Knicks 2011 Season Preview – Shooting Guards

With the Knicks 2011 season almost upon us, it’s time to analyze the roster. Usually teams have some stability from one year to the next, but New York has only a third of the players returning. How New York is going to perform is more of a mystery than previous years. This year’s I’ll look at each position and attempt to address the critical question for those players.

Shooting Guards: Who will be the starter?

It’s hard to believe, but the longest tenured Knick after Eddy Curry is Wilson Chandler. Over the past few seasons Chandler has been the starting shooting guard due to a lack of alternatives. Offensively he’s miscast at the two because of his hurtful three point shooting (30.8% career) and his inability to get to the free throw line (0.15 ftm/fga). Both of these make him less than a perfect fit in D’Antoni’s offense. Defensively he’s about average; at times his length is helpful, other times his lack of speed is a liability.

The time for Chandler, who stands at 6-8 and 220lbs, masquerading as a two could come to an end this season. There’s been talk of D’Antoni using him at forward more, and he started at PF when Amar’e sat out a preseason game. But more importantly is that Donnie Walsh brought in numerous shooting guards in an attempt to shore up the position. At the top of the list is Kelenna Azubuike. In fact if it weren’t for his injury, it’s likely that he would already be the starter. Career-wise compared to Chandler, Azubuike is a better three point shooter (40.9% to 30.8% 3p%) and slasher (3.4 to 2.7 fta/36). Unfortunately his inability to participate in preseason along with his murky timetable for return (Dr. D’Antoni says Christmas, while Dr. Azubuike says Thanksgiving) means that the Knicks will have to look elsewhere to find an opening day starter.

If Chandler is moved to forward, and Azubuike isn’t healthy, then Bill Walker is probably next on the depth chart. I’ve talked in the past about Walker’s incredible efficiency:

Walker doesn’t average a lot of points (15.4 pts/36 in 2010), but his efficiency (64.9% ts%, 62.5% efg%) is through the roof for a small forward. Only 10 players 6-6 or shorter had a true shooting percentage of 60% or better last year, and no one other than Walker was north of 62%. According to HoopData, Walker attempts the bulk of his shots from behind the arc (50%) or at the rim (33.2%); he doesn’t take a lot of shots in between those areas. So far his career NBA three point shooting percentage is a sizzling 42.7%. Walker relies on his hops to take the action to the cup, including converting a fair share of alley-oops. He moves better without the ball, and doesn’t cough it up much (his turnovers per 36 minutes were a minuscule 1.3).

However his deficiencies (rebounding, defense, and passing) just scream bench player. And the same could be said of Roger Mason. Primarily a three point specialist, Mason does a tiny bit of everything. Emphasis on the word tiny. From the numbers alone it seems he lacks the athleticism (rebounding, free throws, steals, etc.) to be effective. Mason can play the point in small stretches, and he might find some minutes there as well.

Like the point guard position, there’s a spot here for a rookie with a steep climb up the depth chart. Landry Fields has been as impressive as one can get for an unheralded second round pick. At the risk of using a cliche Fields is a “glue guy” or a “heady player.” In other words he doesn’t score a heck of a lot, but does it efficiently and has a well rounded game. More specifically through 5 preseason games he’s averaging 14.5 pts/36 on a sizzling TS% of 66.4%, in addition to 6.1 reb/36. If those numbers are any indication of his true level of play, he’d be a better choice than either Walker or Mason.

In short, I can sum up the Knicks shooting guard starter through a logic statement.

  • Is Azubuike 100% healthy?
  • Else is Wilson Chandler still a SG?
  • Else does D’Antoni trust Landry Fields yet (alternatively is it after March)?
  • Else flip a coin between Walker and Mason.
  • Else if the coin landed on its side Then Toney Douglas.
  • Last Year FGA 3PA FTA ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PTS
    Azubuike (2009) 12.8 3.2 3.5 1.7 5.6 1.8 0.9 0.8 1.4 16.1
    Chandler 13.3 2.3 2.5 1.4 5.4 2.1 0.7 0.8 1.7 15.4
    Mason 11.8 6.3 0.8 0.3 3.8 3.3 0.7 0.3 1.4 11.9
    Walker 10.9 5.4 2.3 0.7 4.1 1.9 1.1 0.1 1.3 15.4
    Career FGA 3PA FTA ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PTS
    Azubuike 12.5 3.7 3.4 1.8 6 1.7 0.9 0.7 1.4 15.6
    Chandler 13.5 3.1 2.7 1.4 5.8 2.1 0.8 0.9 1.7 15.3
    Mason 12 6.2 1.4 0.3 3.4 2.8 0.7 0.3 1.5 13.4
    Walker 10.6 4.3 2.6 0.8 4.3 1.9 1.1 0.2 1.7 15.3

    Last Year PER TS% eFG% 3P% FT%
    Azubuike (2009) 19.8 56.2% 52.0% 44.8% 80.8%
    Chandler 13.7 53.4% 50.2% 26.7% 80.6%
    Mason 9.7 49.0% 47.8% 33.3% 79.4%
    Walker 14.6 64.9% 62.5% 43.1% 79.6%
    Career PER TS% eFG% 3P% FT%
    Azubuike 14.3 55.7% 51.9% 40.9% 77.0%
    Chandler 13.1 51.9% 48.7% 30.8% 77.9%
    Mason 11.2 53.1% 50.7% 38.1% 87.1%
    Walker 13.8 64.8% 62.4% 42.7% 76.4%

    Poll

    Who will start the most games for the Knicks at SG this year?

