As we proceed further into the offseason and the roster continues to take form for the Knicks, I think it’s time for returning players to take a long hard look in the mirror going into next season. The general core from the Knicks 54 win campaign will be returning for another run at a NBA title. While it is all well and good that they are returning, each player must take a step forward next season for the team to get to the next level. As the Knicks are currently constructed, and with other teams in the East improving, it is important that no players take a step backwards. This leads me into where each player needs to improve.
Mike Woodson: First and foremost, before I get into the individual players, I think Coach Woodson needs to consider how he can better himself as a coach. Far too many times last season Woody’s stubbornness seemed to get the best of him. Whether it was not effectively using the minutes of Chris Copeland or Pablo Prigioni in the Pacer series, or the entitlement he felt to play Jason Kidd, some of his decisions hampered the team’s success in big moments. The first thing he will need to move past is his reluctance to play rookie players. In no way am I saying Tim Jr. will be an immediate factor for the Knicks, but if he can help in any way, he must be given the opportunity to contribute. Woody must also find a lineup that balances both offense and defense. Last season the Knicks played a lot of minutes with a lineup of Melo, Prigioni, Tyson, K-Mart, and whoever else at the other guard position. While the defense was there, the Knicks were essentially playing 5 on 3 on the offensive end. This forced Carmelo Anthony to take on an even greater workload at the offensive end. He will also need to find a way to work Amar’e Stoudemire into the rotation the best he can.
Tyson Chandler: I begin with Chandler because I still have a sour taste in my mouth regarding the way his season ended. I understand Chandler may have been injured during the Pacer series, but my main issue was his lack of accountability. Chandler was brought here not only for his defensive prowess, but also amongst other things his reputation as a leader. The way Tyson seemed to deflect all negative attention surrounding him in the playoffs did not seem like the way a leader would handle the situation. Injured or not, if you are playing as miserably as Tyson was, you have no right to call out your team’s best player. It is especially unacceptable during a playoff series where team moral needs to be at its highest. Now I know Chandler tried to deflect the comments he made about Melo, denying the statement was directed at him, but come on Tyson? Could it be any more blatant? Chandler needs to come into next season with the idea he is going to be the leader he was hyped up to be. The guy we watched help lead the Mavs to an NBA Title.
Iman Shumpert: “Don’t talk about it, be about it”. This should be Shump’s motto going into next season. We all know the sky is the limit for Shump, but it is time for him to take a significant step forward. He needs to go from being known as an elite young defender, to one of the premier young guards in the game. The same kind of improvement the Pacers watched Paul George make last season. Shump has been very vocal about his desire to emerge into a second scoring option for the Knicks, so lets see him make that leap forward. He showed glimpses of how explosive he could be as a scorer last season, but now it is time to do that on a consistent basis.
Raymond Felton: Consistency. That is the first word that comes to mind when I think about Felton. There were times last season you could have mistaken Felton for an all-star. He looked like a leader on the court and showed he could create for himself and others on the offensive end. Unfortunately, you would see that Felton one game, and a completely different Ray the next. Felton needs to find a consistent middle ground going into next season. His first order of business will be improving on the defensive end. He cannot allow other point guards to torch him on the defensive end the way he did last season. Felton struggled keeping up with the quicker guards, and he will need to improve on his mobility. It will be interesting to see how Felton and Bargnani mesh in the Knicks offense. Barg’s ability as a pick-and-pop guy, mixed with Felton’s ability as a pick-and-roll guard, could add a nice dimension to the offense.
J.R. Smith: Obviously J.R.’s first concern at this moment is his health. He will need to rehab his knee injury with the intention of coming back stronger than ever. J.R. should not rush his rehab and be mature enough to take his time. The Knicks can afford missing him for a while to start the season, but will be in trouble if he rushes back and it becomes an ongoing issue. Smith needs to keep building off the strides he made in the right direction last season. Clearly he wasn’t right in the playoffs, and his courage to keep playing through the injury without making excuses is commendable. That is something that should not be overshadowed. He took the abuse from the media and Knicks fans and did not deflect blame on others. The Knicks are taking a chance on J.R. after signing him long-term. It is now in his hands to produce like a player with this deal. No more nightclubs, no more drama, no more stupidity during the season. For the Knicks to be successful, J.R. Smith will need to play as integral a role this season as he did last.
Pablo Prigioni: Pablo was made a priority for the Knicks going into the offseason, and rightfully so. Hopefully Prig’s is used in a more extended and consistent role this season. He was shown himself to be worthy of playing big minutes, whether it’s off the bench or as a starter. With the new additions, Prig’s will most likely find himself in a backup role this season. He will need to accept this challenge and anchor the second team. His leadership and veteran presence is key to the Knicks roster. In addition, I would like to see Prig’s become more aggressive on the offensive end of the court. If they are going to leave him open from behind the arc, let it fly. He must make the defense respect him. Expect much of the same from Pablo next season.
Carmelo Anthony: What can you say about Melo? He came into last season as determined as ever. He was in shape after his time with the US National team and he was the offensive juggernaut we all knew we were getting when we traded for him. He took significant steps forward as the leader of this Knicks team. It was so wonderful to watch him call his teammates together to calm them down during a game when things got out of control. Melo needs to keep building on what he started last season. If Melo can keep up that intensity all year-long then the Knicks will be a force all year. Melo is most effective when he feels he has something to prove. With the additions the Nets made this offseason, he will surely be willing and able to show that NY is still a Knicks city. Personally, I cannot wait to see what is in store next for Carmelo Anthony. He is currently in his prime years of his career, and determined to right the ship going forward.