortened off season, but his 3.6 points per game during the playoffs last season for the Miami Heat have led many to think that he can’t be a major contributor. Ironically, the signing, and, ultimately, the heath of Baron Davis may determine how far this team goes. Without Davis, I see the Knicks as a four seed. If Davis is healthy, that makes the Knicks an even tougher playoff out and a legitimate championship contender.
Rookie Iman Shumpert has looked good in practice and in the first preseason game, where he scored 16 points on 6-11 shooting, with two assists and two turnovers. Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni has praised his effort. “I thought Shumpert played well. He can get a shot any time he wants to. He shoots the ball pretty well. He can definitely defend. He’s athletic, he’s long. There’s a lot of good stuff. Again, this is just one baby step and he’s got to do it a lot, but you can tell that the kid can play” D’Antoni said after the first preseason game Saturday, December 17, 2011, against the New Jersey Nets. After Wednesday’s second preseason game, D’Antoni continued the praise. “His defense is really good. He is a big guard, point guard, small forward that can guard a lot of people. He is quick and strong and long.”
Stoudemire was also complimentary of both Shumbert and rookie Josh Harrellson. “The front office is doing a phenomenal job, with Tim and Landry last year and Josh and Iman this year.” Landry Fields looks to put an awful playoff performance behind him in which he scored just seven points in the four-game series against the Celtics. If he worked diligently on his game in the off season, we should see improvement.
But this season will come down to Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. These two NBA superstars combined for over 50 points a game last season, and will need to be in that area on a nightly basis to compete with the NBA elite this season. Stoudemire agrees. “It’s definitely more intense this year and our goals are higher. Last year the goal was to make the post season and we accomplished that. This year the ultimate goal is to win a championship.” If these two superstars play to their capability, and if D’Antoni manages their minutes and the rotation well, the Knicks will not only make the playoffs this season, but have a shot at a deep playoff run as well.