    • Wilson Chandler (38%, 136 Votes)
    • Kelenna Azubuike (28%, 100 Votes)
    • Toney Douglas (17%, 61 Votes)
    • Landry Fields (11%, 39 Votes)
    • Bill Walker (4%, 16 Votes)
    • Roger Mason (2%, 6 Votes)

    Total Voters: 358

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    Interview with Howard Beck (10/12/2010)

    Looking for more information on the Knicks this early in the season, I picked up the phone and called Howard Beck of the New York Times. He spent 17 minutes and 33 seconds answering questions about the team.

    Mike Kurylo: What’s the mood of the team?

    Howard Beck: It’s not easy to detect right now. It’s so early. I think they’re still trying to feel each other out. If you ask they’re all trying to be optimistic, and feeling like they’re in the early stages of something good here. The mood is a hard thing to put their finger on when they’ve only played 2 preseason games and have been in camp for only a couple of weeks. As we’ve all pointed out numerous times – it’s a completely new team, so they’re still trying to feel each other out and figure out what their (team) identity is. It’s early so every team is feeling optimistic and feeling like there are some good days ahead. But with it being so early, it’s just hard to put a label on the Knicks.

    Mike Kurylo: How different is this from teams of previous years? Where any of them this optimistic?

    Howard Beck: The cliche of October is that everybody feels great about their chances, but with the Knicks it was within a narrow zone of “Hey this year we might get to 35 wins.” This year the difference is a new beginning. The last 5-6 years here, at a minimum, you couldn’t say anything was a new beginning. They had these fake new beginnings, false hopes pinned to “we just got Stephon Marbury” or “we just got Eddy Curry” or “we just got Zach Randolph” and it was always some false promise of a franchise player that couldn’t really lift the franchise. This is the first time the Knicks actually have a true franchise player, someone who is among the best in the league at his position and overall, with Amar’e Stoudemire. So that makes it different. For the first time the players who are still here, and there are only a handful of them, have someone that they can look at and say “that’s our guy”, “that’s our leader”, “he’s not only going to be our leading scorer, but he’s going to be our spiritual leader, our team leader, our morale leader; the guy who sets the tone every day.” So that’s a huge change, because they haven’t had anyone who remotely resembles that in years.

    On the other hand since 10 of these guys weren’t even here last year, it’s not the same guys that are coming in, it’s completely new guys. These guys aren’t carrying the burdens of the Stephon Marbury-Isiah Thomas era. Roger Mason, Ronnie Turiaf, Raymond Felton, and Amar’e Stoudemire – they don’t carry the weight of the Knicks misery from the last 5 years. And that’s positive. They don’t have to worry about what the franchise (has been recently). These guys were brought in by Mike D’Antoni and Donnie Walsh to be part of their team, going forward. The last several camps were characterized by guys who were going to be purged or were brought in solely for the purpose for their contract to expire. So the emotional investment of (this year’s team) are deeper.

    Mike Kurylo: Speaking of Amar’e – is he really going to play the 4 exclusively, primarily, or occasionally? What’s your take from what you’ve seen in practice?

    Howard Beck: That’s a great question because over the last week or so, watching Turiaf struggle a little bit and watching Mozgov flash between promising and foul prone I’ve been thinking about that same thing. And I’ll ask Mike D’Antoni about that today when I get there. In Phoenix, the Suns were widely successful with Amar’e as their so-called undersized/non-traditional center, and I don’t know why the Knicks can’t be successful as well. I think they have to (try) a banger/traditional center next to Amar’e to help him out and keep him out of foul trouble. But I think there is a lot of merit of playing it the Suns way – which is go undersized at every position and just outrun the other team up and down the court. You know there are only a few true centers who are scoring centers in the league anyway, so it’s not as if Amar’e Stoudemire is going to just sit there every night and get banged on by low-post/back-you-down centers. There just aren’t many of them anymore. I think we’ll end up seeing Stoudemire at the 5 a lot, but I think Mike D’Antoni doesn’t want to start that way. He’s inclined to, if he can, keep Amar’e at his natural position.

    Mike Kurylo: Let’s talk about one of the guys you mentioned: Mozgov. He looks like a foul machine out there. He’s a big guy that’s very agile for his size, but how is the team working on that? Do they have refs at practice?

