The summer doldrums: the post-draft-basketball-withdrawal is in full swing. At no other time could the specter of Jerome Jordan earning a roster spot or the possibility of signing Aaron Brooks be noteworthy.
The Roster Currently Constructed:
The Knicks, thanks largely to their oppressively restrictive cap situation, return what is essentially the same team as last season. Of course, Carmelo Anthony returns in his starring role as New York Knicks offense.
Anthony, the NBA’s leading scorer last season and MVP finalist, has an entire offseason ahead of him to heal up, relax, and reflect on last season’s dismissal by the more-physical Pacers. Rather than relax though, Anthony has re-dedicated himself, pledging to join Amar’e Stoudemire at Camp Olajuwon this summer.
Further aiding Anthony’s quest at an improved offensive campaign in 13/14 is the Knicks’ offseason signings and trade of note: J.R. Smith and Andrea Bargnani.
Smith was a revelation last season as he elevated his game to unparalleled peeks for him parlaying that into a Sixth Man of the Year award and shedding the “inconsistent” and “head-case” labels in the process. Those labels came crashing back on him with one fateful swing of the elbow as Smith’s playoff performance was nothing short of abhorrent. Still, the Knicks put their money on regular-season-JR and paid the player synonymous with commitment issues. If J.R. really did turn a corner last season and wasn’t just playing for a contract, than the Knicks have themselves a pretty good 1-2 punch on offense, if not…
If not, Andrea Bargnani will have to seize the mantle of “secondary scorer” – a scary proposition. Bargnani has been called “the poor man’s Nowitzki” – a description that may be accurate stylistically but is laughable in context. Bargnani’s career arc more closely mirrors Kwame Brown or Michael Olowokandi than it does Nowitzki. The draft picks forfeited to obtain the 7’0 perimeter player was a bit expensive for my taste, but in terms of players on the active roster, Bargnani is a marked improvement over Steve Novak and Marcus Camby. His shooting stroke may not quite be Novak’s, but he can create his own shot, can score from mid-range as well, and has to be taken far more seriously as a scoring threat. The addition of Bargnani will stretch the floor and allow more room for ‘Melo to work his mid-range magic or Amare to “post and toast” in the paint.
With only two defensively competent players on the roster (three if Kenyon Martin returns), the Knicks still have the same vulnerabilities that were exposed last season by the Pacers.
Their perimeter-oriented-offense makes them susceptible to losing streaks in conjunction with their shooting slumps. Couple their perimeter-heavy game with their lack of rebounding ability and you have a team that can look awful offensively when their shots don’t fall.
The entirety of their defensive burden falls on the shoulders of Iman Shumpert and Tyson Chandler. Shumpert has quickly developed into one of the best and most promising perimeter defenders in the league. Chandler, a former Defensive Player of the Year, was bullied and utterly manhandled in the paint by Roy Hibbert in the Pacers series. If that was a result of injuries he was playing through, then the Knicks still have one of the better defenders in the NBA. If it was the first sign of the regression of a battered big-man, then the Knicks are in serious trouble.
The Hard Truth:
This season will not be determined by Tim Hardaway Jr. or by any of the new additions still to come. This team will essentially have to answer two questions: Can they score as well as last season (JR more than anyone now that he’s gotten his money) and can they be a more physical team? Can they be a team that rebounds and defends the way Knicks fans remember Knicks’ defending?
That will determine just what team we have representing New York this year.