The Windy Apple
There are a lot of reasons to get excited for the upcoming season. One of them is the determination of our starting Power Forward to get back to the elite status he enjoyed in the 2010-2011 season. The fact that Amare Stoudemire spent 3 weeks with Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon shows he is always looking to improve his game. Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant learned how to dominate in the post after realizing they dropped off in athleticism and had to make adjustments. LeBron James was likewise willing to work with “The Dream” in order to develop a new facet of his game after realizing raw talent and athleticism alone can only get you so far.
Amare is probably 5 years too late but the good thing is he has all the tools to become dangerous, as post skills often develop over time and adjustment periods. To his credit, he basically never learned the post game or defensive techniques since he came out of High School directly under Mike D’Antoni’s tutelage. All he was required to do was run the pick and roll and he mastered it on a level not seen since the great Karl Malone. Mike Woodson turned the Knicks into a top 5 defensive team when he took over, so I expect him to show Amare a few pointers, which should make him adequate there at the very least.
This new facet of Amare’s game will benefit his teammates as well, most notably Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler. The reason being is that Amare has to be respected as a threat in the pick and roll as well as a midrange jump shooter. Last season he dealt with a series of personal issues: a back injury that forced him to put on 15 lbs of muscle which slowed him down, a lockout which didn’t allow him to train with medical staff, the death of his brother, and a new center who clogged up his area since they never had a training camp to learn to mesh together.
This summer he has reportedly lost around 20 lbs and as a result should regain his speed (due to the weight loss) and his patented soft touch on his jumper (due to having a healthy back) that he showed 2 seasons ago as an MVP candidate. It’s also hard to believe but we forget that he and Melo will be having their FIRST training camp together now. When Melo got traded here, he and Amare were both averaging 20+ ppg and even beat Miami in their only meeting but injuries to Amare and Chauncey Billups led to an early 1st round exit against Boston. Since then they have not had a playmaking PG who knew how to get the best of both forwards, as Jeremy Lin was only able to pad his own stats and elevate the games of Jared Jeffries, Landry Fields, and Steve Novak at the expense of both stars. Once D’Antoni and the spacing were gone he struggled mightily and teams had scouting reports on him in order to force him left. The rest is history.
Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton are proven playmakers who know how and when to pick their spots while being savvy distributors. Kidd has developed as a reliable 3pt threat to go along with his hall of fame court vision, which at 6”4 allows him to slide over to SG where he defends the position better. When Melo was on Denver he thrived with true PGs like Andre Miller and Billups but didn’t flow well with Allen Iverson. Nene, Kenyon Martin and Marcus Camby also thrived under the same leadership, so the same success should be expected now with Amare and Tyson Chandler.
This Knicks team, as currently constructed, is eerily reminiscent of the Dallas Mavericks team that won it all 2 years ago. There is the perfect mix of veterans, guys in their primes, defenders, shooters, scorers, a deep bench, and a coach that players respect.
Last year the Knicks battled injuries and their core guys never had a chance to develop chemistry because they were rarely healthy at the same time. The team would always struggle when Tyson went to the bench with foul trouble since they had a natural SF in Jeffries guarding the opposing bigs. Now they have a Chandler doppelganger in Marcus Camby and a steady playmaker and winner in Jason Kidd to make sure JR Smith doesn’t try to do too much and Novak gets the ball in the right situations. Ronnie Brewer is a big and strong guard who defends better than Landry Fields and is at a fraction of the cost.
Before this past season, Raymond Felton was annually leading teams to the playoffs (he even got the Bobcats there!). In NY he had better stats than Jeremy Lin did and ran the pick and roll with Amare to perfection. However, he struggled last year since he ballooned 20 lbs. He blames the lockout for coming in out of shape and using the regular season to work him back into shape but ultimately admits it’s nobody’s fault but his own. He has since dropped almost all the weight and knows he has to prove he was worth losing Lin over while not wanting to get traded from the city he never intended to leave in the first place. In terms of defense, ball control, and durability he is an upgrade over Lin, who has yet to prove he can play beyond 25 games, has a surgically repaired knee, is a turnover machine, can’t drive left, has a suspect outside shot, can’t play D, and isn’t a pure PG who padded his stats under D’Antoni like others before him (see Felton’s and Chris Duhon’s numbers under D’Antoni).
Luckily NY kept Iman Shumpert (an up and coming defensive force with offense to boot) and replaced Mike Bibby and Renaldo Balkman with Pablo Prigioni and James White as their emergency insurance fill-ins – and the summer is not over so 2 roster spots are still up for grabs via free agency. So, all in all, this is a much improved team considering the limited assets and cap space Glen Grunwald had available. For a win-now team they made all the right moves, with the majority of their big contracts coming off the books within 3 years.
There is notable news regarding the Knicks’ final roster spot vacancy. They are showing interest in George Washington University Senior PG Tony Taylor. He played for a subpar program with low-level complimentary talent surrounding him so naturally the defenses focused in on him and he flew under the radar. He had solid stats but it is his skill set that Grunwald believes makes him NBA material. We should trust the man who discovered Lin and Novak. Taylor has impeccable ball handling, good court vision, solid athleticism and deep range with a quick release. The Lakers, Heat, Celtics, Pacers (among others) – all contenders – are expressing interest, while many D-League teams are already willing to anoint him as their starter. In the right setting and with real talent (finally) around him he might show how dangerous he can be, much like Lin did last year after being disregarded as an Ivy League undersized SG.