    Howard Beck: Aside from the occasional scrimmage when you bring in refs, it doesn’t happen much. Most guys have to learn on the fly in exhibition games. He’s got 6 games left, so that’s a lot of time for him to get acclimated and work out all the kinks…

    Mike Kurylo: … right, he’s got 36 fouls…

    Howard Beck: Exactly, and he’ll use 30 of them, which wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but you hope his foul rate will go down as he progresses. So if this is a question of his athleticism or his positioning or his technique, I’m not sure I know the answer to that question after two games. But clearly if they want him as their starting center, fouls are the primary area of concern. They know what he can do skill wise. They know he can shoot. They know he can rebound a little and block some shots. They know he can get up and down the court and finish on the break. So can he stay on the floor? Can he not put the other team at the foul line? They still have 6 games to figure that out.

    Mike Kurylo: One of the things that D’Antoni talked about was the ability to go 9, 10, or 11 players deep in the rotation. Do you see that as being a reality?

    Howard Beck: I think it’s realistic in the sense that he’s got a lot of players who are about even. In the past they were about even because unfortunately they were all equally mediocre. Right now they have some guys with good intriguing qualities about them. So it’s about how you want to go about it. How often you want to go big or go small. Whether you want to go with two point guard/play-makers in the back court. If you want to go with shooters. There’s a lot of ways they can go and most of these guys deserve playing time. Landry Fields had such a good summer league and training camp that he’s pushed his way into the conversation too.

    It comes down to when D’Antoni feels he needs to go 11 deep to keep up the pace and keep his guys fresh. And whether the guys who look like they deserve playing time continue to earn it. But you can make the case for probably 11 guys right now off the bat based on their experience or skill set or whether there’s a certain guy you need in a game (situation). I think it’s quite possible (to have a deep rotation). It sounds like he’s committed (to trying) if all those guys are earning the time.

    Mike Kurylo: Let’s talk about Anthony Randolph for a second. He looks like to be an inefficient scorer. What does the coaching staff think of him? Is he a starter?

    Howard Beck: He’s not a starter yet, because first it’s not clear what position he would start at. He’s got some really intriguing abilities that would make him a 3, 4 or 5 depending on who is around him. Right now the priority or concern is whether they have enough shooting on the floor. With him out there alongside the starters guys are going to cheat off of him to play Amar’e. The thing with this coaching staff, and you heard it with David Lee all the time who went from a banger to a person with a knock down jump shot, the coaching staff believes in guys and allows them to do their thing. And if they’re trying to learn or become a shooter they’re not going to yank him if he misses one or two. I think during the season Randolph might have a little less latitude. But right now during the preseason I don’t think it’s a problem for Anthony Randolph to go out there and say “look I’ve worked on my jumpshot all summer, I’m trying to get it down, it’s going down for me in practice, and I want to shoot the open shot.” He should. The coaching staff always encourages these players to shoot the open shot as long as it’s in the flow of the offense, to take the opportunities. Eventually he’s got to start making them, but that’s how you get the confidence that you can do it. A lot of guys get the mechanics down and can make them in practice but they can’t do it in the game. That’s mental, that’s nerves, or a lot of other things. Maybe the same transformation Amar’e Stoudemire or David Lee did (in developing a jump shot) Anthony Randolph can make. And if he can, he can be a fantastic weapon out there. But that remains to be seen.

    Mike Kurylo: You mentioned the word ‘shooting’, which reminds me of the Knicks’ shooting guard situation. Chandler has been the default guy for a few seasons even though he probably fits more of a forward’s build. There seems to be a lot of competition this year, even though Azubuike is hurt and isn’t playing. How is that position shaping out?

    Howard Beck: It’s an intriguing group because they’re all very different. Wilson Chandler got the nod initially because he’s one of the few returning guys, knows the system and he played almost the entire season at shooting guard last year and did alright. The nice thing of having him there is as long as he can stay with his man – he’s 6-8 and strong with long arms and he can harass guys – (he’s a) defensive presence and can be a real asset. His jump shot and his three point shot are unreliable enough to be a concern. It depends on what your priorities are. If you’re priority is shooting then Roger Mason is an accomplished shooter, although a little undersized. If you like Wilson’s size and defensive abilities and his length then you put him out there.

    This is goes back to the Amar’e Stoudemire question, because if you put him at center Wilson Chandler can be your power forward. D’Antoni said power forward was his best position. He likes him in the post and he likes his strength inside. I don’t know if you get enough rebounding from him, but if he’s at the 4 and Gallo is at the 3, now the 2 is open for one of your more natural shooters like Roger Mason or when healthy Azubuike. And Azubuike is the sleeper here. I think if he were healthy from day 1, then he’s the best fit at shooting guard. Not because he’s necessarily a much better player than Wilson Chandler, they’re different, but Azubuike is a better shooter and if you look at what he’s done his first couple of seasons, he could become their Raja Bell. Hit the open three and defend. Those are Azubuike’s strengths. If he were healthy, and maybe when he gets healthy, he’s the best fit there.

