The upper echelon of the Eastern Conference has improved itself over the summer, making for a tougher task for the Knicks to snag that ever-elusive NBA title. Could the now super top-heavy conference keep them from even winning 54 games as they did last season? The gang weighs in.
McElroy: I take it that the teams you’re referring to when you say that “the upper echelon… has improved” are Chicago, Brooklyn, and Indiana. Your premise is reasonable on face but it misses one important point: the Knicks went 3-8 against those three teams last year (Research FTW!). Even if they go 0-11 against that trio, they’ll still win 51 games if they play the rest of the league the same as they did in ‘12-’13.
The Knicks were a sensational 31-12 in games decided by 10 points or more last season and just 7-5 in games decided by 3 or less, indicating that they may have actually played a bit better than their overall record suggests. They did this despite being devastated by injuries; if they run a bit luckier this time around and the old guys don’t look too much older, they could end up at or around 54 wins again. Or maybe everything goes wrong and they bottom out — it wouldn’t be unheard of for a team whose average age is in the thirties.
The Knicks may well win fewer games this season but if they do it will be because of age, injuries, and/or outside shooting that regresses to the mean (last year Shumpert and Prigs shot 40% from deep, Melo 38%, Felton and JR 36%), not because of improvements made by teams that generally beat the crap out of them last season anyway. For what it’s worth, put me down for 52-30 with a margin of error of 4 wins either way.
Cronin: I definitely do not think that the Knicks stood still. They’ve made some major shake-ups to their roster (adding World Peace alone would have been a major change). I would just like to have a better idea of how the pieces will fit together before I make a confident pick either way. I think that the Knicks have improved, but I will have to see how Woodson plays everyone together to know for sure (plus see how much World Peace has left in the tank). While the top teams in the East have improved, there have also been some teams that have gotten worse, like the Sixers and the Celtics. I think that on the balance, the Eastern Conference’s competitiveness has not dramatically changed (although yes, it is a bit tougher this year than it was last year) so I think that the Knicks’ improvement will translate to roughly the same regular season results this year as last year. So I guess put me down for 54 wins again. Hopefully that will be at least one more win than the Brooklyn Nets.
Fisher-Cohen: Fair statement. Some bottom of the barrel teams will be tougher too. Cleveland, Washington and Charlotte are all young teams that added pieces through the draft and free agency.
As far as the Knicks standing still goes, Kevin’s point about the anomalous three point shooting is a good one especially given how badly the Knicks struggled when their shooting was off. Carmelo especially has been a seesaw three point shooter throughout his career, breaking 36% three times in his career but never in consecutive seasons, and with two great three point shooters in Copeland and Novak replaced by two below average ones in Peace and Bargnani, the spacing will be worse, allowing defenses to more comfortably pack the paint. Add in Smith’s surgery, and overall, I expect the offense to decline a good bit this coming season.
In regards to the defense, Shumpert and Peace should make for an improvement, but I wouldn’t count on Martin or Chandler contributing much more than they did last season due to their advanced ages and histories of injury problems. Overall though, I expect modest gains on the defensive end. Perhaps the biggest improvement I expect though is from the coach, who hopefully after a season and a half of ups and downs, won’t be making any James White level mistakes this season. Put all that together, and fifty wins sounds right to me. That said, I see home court in the first round as within reach with Chicago being the team most likely to disappoint, not just because of Rose’s health but Noah and Deng’s as well.
David Vertsberger: Kevin McElroy said it best. Only reasonable arguments for the Knicks losing significantly more games than they did last season? Injury proneness and regression in shooting. Seems like a load of bull to me. Other teams won’t have to deal with injuries? No other team relies on older players? The Knicks will just magically drop off their sensational three-point shooting from last year? Why? Has their system changed? Are their core players completely different? Why can’t I stop asking questions? Somebody help me? Please?
Silverman: So many things went right for the ‘Bockers last season in the Eastern Conference — Rose sitting out the year, Hibbert starting off atrociously/Indiana taking half the year to gel, the Celtics succumbing to injuries and age, that it’s hard to see a repeat of the circumstances that got them the 2nd seed. Then there’s the team itself — I could probably cull through the archives, but I don’t think any of us predicted the rise of a smallball unit that would shatter the NBA record for threes attempted and lead the league in fewest turnovers. I think we were all fretting and moaning about the possibility of an AARP-eligible Kidd starting at two guard next to Ronnie Brewer’s Rube Goldberg device shooting stroke at SF. Of course, that turned out just dandy (well, dandy to start and dandy to close with an utterly mediocre center, like an Oreo stuffed with room-temperature, unseasoned oatmeal in lieu of that sweet, creamy preservative-laden goodness that one normally finds between two delicious cookies).
So here we are, faced once again with an offseason that caused many to start buying lozenges in bulk at BJ’s Price Club, what with all the blood-curdling screams of rage at Jim Dolan and his ever-changing crew of backup dancers/blues session musicians. They might just be a ‘better’ team than last year — improved defensively with a healthy Shump/Metta/Prigs soaking up a ton of the minutes that were alloted to Kidd/Novak/Cope, and slightly worse offensively — and yet finish with a lower seed and fewer wins. I’ll say 49-33 , with the caveat that monkeys throwing darts at a board generally do better than the best forecasters of the NASDAQ.