2014 Preseason Roundtable: What’s Changed, Really?

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.

2014 Preseason Roundtable: Predicting the Unpredictable

In case you didn’t hear, the Knicks signed some crazy guy who was born and raised in New York and plays basketball kind of alright I guess. The KnickerBlogger crew was asked to make their predictions as to what Metta World Peace will bring to the table this season.

Cronin: I am cautiously optimistic that the career rejuvenation that World Peace showed last season will continue in New York. He surely won’t be lacking for motivation in his return to New York, not to mention a desire to prove Los Angeles wrong in amnestying him. I imagine that he will be dedicated enough on defense for any possibly offensive deficiencies to be masked. In addition, at the very least he will be a perfect guy to bring in to cool down the Lebrons and Durants of the world (especially at the end of the game).

McElroy: 2 threes, 2 steals, 4 boards, 5 fouls, 82 must-see post-game interviews.

Fisher-Cohen: Hard for me to see minutes for Metta, honestly, at least not while the team is healthy. The Knicks have about a salary cap’s worth of power forwards already, so Peace is the only spot there’s room for him is as a small forward, and NY really struggled when they were unable to surround Melo with three true threats from downtown. I buy that Peace will be juiced up for the season. I just hope he’s not too juiced because MWP’s brain seems to short out on those occasions when his level of excitement flows up into the red zone.

Cronin: Don’t you think that a Knick team that finished in the bottom half of the NBA in defense will be able to find room in their rotation for a guy like World Peace who can still bring it on the defensive side of the court, Max?

Fisher-Cohen: Brian, I guess you could say the same thing about Ronnie Brewer last year. I know it’s not a perfect comparison, but despite his defense and rebounding, Brewer was +12/100 possessions on 41% three point shooting in November and -5.0/100 possessions on 15% three point shooting in December. Peace shot 32% on threes when he wasn’t in the corners and 36.8% — still below average — on corner threes. That makes him a worse shooter than Raymond Felton, probably the worst rotational three point shooter the Knicks had last year. How much will those numbers go down if he’s not playing power forward and therefore is being defended by players who are comfortable defending the perimeter?

I like Peace and think he can play as a power forward on this team and that there’s a good chance that Stoudemire will get hurt and Bargnani will struggle, making him the best option at there, so I guess i should clarify: In a scenario where the Knicks are better than last year, I don’t see Peace playing much.

Topaz: The starting power forward on the Nets is Kevin Garnett. The starting power forward on the Pacers is David West, and the backup is Luis Scola. The starting power forward on the Bulls is Carlos Boozer.

Though much has been made about the NBA becoming a small-ball league, these contending teams in the East apparently didn’t get the memo. World Peace will not have consistent minutes over 82 games, but he will be a vitally important player against bigger teams, a disproportionate amount of which will likely contend for Eastern Conference supremacy. The Knicks could really use someone to spell Melo defensively when he is at the 4 in these games, and MWP is a great guy to do it.

One more thing about MWP: Don’t confuse weirdness (and gratefulness for one’s teeth) with indifference or lack of effort. World Peace has had an industrious, long, and productive career doing things that many players don’t like to do – play great individual and team defense, bang against bigger players, and defend superstars. He was a very important piece on some very good Lakers teams for four years, and won an NBA championship.

He is leaving a poisonous atmosphere in Los Angeles to come home. He clearly is willing to take a diminished role, given that the Knicks already were forward-heavy when he signed (and that he already has done it once, joining a contender in the Lakers in 2009 knowing his individual numbers would go down.) He is now on a floor-spacing team that won’t need him to create much on offense, will give him some open threes, ask him to defend bigger guys in important spots, and keep him rested (he will soon turn 34 on my birthday, November 13.) I see no reason why he won’t be a productive, hard-nosed player for the Knicks when they really need him.

Silverman: He’s going to be fun as all git out to root for. As we’ve seen in the Preseason, his shot selection can be down right atrocious at times, leading to contested fadeaways from the low post, and put-your-head-down-charge-into-a-slew-of-defenders-and-hope-for-the-best drives, but aside from the gloriously jejeune quotes, I think he’ll be a solid, veteran presence that’ll bring plus team defense. So here’s my unpredictable prediction: We won’t see anything weird, or dumb — let alone crazy — from Metta.

David Vertsberger: Irrational technicals, scuffles, and hilarious sound bites. These I can expect. What I truly wish for? Steady defensive presence, a consistent three-point stroke. Is that too much to ask for? Also – try not to elbow anybody in the mouth. Unless it’s Paul Pierce. You can elbow him in the mouth, MWP.

