Are they still No. 2 as they were last regular season? Probably not.
After a disappointing loss to Indiana in the Eastern Conference semifinals that denied them a shot at the NBA champion Miami Heat, the Knicks essentially replaced Chris Copeland, Jason Kidd and Steve Novak with Metta World Peace, Beno Udrih and Andrea Bargnani. The team also re-signed J.R. Smith, Pablo Prigioni and Kenyon Martin.
Meanwhile, Miami remains the class of the East and added Greg Oden; Indiana gets back former All-Star Danny Granger with a bolstered bench featuring Copeland, C.J. Watson and Luis Scola; Brooklyn made a bold move by acquiring Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry plus signing Andrei Kirilenko; and Chicago gets back former MVP Derrick Rose.
That leaves the Knicks as the fifth best team in the conference.
This may not sit well with J.R. Smith according to his recent tweet.
Despite a more competitive conference, the Knicks are still contenders. After all, the core remains intact from a team that was the second seed last season.
With that in mind, here are five questions the Knicks must answer to win their first championship since 1973.
1. What is the most effective starting lineup? Coach Mike Woodson has only guaranteed starting spots to center Tyson Chandler, forward Carmelo Anthony and point guard Ray Felton. Since New York is committed to “Meloball,” keeping Anthony at power forward – where he played the best basketball of his career – seems logical. That almost certainly eliminates Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire from starting.
As a result, Iman Shumpert is the best option to start at small forward. Shumpert is regarded as one of the league’s best on-ball defenders and a freakish athlete as evidenced by this dunk. His game also expanded in the playoffs as he became a 3-point threat (.429) and a solid rebounder (six per game). By performing at a high level on a big stage, Shumpert should get the nod over World Peace and enjoy a breakout third season.
Finally, Prigioni can start alongside Felton in a two-guard lineup that was effective down the stretch of the regular season and during the playoffs. Prigioni will replace Kidd as the poised veteran who orchestrates the offense, locates Anthony in prime scoring positions and spreads the floor with his shooting ability.
2. Can Anthony expand his game? Anthony led the NBA in scoring (28.7 ppg) after setting career highs in 3-point percentage (.379) and free throw percentage (.830) to finish third in MVP voting last season. While Anthony has proven to be one of the NBA’s greatest scorers, his defense and passing leave more to be desired.
If Anthony ran more pick-and-roll sets as a facilitator, he would create easy scoring opportunities for Chandler and Stoudemire while lightening his load. When Anthony gets double-teamed, as he often does in isolation sets, he can find those rolling big men darting toward the basket. On pick-and-pop plays, Anthony can dish to Bargnani floating beyond the arc.
Anthony also showed more effort on the defensive end under Woodson, who is known for holding players accountable. Woodson must convince Anthony to attack the glass with the same abandon as he attacks opposing defenders.
If Anthony becomes half as good a passer and defender as he is a scorer, he still won’t be considered an elite all-around superstar in the same breath as LeBron James, but he’d put New York much closer to a championship.
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