With the Knicks on track for a 17 win improvement over the last season, many people seem content with attributing all of the improvement to one person. Amar’e Stoudemire wears the number one, but also appears to be the number one reason New York has turned their fortunes around. And while Amar’e has been an upgrade over Lee, it’s unreasonable to think that he alone has made New York 17 wins better. Instead the Knicks upturn is the result of a number of improvements.
After Amar’e the most obvious improvement is at the point guard position. Last year Chris Duhon gave New York 2072 putrid minutes last year. Duhon’s tenure was so bad I ripped Kelly Dwyer for describing the Magic signing him to a minor deal as ‘fine’. I didn’t even have to wait for Duhon to take up residence in Stan Van Gundy’s doghouse. Lost in the Amar’e Amore is the tremendous upgrade that Raymon Felton has been over Duhon. I’ve lined up the two in a comparison here, but if you want the 35 word explanation instead: Felton scores nearly twice the amount of points (16.4 to 8.6 pts/36) with a much higher efficiency (53.7% to 50.1% TS%) combined with more assists (8.3 to 6.6 ast/36) and steals (1.7 to 1.0 stl/36).
After Felton, the next biggest upgrade might be at shooting guard. Because Landry Fields has allowed Wilson Chandler to move to forward, Fields essentially takes the minutes of Jared Jeffries (1462 mins) in addition to the shooting guard carousel of Larry Hughes (820 mins), Tracy McGrady (627 mins), and Eddie House (371 mins). Just being league average would put Fields ahead of his 2010 Knick counterparts, but Fields has been more than average.
Pessimists would look at him and say he doesn’t score enough, but they’d be overlooking that Fields doesn’t miss much. Of the Knick starters, Fields is first in scoring efficiency, edging out Gallinari 61.0% to 60.4%. Like David Lee in his early career, the Knick guard doesn’t need the ball often, has good hands, converts extremely well around the hoop, doesn’t take many bad shots, and rebounds like crazy. Averaging 8.3 reb/36 for a shooting guard seems to be a typo. Additionally Fields can also hit the three at a good rate, making 38.8% of his downtown attempts. All these components make him a perfect complimentary player to D’Antoni’s system, especially considering what kind of play the Knicks have gotten from their guards in the past.
Not to be ignored is the development of Wilson Chandler, which can be attributed to two events. First is Chandler’s ability to hit three point shots. Prior to this season he was a 30.8% shooter from behind the arc, an appalling number since he attempted 3.1 treys per 36 minutes over that span. This year he’s nailing 35.9% of his threes, which has been instrumental in moving his TS% from 53.4 last year to 57.1 this year. There has been some talk that this improvement is due solely or largely to Amar’e arrival giving Chandler more open looks, but I think that discredits Chandler’s hard work and development. (Additionally this wouldn’t explain why Danilo Gallinari’s three point percentage decreasing or Roger Mason is building brick walls out there).
Second with regards to Chandler’s development is his move to forward. While this hasn’t helped his rebounding much (which in itself is odd because the Knicks have worse rebounders like Amar’e, Turiaf, and Mozgov at center), it has freed him up to block more shots. Chandler’s nastiness has allowed him to recover his “Ill-Will” persona, nearly doubling his blocks from the previous season (0.8 to 1.4 blk/36).
In retrospect it’s easy to say “Amar’e Stoudemire has turned the Knicks around,” but that’s also the lazy answer. New York has seen improvements in multiple areas, and I didn’t even mention their bench of Ronny Turiaf and Shawne Williams. Both of these players have performed well in limited minutes considering their role. In essence if you wanted to make the case that the Knicks have been turned around by one man, then I’d choose Donnie Walsh. He’s done a great job in bringing in players that fit into D’Antoni’s system and turned them back into a winning team.