 

2014 Preseason Roundtable: All of the Bigs, All of the Bigs

Today, the KnickerBlogger crew looks to stand in Coach Woodson’s shoes and determine one maddening question as the season approaches: how should the Knicks’ big-man rotation be handled?

McElroy: First, give Chandler as many minutes as his body can handle. Let’s call it 48 40 36 shit, 33 a night. I don’t want to see a single important minute of Stoudemire or Bargnani at center which I suppose means I’m giving 15 a night to K-Mart, which sounds about right anyway. That leaves 48 minutes of power forward to be shared between STAT and Bargs, so I think that….wait…what’s that? We have the defending NBA scoring champ on our team and he’s at his most dangerous when he plays the four? Give Melo 28 PF minutes (with the balance of his time at the three), give Amar’e the other 20, and tell Bargnani you’ll find minutes for him during the 77 games when one or more injuries renders everything else I’ve written in this paragraph moot.

 

Kurylo: To answer the first question, Chandler, Stoudemire, Martin, and Bargnani, by health. Yes — I would love for Chandler to get lots of rest. But I don’t see a situation where the Knicks can survive without him. Even if Stoudemire is healthy, he is (and should be) on a time limit. Martin is small for every day center duty, and he’s also old and potentially brittle. I don’t think Bargnani should be playing center much or even at all.

Honestly I have my money on Jeremy Tyler, as long as he doesn’t shoot. From best I can tell he’s a poor man’s Reggie Evans. Zero offensive game, good rebounding, not so much with the blocked shots. And that I’m talking about Tyler, tells you everything you need to know about the state of the Knicks bigs.

 

Fisher-Cohen: This might be the most important question here. Every one of these players has the potential to be a disaster if misused or overused, and thanks to the size of other Eastern Conference playoff hopefuls, the effectiveness of New York’s bigs is critical to their hopes of making any sort of playoff run.

The starting point for me is considering which one of these players have the most potential to positively impact a Knicks playoff run. I say there are three of them: Chandler, Martin and Bargnani.

Stoudemire has immense offensive talent, but even if he’s healthy, the main value New York will derive from him will come in the ten minutes a game that Anthony rests. He and Anthony play the same position, like the same spots, and have similar weaknesses. Fortunately for New York, Stoudemire’s body probably won’t tolerate more than token minutes, so limiting his minutes is doubly good. Strictly playing as a backup to Anthony should keep STAT fresh for the regular season while allowing the Knicks to develop chemistry between lineups that are more likely to do damage in the playoffs.

Fun fact about Tyson Chandler: Before joining the Knicks, he had only played over 30 minutes a night three times in ten seasons. It’s no coincidence that his championship season was one of those wherein his minutes were limited. Chandler has a history of injury problems and is not getting any younger, so I say his cap should be 27 minutes. Sure, cutting him down to 27 minutes a night might cost the Knicks a few games in the regular season, but the regular season don’t matter — just ask Rick Carlisle, who learned that the hard way.

Most of the above about Chandler applies doubly to K-Mart, so I’m capping him at ten minutes a game, all at center.

That leaves eleven minutes at center and another fifteen minutes for bigs if we slide Melo to the three when Shumpert rests. In order to not get destroyed on the boards, I give the rest of the center minutes to Tyler, who at least appears to be a rebounder and try to protect him defensively by playing Shumpert and Prigioni alongside him.

Really though, it gets nightmarish trying to build a balanced lineup without Martin or Chandler. I hope Woodson has the brains and testicular fortitude to sacrifice some regular season wins for playoff health.

 

Cronin: I would really love to see Chandler get more rest, but I just don’t see it being realistic. Winning the Atlantic division and therefore more or less guaranteeing avoiding having to play either Miami, Chicago, Indiana or Brooklyn in the first round is huge so I don’t see Chandler getting significant rest. Let us at least hope that his minutes decrease to 30 minutes per game. I don’t think anything under 30 is realistic with the way Woodson has been treating him since he began coaching him. I think Martin is probably best suited to roughly 12 minutes a game but I bet he plays closer to 15-16 minutes a game. Let’s say 16. That’s 46 minutes right there. So 2 minutes to STAT and then STAT can get at least 15 more minutes at the 4 with just Melo’s time on the bench. 17 minutes for STAT is not unreasonable, right? Bargs, meanwhile, I believe will be slowly worked into things, given the chance to play some 5 against centers that the Knicks would prefer to draw away from the rim (guys like Hibbert). Then he just has to prove he can reliably nail the three when he is a tertiary option. If he can, then you essentially blow up the minutes and begin playing Bargs as the stretch 4 with Melo playing more minutes at the 3 and Bargs as the stretch 5 at the expense of Martin’s minutes.