    Mike Kurylo: I only have time for one more question, so here you go: Who is the starting five on Christmas Day?

    Howard Beck: Wow. (chuckle) Two games into the preseason and I have to predict the lineup for Christmas Day. I’m just gong to go on a whim here, with a few impulsive judgments that I wouldn’t normally make. Amar’e Stoudemire at center, Wilson Chandler at power forward, Danilo Gallinari at small forward, a healthy Kelenna Azubuike at shooting guard, and Raymond Felton at point guard.

    2010 Summer Interview: Kelenna Azubuike

    I sat down with Kelenna Azubuike for 9 minutes and 41 seconds, and he was kind enough to answer some questions.

    Mike Kurylo: How are you feeling? Donnie Walsh said that you weren’t running yet, but that you were running on the Alter-G, and the next step is to start running on grass. Is that true?

    Kelenna Azubuike: Yeah. I’ll be running grass soon, and then on the court. I’ll be back soon. It’s getting better. I’m trusting it more and more, and the strength is getting better and better.

    Mike Kurylo: Given that you’re injured now, what do you feel you have to do to get into the rotation or to be a starter?

    Kelenna Azubuike: Whenever I come back to just play the way I’ve been playing. Play aggressive and hard nosed. I only know how to play one way, and that’s all out, 110%. I’m really confident what I can do and what I can bring to this team. Whenever I’m out for a period of time, I’m not really worried about jumping back in, because I come in and go as hard as I can and stay ready.

    Mike Kurylo: Do you feel you’ll have an uphill battle to win the starting spot or get in the rotation?

    Kelenna Azubuike: You know, whatever happens, I try not to get too concerned with that. I try to worry about what I can do to stay ready and whenever I come in to just go as hard as I can. My play will speak for itself. As far as the minutes and getting playing time, I’ll leave that up to the coach. I’m confident in what I can do so I expect to be out there.

    Mike Kurylo: What strengths do you bring to the team?

    Kelenna Azubuike: I’m a good shooter, driver, and slasher. I feel like I can get to the hole and make plays. I play defense too. I take pride in stopping people and defending, so I play on both sides. And I love to run. So I fit the way D’Antoni likes to play. I think I bring a lot to the team.

    Mike Kurylo: Recently New York hasn’t had a good defense, so is this something you feel like you can bring to the team?

    Kelenna Azubuike: Definitely. I love playing defense. I think that once you get on the defensive end, you can get back on offense with turnovers and force bad shots. (Off those turnovers) you can get fast breaks where you can easy buckets. The more of those that you get the better your offense will flow. The better the game will be for us. Playing defense is fun. You take the challenge to try and stop people and see if you can do it. I enjoy it.

    Mike Kurylo: How do you feel joining a team that doesn’t really have a core of established players?

    Kelenna Azubuike: I think it’s exciting to see what we can do together. As our chemistry grows in training camp it’ll be fun to see what we can accomplish this year. I know we’re going to win games. I’m excited to see how good we can be together. I think we can be a great team. There are a lot of great players in here, and everybody has a lot to bring to the table. So I think we’ll be good.

    Mike Kurylo: How do you feel about the Golden State guys fitting in, given your familiarity?

    Kelenna Azubuike: We know each other pretty well. We all do different things. I think we’re going to fit in really well. Ronnie is a real tough guy, he kinda does the dirty work. He was really good for us in Golden State and I think he’s going to be even better here in D’Antoni’s system. He’ll know what his role is. And the same thing with Randolph, he’s getting better and better. He’s a young guy, and he’s really athletic so he’s real exciting to watch.

    Mike Kurylo: You came from the Warriors which were an offensive minded team, much like New York. What are some of the differences between what you were doing in Golden State and D’Antoni’s philosophy here in New York?

    Kelenna Azubuike: I think it’ll be more consistent here with the way we play, and it’ll be more structured. They’re both running styles. I think we’re definitely going to try to incorporate the defense in a lot this year. Not to say that we didn’t try that in Golden State, just a lot more so here. I think a lot of players here will complement the way D’Antoni likes to play. It’ll be exciting to se.

    Mike Kurylo: How is it being on the East Coast, compared to the West Coast?

    Kelenna Azubuike: It’s cool. Especially being in New York. That’s the best place to be on the East Coast.

    Mike Kurylo: (laughter) I’m a native New Yorker, so that’s good to hear.

    Kelenna Azubuike: Yeah. If you’re going to be on the East coast you want to be in New York. So I’m excited to be here. The East Coast is exciting to play in and I’m looking forward to it.

    Mike Kurylo: What in particular do you like about New York?

