But if Shumpert is 100 percent healthy, he has the ability to get to the basket and probably is the team’s best perimeter defender. Stoudemire, on the other hand, has shown flashes of slightly better footwork and fluidity operating out of the post. At the very least, he’s a much better catch-and-finish option than anyone on the roster not named Tyson Chandler.
Indeed, with Stoudemire and Shumpert back, the Knicks are closer to the NBA Finals than without them. Along with Woodson’s ability to incorporate them into the gameplan and Anthony’s ability to incorporate them on the court, whether or not they can help the team get over the hump depends on how well they can collectively improve on their weaknesses.
Stoudemire must become a more dominant rebounder and better defender. Shumpert, if he is to remain the starting shooting guard, must become a proficient corner pocket 3-point maker.
If those things happen — and in small samples, they both have — the already not-so-bad Knicks will be more than a “team to fear” come playoff time. They’ll have a legitimate chance to win the conference, regardless of Charles Barkley’s latest proclomation that the team is “fake.”
Despite a 5-5 stretch that’s seen the team play without starting point guard Raymond Felton, the Knicks are one of the East’s top teams and still have a very realistic chance of winning the top seed.
And once Felton returns, which is expected to be sooner rather than later, the Knicks will have the luxury of scaling back Kidd’s minutes on the ball and allowing him to play more shooting guard.
A guard rotation featuring Felton, Shumpert, Kidd and Smith and a frontcourt rotation featuring Anthony, Stoudemire and Chandler playing the lion’s share of minutes with Steve Novak, rookie Chris Copeland and Rasheed Wallace (if he returns) picking up scraps, the Knicks easily have one of the NBA’s more talented ten-man rotations.
The other guys – Prigioni, Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas, James White and Ronnie Brewer – likely will have to fall in where they fit in once all the bodies are available. Brewer had a stranglehold on the starting shooting guard spot after a great start to the season, but since his excruciatingly poor play has made the decision to bench him rather easy.
Even still, Brewer, along with the other four have each proven over the course of this season that they belong in the NBA and are capable of giving Woodson positive minutes, even if sparingly.
The Knicks have the depth they need to seriously challenge for this thing; all they need now is some good fortune, good coaching and time to develop some chemistry.
Despite those needs, the team is 25-13, leads the Atlantic Division and trails the Heat by just one game.
With two important players just returning to the lineup and their starting point guard about a week away, it’s easy to be optimistic about these Knicks.
For them, it’s very likely that the best is yet to come.
Moke Hamilton is a Senior NBA Columnist for SheridanHoops whose columns appear here on Fridays. Follow him on Twitter: @MokeHamilton