My guess is that the Knicks won’t win more than 28 games. It’s not that I think the team hasn’t improved. I think Duhon pushing Marbury to the bench gives them depth at guard. With Duhon & Collins the Knicks have two able perimeter defenders – something they haven’t had since perhaps Sprewell & Ward. Maybe even Ward & Harper, since Latrell spent most of his time at small forward.
I think replacing Curry in the starting lineup with David Lee is a considerable improvement. Lee is not only a better player, but a Lee/Randolph front court compliments D’Antoni’s coaching style. Since both are able rebounders, there should be more fast break opportunities. And Lee can play off the ball more with Randolph than Curry would. Also I think Chandler will eventually supplant Richardson at small forward eventually, and that will help the team as well.
I think Mike D’Antoni is a good coach. In fact I think he’s the best coach this team has had since Van Gundy. Many thought D’Antoni preferred veterans over newbies, and the Knick prospects would suffer. Yet it seems many of the youngsters are favored by D’Antoni (Robinson, Chandler, Lee, and even Gallinari). He has a coherent structure for the offense. For the first time in years I feel that the Knicks are actually drawing up plays during timeouts instead of taking everyone’s dinner orders.
So why all the negativity? (If you can call a 5 game improvement negativity.) First is that the East has improved drastically. Jermaine O’Neal makes the Raptors better. Elton Brand makes the Sixers better. Beasley and a full season from Wade & Marion make the Heat better. Mo Williams might make the Cavs better.
My second cause for concern is the roster makeup. It’s thought that Zach Randolph will be moved at the deadline. Let’s just assume that the Knicks move him for a lesser player. Who takes his place in the lineup? The guy they traded for? Well by definition that player should be worse. (Who would take on contract & give up a better player?) If not then maybe Eddy Curry? Or Jared Jeffries? Or Gallinari? None of these will translate into more wins this season.
And who is to say that the Knicks don’t move Lee, Chandler, or Robinson? The team is rebuilding, and it’s hard to say what the roster will look like in March. Even without any changes, the team is paper thin at small forward. The depth chart is two deep: Chandler and Richardson. If one or both get hurt the Knicks will struggle.
So with all that in mind, I’ll stick with 28 wins for the Knicks in 2009. However it doesn’t matter to me how many wins the team gets. This year the team will be more fun to watch. Already it seems that the younger players like Lee, Robinson, and Chandler are going to get more minutes.
Some other predictions from around the league.
UPDATED: Basketball Prospectus: 24