    Kelenna Azubuike: Of course playing in Madison Square Garden! New York is the basketball mecca. If you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere. And it’s the same in basketball. The high school guys from here are probably the most well known ones. If you’re killin’ in New York, you’re pretty much known worldwide. Where I came from, Tulsa Oklahoma, if you do well there you don’t really get national recognition or anything. No one really cares. What can you say about New York that hasn’t already been said? I’m glad to be hear.

    Mike Kurylo: You came through the D-League, so what was that like?

    Kelenna Azubuike: It was an experience. If you go down there with a good attitude it can be good. But it’s tough. It’s not for the faint hearted. I went down there with the attitude that I want to get better and to get ready for this league.

    Mike Kurylo: I had an idea for the NBA All Star Game where they have the freshmen or freshmen/sophmores play the D-League All Stars.

    Kelenna Azubuike: So you’re saying that instead of the rookie-sophomore game?

    Mike Kurylo: Either just the rookies, or combine the first and second year players into one team and let them play the best of the D-League.

    Kelenna Azubuike: That’s not a bad idea. Of course the D-League would love that, the exposure. It would be their All Star Game.

    Mike Kurylo: It would pit guys that are hungry to get into the league…

    Kelenna Azubuike: … and it would probably be a (competitive) game. And those guys are trying to win. If they can do well against NBA players, that’ll be huge for them. There are good players like there, it’s not like they’re a bunch of bums.

    Mike Kurylo: Do you feel like there are a lot of guys down there that could contribute in the NBA?

    Kelenna Azubuike: Yeah. A lot of it is about timing, and whether someone will give you an opportunity. Sometimes it’s politics or whatever. But I think the guys that are good enough they get looks.

    Summer 2010 Edition: Knicks Front Office On…

    Some quotes from Donnie Walsh and Mike D’Antoni from their media interview on 9/22/2010.

    (on the offseason)

    DW: I like what we did. There are guys out there. You get some you don’t (get some). We got Amar’e who is as good a player as we’ve had here in a long time. A 5 time All Star. And a guy that can dominate a game a guy that can get what he wants by his will. He can just do it. So that was a good get. I thought Raymond was a very good get.

    Then the rest of the team whether by trade or by free agency, we filled in some of the blanks that we had. I think we’re a bigger team. We’re very flexible in the sense where we can play big or small. I think we have players that fit in with what Mike (D’Antoni) does a lot better than we’ve had because they’re athletic.

    I think we’ve got some young players, the average age is 24.6. We have some young players that will get better. So I’m excited. I just told Allan that it was like when I was in college, and you go out and recruit these guys and then go watch them play when they come in the fall, and that’s the same feeling that I have (now). There’s an excitement to seeing (new players). (There are) 10 new players on this team. Which is going to be a lot of work for Mike D’Antoni. But they came early, a lot of these guys came early. They seem committed to becoming a team. They’re professionals. They work hard. So, I’ve been pleased with what I’ve seen so far. Now the real (work) starts. And we’ll see how we are I think we can be a good team. But it’s going to take a lot of work.

    (on Eddy Curry)

    DW: Players don’t have to come in during the summer. And what I’ve tried to do over the years is not make any judgment on that. But wen they come they have to be in shape. I’m going to be optimistic and think that he’s going to play. I know this when I was in Indiana. I’ll mention Reggie Miller. He never came in the summer. he came back the day before training camp, got his physical, but he was in shape. He had worked out all summer. There is no magic way to do it. For new guys and young guys (it’s important to) get acclimated to what we do.

    I haven’t talked to him and I haven’t seen him. But I get word floating that Eddy’s working. That’s what I hear.

    (on whether his trainers have been out to see Curry this summer)

    DW: No. No matter what we do it’s going to come down to what you do with your career. He assured me that he’d take care of it. So I’m not going to be bugging him all summer like I did the year before. So we’ll see if that helps him. Some guys like it like that.

    (on whether Curry can be a contributing player )

    DW: I’m going to be optimistic about it. Because I never count a guy out personally.

    (on whether the Knicks need him right now)

    DW: Yeah. Eddy – we could have used him for the last 2 years. For a guy that big and that athletic he can be a force. And we haven’t had him the last two years because of injury. So you see when you don’t have a center out there it’s been a lot of pressure on David Lee. (Some) teams could kinda have their way with us.

    (on Azubuike)

    DW: He’s got one of the toughest injures for a basketball player. The patella tendon. He’s been here for 2 or 3 weeks and has worked form 9 to 5 every day trying to strengthen the leg… There’s always the danger of a setback. I don’t think he’ll be ready for training camp, but he could be ready for the regular season when that comes around. We have to see how it develops with him. The kid is working as hard as he possibly could. The trainer said the (better he is in shape), the better off he’ll be (when he returns from injury.)

    (on Azubuike’s possible return)

    DW: We’d be shooting for the beginning of the regular season. But if he has a setback. It’s a tough injury he’s got.