 

Topaz: In a recent piece for KB, I wrote extensively about the Knicks’ precarious situation at the center position. To summarize in a couple sentences, the Knicks need to protect Tyson Chandler, a 13-year NBA veteran who has posted serious minutes (33 MPG the last two seasons) and seriously wore down last season. In other words, the Knicks need to keep Chandler fresh for big games and the postseason by reducing his minutes. Unfortunately, despite having a fairly loaded frontcourt, the Knicks are unfortunately thin backing him up, carrying several poor-rebounding and/or injury-prone forwards who aren’t really suited for the task – Bargnani, Amar’e, and KMart (and an unproven Jeremy Tyler.)

Chandler needs to come down to 28-30 MPG, at least as long as everyone is healthy. And I agree almost completely with McElroy when he says that all non-Chandler minutes must feature KMart on the floor. So Martin should be used almost exclusively as a center and play anywhere from 18-20 minutes a night.

Power forward becomes far trickier, and I’ll have to hedge (hopefully with far more dexterity than Bargnani and Amar’e on pick-and-rolls.) The Knicks have four players who are at their best when they play power forward. Much virtual ink has been spilled at Melo’s terrifying offensive prowess at the 4, and the efficiency of those small-ball lineups in general. Amar’e and Bargnani’s defensive deficiencies, and Bargnani’s comically awful rebounding (worst among all qualified centers last year in rebounding rate), make them incapable of playing center without defensive chaos reigning supreme. And while World Peace remains a very valuable defender, at this stage in his career he is far better-suited to guarding bigger, slower forwards than typical small forwards. Will Bargnani and Amar’e stay healthy? Will the former be effective when healthy? Will MWP continue to find defensive success against power forwards? Will the Knicks stick with small-ball lineups? All those unanswerable questions make figuring out the power forward situation is a headache, for now. It’ll be easier when (and I do mean when) Amar’e and Bargnani get hurt.

 

Silverman: I agree with Lord Jonathan of Topaz. Asking Chandler to log more than 28-30 MPG is practically begging for him to get hurt. Actually, considering his career arc, he’s probably going to miss 15-20 games no matter what. The problem is, while Kenyon Martin was surprisingly effective in the 18 regular season games he logged upon returning to the NBA last year, I don’t think you can expect 20 MPG for a full season without more than a few trips to kindly ol’ Doc Roger Hinds medical practice/glue factory.  I think you have to assume there’ll be 20-odd evenings when he too finds himself on the inactive list, and that’s with keeping his playing time at 15 MPG or so.

By my back of the napkin math (I’ve got an iPhone app that gives you a napkin to do calculations), that leaves three MPG for for the nights when Chandler and Martin are both hale and hearty and 20 games where you’re going to need a full evening’s work from other individuals. That’s where things get a interesting, to put it mildly. It’s partly why Woodson recently stated that one of the Aldrich-Powell-Diogo troika has a good shot of making the roster. And that’s assuming that Jeremy Tyler, regardless of the fact that he’s going to be MIA for a tad longer, is probably already assured of a spot. But the idea of a smallball unit and a grab bag of retread bigs playing significant minutes has to be downright scary. Hell, I think I’m going to go as “Starting Center, Cole Aldrich” for Halloween this year.

 

David Vertsberger: I’d like to give Chandler a good 35 minutes a night, but that’s me being overly optimistic that he’ll be able to handle that load. Whatever minutes he gives up at the center should go to K-Mart. As for the power forward spot, I really couldn’t care less who plays more minutes off the bench between Stoudemire and Bargnani – so long as neither plays more than 15 a night. Go with whoever works there as the season progresses, keep Metta at the 3 for the most part and Anthony at the 4 always. Jeremy Tyler can be the Knicks towel waving human victory cigar.

