For the most part, the Knicks are starting off the 2007 season with the same roster that they ended the 2006 season. So instead on dwelling on each player or position, I’d like to concentrate on how the Knicks are going to be different in 2007.
The New Guys
Although the same lovable group that lost a whopping 59 games will be back, there are a few new cast members. Isiah Thomas sought to revamp the small forward position in the offseason. Thomas signed Jeffries from the Washington Wizards and grabbed Renaldo Balkman with his first pick in the draft. Both players are lanky perimeter defenders that can play a variety of positions. Neither are a threat on offense, although Balkman can move without the ball and finish close to the hoop. In case you’ve been in a coma since June and have never seen Renaldo Balkman, you can identify him by looking for the skinny version of Brian Grant. Jeffries will start the season on the IR, which means that the rookie will see a little more playing time early on.
The Knicks also drafted Mardy Collins. With the depth they have at guard and Collins’ lukewarm preseason, he’ll have first row seats to all 82 Knick games. Just last week the Knicks signed Kelvin Cato. The 6-11 big man will attempt to push Jerome James to the bench which should be easier than actually pushing Jerome James to the bench.
The Class of 06
The Knicks only improvement won’t just come from their new acquirees. The Knicks trio of Frye, Lee, and Robinson look to improve in their sophomore season. In the future, if any of the three are going to the mid-winter classic, it will be Frye. Last year Frye started off hot, but lost confidence on his jumper mid-season, passing on wide-open shots. He looked healthy this preseason, physically bulking up and adding a post up game to complement his outside touch. But Frye also added a mental aspect to his game, taking a bigger role in the on the court leadership of the Knicks.
While Lee & Robinson will likely be role players this year, both have shown improvement over the summer. The Knicks have found a good use for Lee’s strong rebounding skills, even letting him man the center spot in the small & quick lineups when possible. With Frye’s ability to shift to center, expect to see David Lee as the Knicks primary big man off the bench. Meanwhile Robinson’s lessons over the summer (pass the ball more) seem to have finally sunk in. For Nate to succeed at this level, he has to learn that he can’t take the ball to the hoop with two (or more) guys on him. In the preseason Robinson passed out of double teams more, and his assist/minute ratio showed improvement.
Setting aside the tabloid stories surrounding Madison Square Garden, the most frequent topic about the Knicks new season is Isiah Thomas’ offense. Isiah is going to institute his own invention called “The Quick”, which is a combination of Tex Winters Triangle Offense, Bob Knight’s Indiana Offense, John Wooden UCLA Offense, Bill Walsh’s West Coast Offense, Jacques Lemaire’s Neutral Zone Trap, George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware, General Patton’s Operation Fortitute and every successful strategy ever used.
Zeke’s offense does has some advantages with this roster. Taking the ball out of the point guard’s hands will mean that Marbury & Francis won’t be fighting over point guard duties. Additionally it’ll mean that the two shooting happy PGs won’t be able to dominate the ball. Unfortunately, it can’t hide all of New York’s roster flaws, especially when looking at the starting 5. Between Marbury, Francis, and Jeffries the Knicks don’t have a reliable jump shooter to stretch defenses. While Crawford and Robinson can provide that role, Isiah will have a tough decision to make in the fourth quarter of tight games. Will he sit Francis (or Marbury) in order to keep a sharp shooter on the court? Richardson will start the season at SF, but he still isn’t the shooter he was on the West Coast. Quentin shot a paltry 40.4% eFG this preseason with a cheek slapping 13% from beyond the arc. If Richardson can find his stroke he’d be an integral part of the Knicks’ offense, but if he’s going to shoot like that, the Knicks would be better off with Balkman getting the major minutes in Jeffries’ stead.
At one point this was the core of the franchise, but you haven’t heard much regarding how the Knicks are going to improve on defense in 2007. Due to Jeffries’ injury, the Knicks starting 5 on opening night will be Marbury, Francis, Richardson, Frye, and Curry. Not exactly the 1994 Knicks. The backcourt is undersized and the frontcourt doesn’t offer much help, which is a recipe for disaster. On defense, the small forward spot should see an improvement with the additions of Balkman and Jeffries. Should Cato make his way into the rotation, he’ll add a defensive presence as well. Unfortunately those three won’t be enough to make up for a lack of defense from the rest of the roster.
Knick fans are looking forward to this season, because it couldn’t possibly be worse than last year’s fiasco. With a promising core of young players in Frye, Lee, Robinson, and Balkman, New York should generate some excitement on the court this year. The results are mixed on Isiah’s coaching tenure in Indiana, so it’s hard to judge how much of an effect he’ll have on the team. On offense the Knicks lack a true superstar, but they do have a few guys that can contribute in a positive fashion. While most pundits are keying on the development of Eddy Curry, the key might be on the improvement of the Knicks other young big man, Channing Frye. If Marbury can return to his pre-Brown form (very likely), Frye can improve on his first season (likely), Francis can give the production somewhere between his 2005 & 2006 season (possible), and Curry can cut down on his fouls and turnovers (not outside the realm of possibility) then the Knicks should have a good offense. Throw in the continuing development of the bench (Crawford, Robinson, and Lee) and they’ll overcome the lacking of a scoring superpower.
But before Knick fans start readying their tents for an outdoor overnight playoff ticket sale party, there is still the matter of the weak Knicks defense. New York is going to have to outscore their opponents every night, because I don’t see this team shutting down their opponents for extended periods of time. With just about the same roster, the Knicks only won 23 games last year. I don’t care if Larry Brown had a pin filled voodoo doll of each of his players, ultimately it’s the players that earned that record. History shows that teams don’t just all of a sudden win 15-20 more games without a massive talent overhaul.
A realistic estimate for New York’s win total is in the 30-something range, which is still a large improvement. While there will be a lot of talk surrounding the Knicks offense and how the different players mesh with each other, pay attention to the Knicks’ defense. That’ll be the key for their 2007 season.