    (if he’s running yet)

    MD: He runs on the Alter-G it’s called. Where you only can get the 80% of your weight. So it like it lifts you up and let’s you run run without putting weight on it. And that’s all he’s done. He has not been on the court running.

    DW: He was going to run on grass or something like that, I didn’t know if he had started that. That would be the next step.

    (on whether there is a hole at off-guard, or any other position)

    DW: No… We have players that can play the 2. One of the reasons we brought Patrick in (is because) he can defend the bigger twos. Not for the whole game, but for specific minutes. We’ll have to see how that develops. He’s better than he was before, he’s bigger and stronger, (an overall) better basketball player. I like our rookie (Fields) and obviously Chandler can play there and has played there. And I think he’ll be successful. Probably in college he played the 3. But most 2 guards can be successful. Fields probably in college he played the 3. Most big guards that played in college played 3. And they end up, if they’re good shooters, playing 2 guard in the NBA. I think Fields can make that adjustment and can do that. He has a lot of talent.

    New York Knicks Preseason Preview 2011

    [The good folks at CelticsBlog.com, have been kind enough to invite us to participate in the 5th annual blogger preview. Here is my entry.]

    Team Name: New York Knicks
    Last Year’s Record: 29-53
    Key Losses: David Lee, Al Harrington, Chris Duhon, Tracey McGrady, The Stench of Futility
    Key Additions: Amar’e Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, Anthony Randolph, Kelenna Azubuike, Ronnie Turiaf, Roger Mason Jr., Landry Fields, Timofey Mozgov

    1. What significant moves were made during the off-season?

    If you’re reading this section curious about what New York has done, then you’ve probably just awoken from a coma. Although if you’ve been a Knick fan over the last decade, that’s understandable. In any case, let me be the first to give you the good news. New York signed All Star Amar’e Stoudemire this offseason and has room to sign another top free agent. The bad news is that the team was aiming for two of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. Instead the trio have formed the most hated thing this side of Justin Beiber.

    The Knicks also inked Raymond Felton to replace the inept Chris Duhon. Although the team did let home grown All Star David Lee go, getting Anthony Randolph in return could neutralize this loss if the young forward can reach his potential. Ronnie Turiaf will provide much needed shot blocking. Second round pick Landry Fields looked quite impressive in summer league, and Timofey Mozgov showed promise for Team Russia.

    2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?

    The Knicks greatest asset in 2011 should be their athletic versatility. There’s no arguing that Amar’e Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, Anthony Randolph, Ronnie Turiaf, and Timofey Mozgov are more physically able than David Lee, Chris Duhon, Jared Jeffries, Al Harrington, Darko Milicic, and Earl Barron. With a core of Felton, Randolph, and Stoudemire, the team could go big (add Gallinari, and one of Turiaf, Mozgov, Curry) or small (add two of Azubuike, Fields, Walker, Douglas, Mason, or Rautins). D’Antoni should be able to put out some interesting lineups, causing mismatches for their opponents. If Randolph or Gallinari can run the offense like Lee did last year, the Knicks could get very creative on the floor in a point guard-less offense when Felton needs a rest.

    If I had to choose a second strength it might be D’Antoni’s offense. The past two seasons New York featured a ragtag lineup due to the state of the franchise from the Isiah Thomas era. In back to back years the Knicks finished 17th in offensive efficiency, and this year’s team seems more tailor made for the coach. Given the pick & roll tandem of Stoudemire & Felton, the outside shooting of Azubuike, Mason, and Rautins, and the development of youngsters Gallinari, Douglas, Walker, and Chandler, D’Antoni should have plenty of weapons to assault opposing defenses.

    3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?

    New York has been a bad rebounding team for D’Antoni’s tenure, and this is one area Donnie Walsh failed to address in remaking the team. Stoudemire, Gallinari, and Turiaf aren’t good rebounders, and the loss of hyalophile David Lee will hurt the team as well. According to my stat page, the Knicks were 27th on both offensive and defensive rebounding last year. Knick fans who cringe at their team forgoing any second opportunities while allowing tip ins from the opposition will have a furled brow for much of the season. Perhaps Randolph and Mozgov can work their way into heavy minutes and help prevent the bleeding.

    Last year the Knicks were tied for 3rd worst defense in the NBA, and it has been a recurring issue with the team for the last decade. The Knicks have some good defensive pieces in Azubuike, Randolph, Douglas, and Turiaf. However most of the team (including the coaching staff) leans to the offensive side of the spectrum. If New York isn’t among the 10 worst defenses this year, it should be considered an accomplishment.

    4. What are the goals for this team?

    On April 29th, 2001, Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell combined for 44 points and led a Marcus Camby-less New York to victory over Toronto. Despite being up 2 games to 1 in a best of 5 series, the Raptors would win the next two games and knock the Knicks out in the first round. That was the last New York playoff win. The Knicks should aim to end that drought before the streak reaches its 10th birthday. To do so, they’ll need to do better than the 8th seed, since that spot will likely face the Miami Heat, who will likely sweep their first round opponent.

