Thursday, August 21, 2014

New York Knicks Mailbag 1

Photo courtesy of Turn on the Knicks
As we get closer to the 2014-15 NBA season, there are a lot of questions to be answered about the Knicks and the new regime that has taken over and changed the team's identity. I've received quite a few questions from readers, so here are my answers to some of the more pressing issues facing the Knicks.

Q: Can the current Knicks roster and the Triangle offense co-exist? -Mark

A: Yes, I think that the Knicks roster can thrive in the triangle. The main lineup will revolve around Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, two players that fit very well into the offensive system. The triangle relies heavily on the post game, whether it be as a vehicle to set up other players for shots, or for the post player himself to score, which is a perfect situation for Stoudemire. Anthony will be the focal point of the offense, as usual, and should have a prolific season as a lot of the action in the triangle is tailor-made to his offensive game.

As for the guards, their primary role in the triangle is to pass to the forwards, and make cuts to create separation for open three pointers, or going towards the hoop. There's also an option for the triangle to turn into a classic two man pick-and-roll. Each of New York's guards has the skill set to fulfill their role in the triangle. Pablo Prigioni is a great shooter, and is used to playing off the ball, a role that he's played often in his two seasons with the Knicks. Jose Calderon is a good passer, and one of the best shooters in the NBA, leading the league in three point percentage two years ago. Shane Larkin is a respectable jump shooter, and his best position is as the ball handler in a pick-and-roll. Iman Shumpert is a smart off-ball cutter, and should find many lanes for drives, which is his best offensive skill. Tim Hardaway, Jr. is a young, athletic scorer, who should find all sorts of opportunities to put the ball in the bucket while playing in the triangle. J.R. Smith can be deployed as both a shooting guard, and be slotted into Carmelo Anthony's role when playing with the second unit.

Even guys Cleanthony Early, Travis Outlaw, and Andrea Bargnani, all three of whom are perimeter oriented players, can be slotted into their roles in the triangle and form a decent second unit that can at the very least, keep the team afloat while the starters rest.

Q: Who do you think will be our starting two guard this season? -Donta

A: The options are certainly interesting, because it depends a lot on the strategy employed by Coach Derek Fisher, and how the players fit into the Triangle Offense (more on that later). The three players with a chance to start at shooting guard are Shumpert, Smith, and Hardaway, Jr. I believe that because of the way the Triangle works, the Knicks would want to play Amar'e Stoudemire at the four, instead of utilizing Carmelo Anthony as an undersized four, which has worked very well for him in recent seasons.

With that said, you can almost rule out Smith, as the only way he could have started would have been if Shumpert was playing small forward. I think the Knicks will like having him coming off the bench as the energy scorer and offensive focal point of the second unit, which is the role in which he has had the most success throughout his career, and should fill very well in this offense. He will however, most likely be playing the crunch time minutes at the two guard.

The Knicks are faced with an interesting decision as to deciding between THJ and Shumpert. They already have two offensive focal points in STAT and Melo on the first unit, so I think they'd want to have Smith and Hardaway carry the load with the bench unit.

Therefore, I would expect Iman Shumpert to be the starting two guard, at least at the beginning of the season.

This is of course, assuming that no trade have been made by the time the season starts. Phil Jackson will try his best to get rid of Shumpert and his normal-looking hair (he was a much better player with the flattop) and possibly Prigioni by November, but it's unlikely.

Q: Who do you think will be our starting center this season? -Ryder

A: The options here are Samuel Dalembert and Jason Smith. Cole Aldrich doesn't count. There's absolutely no chance that he starts for the Knicks on Opening Night against the Bulls.

Dalembert is a solid rim protector, rebounder, and shot blocker, and is on the Knicks to basically replace Tyson Chandler. Chandler was awful last year, but when he's playing up to his potential, he's better than Dalembert. Still, the Haitian Sensation should provide solid defense and very poor offense.

Smith is an interesting player because he's a stretch big man, shooting 46% of his shots throughout his career from mid-range. His jumper is decent, and should allow him to score a fair amount as the third or fourth option in the offense. He's basically the same player as Andrea Bargnani without the ability to shoot three pointers, and a better defender and rebounder. Given that Bargs will be playing off the bench, I doubt that the Knicks would want to play the two of them at the same time, so Smith will be given the starting role.

Q: Should the focus be on youth (starting Tim Hardaway, Jr., giving Shane Larkin minutes, etc.) or making the playoffs with veterans leading the way? -Zeb

A: First of all, I love the name, Zeb.

This may be an unpopular opinion, but I'd focus more on developing the youth. The Eastern Conference has greatly improved over the past offseason, and the Knicks cannot compete in a 7 game series with the Cleveland Cavaliers or the Chicago Bulls.

I definitely do not mean that I want the Knicks to tank, but I think it would be best for the future of the team to see what they have in guys like Hardaway, Jr., Larkin, and Cleanthony Early, so the front office has an idea of how exactly to go about retooling the roster into a championship contender. These guys need the experience much more than other role players like Pablo Prigioni and Andrea Bargnani, who won't be on the Knicks in three years, and won't be key players when the team is ready to provide a legitimate challenge to the powerhouses in the conference.

Also, it makes sense to showcase the young guys for the rest of the NBA to look at as possible trade pieces, should in case a star like Rajon Rondo or Marc Gasol becomes available before the trade deadline. 

Q: Over/Under 28 PPG for Carmelo Anthony? -Daniel

A: I'm taking the over on this one and running far away before you can stop me. This bet is an absolute lock. There's a chance he gets above 30 PPG. He averaged 28.7 points per game in 2012-13, and 27.4 last season when playing with inferior teammates, and having to do most of the work himself. The triangle offense is a perfect system for Melo to get his shots in a very efficient fashion, without being forced to revert to ball-stopping and finding his points in isolation. Lots of ball movement and player movement will allow Anthony to exploit all of his offensive ability.

Melo will most likely be right up there with Kevin Durant as the two battle it out for the scoring title.

This video gives a good look into how Carmelo will look in the triangle:

Q: How will Derek Fisher perform as a rookie coach? How will he compare to Jason Kidd in his rookie season? -Will

A: It's very hard to predict how a rookie coach will perform in their first season, but I think that Fisher has all the tools of a good NBA coach. Playing the point guard position helped him greatly because he's been a successful floor general throughout his entire professional career. He has a very keen sense of how to properly space the floor. Also, being that he was an NBA player as recently as May, he's very much aware of the nuances of today's game. He knows exactly what it means to be a basketball player at the highest level in 2014, both on and off the court. That's more than can be said about a lot of the coaches in the league who may have played in the past, but are so far removed from their playing days that it doesn't have much of an effect on their coaching ability.

Fisher is taking over a better situation than Kidd last year with the Nets, and he has a much better support system, as the new coaching staff is to this point, entirely comprised of people who have coached Fisher before, whether it be in Los Angeles or Oklahoma City. Kurt Rambis and Jim Cleamons were assistant to President Phil Jackson with the Lakers, while Fisher was on the team. Overall, from the front office down to the coaching staff, there seems to be a general theme of continuity that should greatly enhance Fisher's chances to be a very good coach this year and beyond. 

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