2014 Preseason Roundtable: Now that JR’s out OH GOD PANIC PANIC PANIC!

Who should be the first player to come off the bench? Our cast of clowns has the answers:

McElroy: Obviously the answer is dependent on who is in the starting five. With JR unavailable, I’d start Felton/Prigs/Shump/Melo/Chandler, bring STAT and Artest off the bench first, have K-Mart play every minute of center that Chandler doesn’t, and let matchups dictate how much time I found for Bargs at the 3 and 4. I also want to see Woody find a role for Udrih who I think could do a lot of the stuff Jason Kidd did last year and possibly even average more than 0.9 PPG in the playoffs. Some may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

Fisher-Cohen: The Knicks have a lot of limited players, guys who are good at one or two things but fall flat on their faces when asked to do more. One key for Mr. Mike Woodson will be putting balanced lineups on the floor. Assuming Felton, Prigioni, Shumpert, Anthony and Chandler start, preserving the chemistry that helped Anthony have a career year and helped what seemed to be verging on a lost cause of a team finally win a playoff series, and assuming Prigioni is the first to the bench given his age, I would sub in Beno Udrih.

With Shumpert still on the floor, the Knicks would have a stopper to contain the best small and a big to help block up the middle, protecting three of the Knicks less gifted defenders.

Cronin: As noted, it really depends on what starting lineup that Woodson settles on and I honestly do not know what he plans on doing. Everyone seems to assume he’ll stick with the Felton/Prigioni backcourt from last season. I am certainly not saying that he won’t do that, but I have not seen any indication from Woodson that he is settled on that lineup. If he does go with that lineup, then I think World Peace will be the first guy off of the bench. If he does not, then I think Prigioni will be the first guy off of the bench.

Silverman: I’ll join the chorus of voices belting out the “Depends on what the starting five is” tune. If Son of Wood goes 2-PG and rolls with the Felton-Prigioni-Shumpert-Anthony-Chandler (the non-Slinky necked version) quintet, and the Knicks are looking for scoring punch, I think the answer’s going to be…gulp…Andrea Bargnani. For all of his faults/flaws, Bargnani can be a versatile scoring big when properly motivated and healthy. STAT’s certainly capable of filling this role as well, as we saw in the brief, 29-game stint before the ligaments and tendons holding his knee together turned into guacamole, but until we/Woodson know that Amar’e’s capable of actually suiting up, I say it’s Bargs. Plus, whereas STAT’s low-posting (assuming he enters for Shump or Prigs) does tend to clog the paint, Bargs as a perimeter threat (assuming he’s healthy and his shot’s been Hopla’d such that he’s capable of hitting the broad side of an edificio agricolo) allows the offense to retain all of the floor spacing goodery we’ve grown so fond of.  And yes, for all the howls of condemnation that I (and many, many others) unleashed at the news of the trade, I’d be tickled chartreuse if Andrea proved all the haterz wrong by having a boffo season.

Kurylo: When I think of first player off the bench, I think offense. So my gut is telling me Amar’e Stoudemire. Remember the guy worked on a whole new repertoire with Hakeem last year? The guy who, when he was healthy, he was able to score on his own in the low post? With Prigioni and — in theory — Bargnani, you don’t need STAT to anchor that second unit. You need STAT when the A-Team is a bit flat and you need some buckets to stem the tide.

Topaz: At the risk of taking the question too literally, if JR is out, it probably makes sense to start Felton/Shump/Melo/MWP/Chandler in the interest of having Prigioni to anchor the second-team backcourt. A starting lineup including Prigs in the Earl-is-out scenario would leave a second-string backcourt of Udrih and Hardaway (and Shumpert in bigger lineups.)

In this scenario, Amar’e is the 6th man (provided he is healthy). A seldom-discussed point about the Knicks’ offense is that, despite having the third-most efficient offense last season, don’t really have too many guys who can create their own shots on a consistent basis. I’d put Melo, JR, and Felton as the 3 absolutes in that category, with Shumpert and Bargnani on a show-me basis. The Knicks need creators, and a healthy Amar’e is a creator who demands defensive attention and double-teams and can create instant offense. Even in these last two injury-plagued years when he has not been 100 percent, Amar’e has averaged 19.2 and 21.8 points per 36 minutes. When he’s right, Amar’e can create his own shot on the catch and on the drive. And in a JR-less game, the Knicks will need their shot-creators to log minutes and stimulate ball movement as much as possible.

David Vertsberger: With my favored starting five being Felton-Prigs-Shump-Anthony-Chandler, I’d vote for good ol’ Metta World Peace. He could easily come in and swap out Prigioni, and fill the 3 or 4 spot with hard-nosed defense and (hopefully) solid floor spacing.
Two caveats though:

1. Perhaps a Bargnani or Kenyon Martin would be better choice to help limit Tyson Chandler’s minutes?
2. If Beno Udrih was the first man off the bench instead of Metta, this would guarantee a two-PG lineup for a longer stretch of the game. Two-PG lineups work well for the Knicks.