    A playoff spot would mean success for the Knicks. A playoff win would be a nice bonus. Anything beyond a second round appearance would be a Gotham fantasy. On the other hand, entering the draft lottery would be seen as a complete failure considering the team has offered Houston the right to swap picks.

    5. Who is D’Antoni going to alienate this year?

    In 2009, Stephon Marbury was exiled from the team. In 2010 Nate Robinson was chained to the doghouse for most of the year, and was joined by Darko Milicic and Larry Hughes. As I mentioned last year, the D’Antoni Rules aren’t kind to players who aren’t in the rotation. The combination of D’Antoni’s short rotation and his inability to communicate with his players inevitably leads to a player being irate over a lack of playing time. This year’s likely candidate is Mozgov, given his inexperience and D’Antoni’s gigantasophobia. If I had to put money on a dark horse I’d take Turiaf or Chandler. The former has a Twitter predilection that might hit a nerve with the communicationally challenged D’Antoni. The latter because after having no competition at shooting guard for two seasons, Chandler might find himself on the outside looking in. Azubuike, Fields, and even Mason could push Wilson for playing time, and those players fit D’Antoni’s offense better than Chandler.

    From the Mailbox: T-Mac for 2011?

    Been a while since I’ve gotten a request from the old inbox, so I thought I’d take the time to answer.

    Do the Knicks have any interest what-so-ever in resigning Tracy McGrady? I know that most people think T-Mac will never be half the player that he once was, and there is more than enough evidence to support that. However, he won’t be worse than he was last year, and last year, even injured, he still always seemed to have the highest IQ on the floor, especially in a Knicks uniform. He can pass as good as anyone in the NBA, and hes clutch. Additionally, Wilson Chandler is a small forward, not a 2 guard. I like him, but he does not have the handling, or the jump shot the Knicks need at SHOOTING guard. Bill Walker is good, but i dont think he is ready to start just yet. So again, do you know if the knicks have any interest in T-Mac? Looking forward to your response!

    Thanks,
    James

    First, the reliable Alan “my sources say LeBron is going to Miami” Hahn tweeted that neither McGrady nor the Knicks were interested in a reunion. So it doesn’t seem like a likely possibility.

    Second, I’ll start this off by saying I’m not a fan of McGrady’s, and I’ll try to convince any New Yorker not to be either. Let’s look at what I said about him after the season ended:

    I had hoped that McGrady would benefit from a reduction in shot attempts upon arriving in New York. But even when he cut his FGA/36 to 12.6, T-Mac put up the lowest TS% of his career (46.6%). You know your career is over when you’re a former All Star trying to beat out Chris Duhon for a starting job, and you fail. Probably some team will sign him to a minor contract this year, I just hope it isn’t New York.

    How bad is a 46.6% TS%? Well Jared Jeffries managed a TS% of 52.4% for the Knicks last year. Chris Duhon was at 50.1%. Larry Hughes was at 47.3%. Darko Milicic 47.1%. This number is a personal low for McGrady, but poor shooting has been a staple of his late career. In 4 of the last 5 years McGrady hasn’t gotten his TS% above 50%. And mind you that 54% is the league average for true shooting percentage.

    I agree that McGrady has good basketball IQ with regards to passing. However the prerequisite for shooting guard is, as you aptly put it, “SHOOTING.” And hands down T-Mac was one of the worst in the league. If there is any role for McGrady to play in an NBA offense it’s point guard, but even then he’d need to be the basketball equivalent of Stephen Hawkin to make up for his poor shot.

    Now, it’s been no great secret that shooting guard has been a Knick weakness for the past few seasons. As you point out, Wilson Chandler is a forward masquerading as a guard and this summer didn’t do anything to improve Bill Walker’s stock. However, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that Chandler finally addresses one of his offensive weaknesses (although I’m still waiting). Nor is it inconceivable that Bill Walker turns into an NBA starter at shooting guard. But if neither happens New York has more depth beyond them. Azubuike was a starter for most of 2009, and seems to be a great fit for D’Antoni. Douglas will likely see time alongside Felton, and either Fields or Rautins could surprise fans this year as well. Between Chandler, Walker, Azubuike, Fields, Rautins, and Douglas the Knicks finally have some better options to get some real production from the 2 spot this year.

    The U.N. Intramural Squad Or Something More?

    Standing outside Madison Square Garden some summers ago, near the atm’s, yards away from Gerry Cosby’s. Through the glass doors, newly hired Knicks boss Donnie Walsh walked out. I watched as he stood there, lit a cigarette, a Clifford Odetts character in the flesh, he shoulda been named Sydney. As in the guy with the job nobody else wanted, toiling under the boss the whole city smirked about, for a franchise in perpetual free-fall. The suit too big, the bags under the eyes, this was a guy, this Donnie Walsh, made Jeff Van Gundy look like Randy Couture. This Donnie Walsh was a guy, you see him in a bar and you’re compelled to buy him a drink, sit him down and tell him (a’la Tony Curtis in The Sweet Smell of Success), “the cat’s in the bag and the bag is in the river.” You tell him run for your life, it’s not too late to quit this job you have undertaken.