Similarly, Isaiah Thomas was the last pick in the 2011 draft and he showed how talent can often go unnoticed when you play for a collegiate system that masks your greatest skills. Ben Howland, the coach of UCLA, is known to have a system like that where players struggle by playing out of position for the sake of the team but then explode on the next level. Russell Westbrook (who played off the ball with Darren Collison as the PG) and Arron Afflalo are names that come to mind who are far better in the NBA game than they were in the shackles of UCLAs rigid playbook. Taylor won’t be as good as Westbrook, but Lin and Thomas type findings are always a possibility. GMs are now trying to get more creative when finding talent, even searching the circuits that were always overlooked. Apparently he killed it in a recent workout with the Knicks, then was called in for another and killed it again. This would give NY 4 PGs but judging by last year it is clear you can never have too many playmakers. Felton, Kidd, Pablo Prigioni, and Taylor would be an upgrade over Lin, Baron Davis, Bibby, and Toney Douglas. Injuries do happen as we saw against Miami in the playoffs but even if NY stays healthy, Kidd and Felton have the ability to play off the ball as well.
(Take a look at Taylor’s game: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Umw-En_omT8 )
Now…to address the Brooklyn Nets so-called “victory” over the Knicks regarding offseason roster moves, I will clarify some misconceptions. Deron Williams has the ball on offense most of the times so teammates that move without the ball will always prosper. However, the 2nd best player on the team is Joe “Iso Joe” Johnson who pounds the ball as much as any PG. This quality impeded the development of Jeff Teague as a facilitator. He is paid like a superstar but is no more a game-changer than Al Jefferson or Luol Deng. The middling Atlanta Hawks realized he is not a superstar and could never get them over the hump so they were willing to take back average guys like Anthony Morrow just to get rid of his albatross contract. Neither Williams nor Johnson are good defenders by any stretch of the imagination.
Gerald Wallace is way past his prime, is injury prone, can’t shoot, and is a concussion away from retirement. The Nets overpaid him (4 years!!!) to justify giving up a draft pick at last years deadline that now became summer league superstar Damian Lillard, who is projected to be neck and neck in the Rookie of the Year race with Anthony Davis according to most experts. This was a desperation move at the time since the Nets needed to show Deron Williams their willingness to bring in a ‘’name’’ before his impending free agency. Gerald Green broke out and looked to be the SF of the future but as luck would have it they could not afford to retain him.
Kris Humphries would be a solid backup as he has been for most of his career, but he is a one-trick pony who rebounds well and does little else, while not having a reliable jumpshot. He too is way overpaid and clearly has the brains of a goldfish. I mean, why is he shocked his marriage to Kim Kardashian was a publicity stunt and a farce? Putting up decent numbers on bad teams means nothing. Remember Eddy Curry was similarly a one-trick pony who averaged 19 ppg on a dreadful Knicks team.
Brook Lopez got a max contract (!!!) after team brass had to go all-in for the following reasons: at the time, the Orlando Magic were not interested in trading Dwight Howard in exchange for Andrew Bynum without an agreed upon extension – so clearly Brook had to be inked to a long term deal. If they weren’t going to get Dwight (and probably realized it was unlikely at that point) then they’d have to do damage control for all the trade discussions Brook was involved in. The best solution was to overpay. If you think Amare Stoudemire (career 8.8 rpg) is a poor rebounder, Brook is one of the worst of all NBA bigs. He averaged 3.6 rpg last season (albeit in only 5 games due to injuries, which is another alarming issue) after averaging 6.0 rpg the year before (over 82 games). He has not developed into the player Nets brass had hoped for, and is often a strictly back-to-the-basket black hole on offense much like the aforementioned Eddy Curry was. To even compare him to Tyson is a joke. Tyson is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and is 1 year removed from a championship. Take a look at his head to head stats against Dwight last year – he made him look like an amateur (notable Howard stats in 3 games vs. Tyson: 8 points, 6 turnovers…12 points, 6 turnovers, 5 rebounds…8 points, 5 turnovers, 8 rebounds). He also rebounds and probably leads the league in smacking loose offensive boards back to teammates – something that does not go on the stat sheet. Oh, and he shot a hairline below (a staggering!!!) 70% from the field. In Brook’s wildest dreams is he in the same stratosphere as Tyson – the consummate teammate, professional, coach’s dream, post defender, and winner.
Their bench isn’t very deep as it includes a washed up Reggie Evans who makes Jared Jeffries look like Steve Novak on offense. Mirza Teletovic is a promising talent who is expected to be Brooklyn’s version of Linas Kleiza – which is solid but unspectacular. CJ Watson is a talented scoring combo guard at a great price – arguably their best offseason move not named Deron Williams. Marshon Brooks is a flashy volume scorer with a poor shot and poor secondary skills in the mold of Jordan Crawford. So they have no size on their thin bench and very little proven talent to go along with 4 vastly overpaid starters.
Ok, the Nets might possibly have a better regular season record than the Knicks because they have younger legs, but they are not equipped for a deep playoff run. The Knicks, on the other hand, have shown they can hang with Boston and match up favorably against Indiana. Let’s face it, Miami can only lose if they beat themselves or if Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen continue to hobble and regress. Also, keep in mind the Knicks are still in the hunt for a backup PF so they will look to add either Kenyon Martin, Louis Amundson, Chris Andersen, Andray Blatche, or DJ White – presumably in that order. This current roster may look significantly deeper at summer’s end.
I also find it hard to imagine the Nets having a strong fan base in NY because New Jersey diehards aren’t making the commute to Brooklyn, a city with decades of strong Knicks support. They’ll sell out the first year just for the sake novelty but I can easily see this blowing up in their faces. If the Brooklyn Dodgers didn’t work I don’t have much confidence in this working either. All in all I expect a fun season for both New York teams. Let’s not get carried away thinking the Nets are the best team in town just yet. I guess we have to wait and see.