The Knicks will reach the All-Star break in unfamiliar territory, first place in the Atlantic division. In recent years it’s been a position normally reserved for the Boston Celtics who have won the division five consecutive seasons, while the Knicks have finished at or near the bottom. However, the changing of the guard has been in full effect this season as the Knicks have risen to elite status.
The main reason for this of course has been the MVP caliber play of Carmelo Anthony, who is averaging a career high of 28.6ppg. His scoring, rebounding and defensive effort has put the Knicks in great position to accomplish the goals Coach Woodson had mapped out to start the year. Goals like winning the division, earning a top 3 seed, defending home court and playing defense, but to reach those lofty goals there are some growing concerns that must be addressed.
Frontcourt Depth Concern
At the start of the season the Knicks envisioned a frontcourt rotation of Chandler, Anthony, Stoudemire, Camby, Wallace, and Kurt Thomas. There was always some concern that age/injury could become a factor with this group, unfortunately that concern has to come to fruition. All season long Marcus Camby has battled foot issues and has done little to shed the label of injury prone he originally left town with a decade ago, missing 36 of 50 games. Rasheed Wallace after a surprisingly impactful return to the league has now missed the last 30 games with a stress fracture/ reaction in his foot. Add the 30 games that Amar’e missed during the first half and then you can realize that frontcourt depth remains a valid concern. With no adequate backups available, the load will continue to fall on Tyson Chandler, who has already proven last year that he can wear down due to the frenetic pace he plays at. With no guarantee that either Wallace or Camby can return to full strength and no obvious interest in a free agent like Kenyon Martin, what will the Knicks do?
Jason Kidd’s Recent Play
Kidd has played in 44 out of a possible 50 games this season. Some may marvel at that kind of durability at the age of 39, but the five games he did miss were all back related, which in the sports world can spell doom. Many of great players have succumbed to chronic back issues; just ask Larry Johnson, Larry Bird and now Stoudemire. Kidd’s back hasn’t gotten quite to that level, but a back issue of any kind is a concern moving forward. The fact that he has been a shell of himself recently could be traced directly to his back woes, which are either the results of father time or playing way too many minutes (27.9). Either way, this huge concern as Woodson seems incapable of diminishing Kidd’s role in anyway regardless of the health risk it poses.
The Upcoming Schedule
So far this season the Knicks have met all their challenges head on. Beating Miami twice, once without an injured Carmelo, taking the Spurs down twice, surviving injuries and in some sense even surviving Hurricane Sandy, but a serious challenge still awaits them during the month of March. During the month of March the Knicks will be facing the most challenging part of their schedule, with six back-to-backs. If the back-to-backs weren’t enough, the Knicks will be facing some of the league’s best in the Heat, Memphis, Boston, the Clippers, Oklahoma City, Denver, Portland, and the much-improved Toronto Raptors. This stretch of games will go a long way in determining whether the Knicks will keep a firm grip on 1st place in the division or fall back to the pack. For a roster with an average age of 32, this is a concern.
At some point this season, these as well as other concerns must be addressed. Will the Knicks make a trade? Will the Knicks sit idle? Will the Knicks ever be fully healthy? Can Shumpert regain his confidence? Can JR Smith remain the team’s #2 scoring option shooting under 40%? Only time will tell if the Knicks are as good as we thought.