    I shake his hand and wish him luck, mentioning to we share the same alma mater, Fordham Preparatory School in The Bronx. We alumni refer to it simply as “The Prep.” Learned a lot about patience at “The Prep.” Jesuits are part Obi Wan Kenobi, part F. Lee Ermey, the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket (may he rest in peace).

    Donnie Walsh knows a lot about patience having learned from the best. He waited patiently before he removed Isiah Thomas as coach. The replacement, Mike D’Antoni, was known for his seven seconds or less offense, a perception of his teams lack of defense, international fame a result of years playing in Italy, and his ability to recruit all-star talent.

    Donnie Walsh had a vision. He waited, traded away the Knicks best players, and watched the team lose to clear cap room and got the Knicks in position to pursue free agents. One can only guess that he painfully watched as several of the bigger names formed their own fantasy basketball camp in South Beach.

    Those unsure of his vision for the team need only take a second look at the group now assembled in blue, orange and white. For just a second, forget about the “Chosen One” who chose not to be in the Knicks picture. Look instead at the team Walsh has assembled.

    Because it might be that all Donnie Walsh has done is carve a team out of the same stone of which New York City is built. If he pulls it off, if this team wins, ignore the suit, dismiss the wheelchair, if he pulls this off cabbies should scream out “Donnie Basketball” as they drive by.

    New York is and always has been a “melting pot” of cultures, religons, ideas, tastes, culinary delights, dances, dialects, music, sounds. Go to Little Italy, Harlem, Chinatown, the Theatre District, Wall Street, the energy is there, distinctive, bright colors, vibrant sounds… one bold experiment.

    The 2010 New York Knicks for the first time in franchise history are an extension of the shared experiment that is New York. On the likely fifteen man roster, there’s an Italian, a Russian, a Canadian, a Frenchman (from Martinique), a German, a Londoner, a Jamaican… nearly half the roster are players with passports from their home nations. How will these guys pick what restaurant they eat out at together?

    None of this is by accident. Donnie Walsh sought out a “team that made sense…” He sought out personality types as well as skill sets that when together might add up to a sum greater than the parts.

    He also sought out individuals who were up to the challenge that is New York, who want to be here. Ask any native New Yorker or passing tourist: when you step out on the streets of New York, you had better be ready. The sidewalk warns “keep up, or get out of the way,” in about twenty different languages. You get the point, whether its a horn, a shout or a finger. At Madison Square Garden, the cheers don’t get any louder in the league, but the same can be said of the boos. On that stage you can become legendary or you can become infamous. In the case of John Starks you can become both. And in New York, you become that for life. Like being a “Parcells Guy.” Or playing for ” Mr. Torre.”

    This current team, this 2010 edition seems special. Gallinari the Italian Knick, has in two years proven to be one of the top shooters in the NBA. It is no accident his nickname is “The Rooster,” an inference to his cockiness. The new aquisitions are long on edge. Turiaf, the Frenchman is a veteran willing to dispatch his limbs in the path of those bold enough to speed into his paint. Mozgov, the seven foot one Russian, has displayed a fire and flamboyance, a desire to dunk and block shots. And the Jamacian Jerome Jordan, a seven foot draftee joins him. Anthony Randolph, the German born player, is the simply the second coming of Marcus Camby, an uncanny dunker who posesses a jump shot that at his height is matched only by Kevin Durant. Azibuke, the Londoner, is smooth, among the best shooter/slasher the Knicks have had in a decade. The Canadian, draftee Andy Rautins, a coaches son, and a three point arsonist, who at Syracuse, played his college home games at Madison Square Garden.

    They are led by All star Amare Stoudamire and Raymond Felton, both provide leadership and heart. The New York Knicks may have quietly turned the corner. The J-E-T-S Jets, Jets, Jets finished a game away from the Superbowl as that team took on the attitude of its new coach.

    This team, Donnie’s team, seems to be an extension of a vision, perhaps without a single name written on it, but rather characteristics, personality traits, skill sets.

    How will they fare? Will they simply look like the United Nations Intramural squad, against say the Celtics? We’ll know soon. The New York Knicks will unveil their new look in Milan and Paris this fall as part of an NBA Global initiative. The anticipation is high. The Dallas Cowboys and the Atlanta Braves once laid claim to “America’s Team.”
    Now the stage is set for the 2010 New York Knicks, The World’s Team.
    Knick fans across the globe can dream of the playoffs in English, Italian, Russian, French, German or the language of their choice.

    If they win, we should all give “Donnie Basketball” the credit for having the vision.