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Enemy: New York Knicks
3SOB Prediction: 42-40

Photo: Anthony Gruppuso / USA TODAY Sports

What’s the Bite in the Apple?

What better way to celebrate yesterday’s rumors of a comically futile trade offer to the Grizzlies for their cornerstone center Marc Gasol, than to (unintentionally) retort with a blog on the Knicks’ outlook for the coming season? I know not of whether such a proposal centered around sending Amare Stoudemire, Iman Shumpert, and J.R. Smith to Memphis for the soon-to-be free agent Spaniard actually transpired, as I can’t find any concrete links to support the notion. Though, given the nature of such a deal along the lines of those pie in the sky feelers I receive in my Yahoo! inbox during fantasy season (you’ll hear from the principal perpetrator, himself, later in the Assessing the Enemy series), I’m going to assume there’s little fire behind the smoke.

And even if it is true, as they say you’ve gotta be in it to win it. Go New York, go New York, go!

The video above featuring Robert Pera’s buddy and former New York Knickerbocker Landry Fields consumes my consciousness when I’m faced with the thought of the Knicks doing something silly. But all kidding aside, it does ring true that they have serious interest in our favorite Gasol brother and 2015 free-agent-to-be. I mean, why wouldn’t they?

Why they would, brings us to the central thrust of the Knicks offseason: newly minted team president Phil Jackson. In what is his first official foray into NBA front office leadership, Jackson was brought into the organization with which he received his first taste of championship victory as a player in 1973 to put out the fires that owner James Dolan ignited over the previous regime. The announcement of his hiring at the time was probably the only gesture that could have quelled the planned fan revolt against Dolan as effectively as it did.

Jackson’s immediate course of action was to extinguish the unfruitful elements of the franchise’s questionable allegiance to Creative Artists Agency (CAA) and its clients. Thus, gone is Mike Woodson, for starters. Next up was to empower some of his most trusted proteges to perpetuate the type of culture that would be conducive to bringing winning basketball to the Mecca under his wing, and sustainably so. His play for Steve Kerr didn’t quite work out – though his interest did the former sharpshooter some serious favors in the job market – but “why hello there, Derek Fisher”! I’d love to sit here and contemplate the credits and debits of bringing Fisher on board, the fact of the matter is we know very little of how he’ll actually perform on the head coach’s hot seat. After the successes of some first-year coaches in recent years, it’s not nearly the run for the hills situation that we once would have envisioned it, and he’ll be running at the very least a variant of the triangle system that his boss just so happens to be a renowned guru of.

Only after beginning to square away the leadership ranks Phil was able to shift focus towards the roster. On the day before the draft, the underperforming Tyson Chandler and the embattled Raymond Felton were jettisoned to Dallas for Jose Calderon, Shane Larkin, Samuel Dalembert, and two second round picks in this year’s draft (Cleanthony Early and Thanasis Antetokounmpo). While this move did add a bit of long-term salary in the form of Calderon’s contract, it was the first move in quite some time where we saw the Knicks take on some forward-thinking perspective — which is a breath of fresh air for the franchise. The Knicks needed to prepare themselves in case of the emergency scenario in which Carmelo Anthony departed for greener pastures.

After flirting with a few other options – the most threatening of which being the Windy City – Melo opted to lock it in for the big money deal back in the Apple that he could not secure for himself elsewhere. Be it fair or unfair, he will consequently be accused of returning solely for the money, but it genuinely does appear that he enjoys playing in the Empire State. And even if it was entirely for the money, who am I to knock a guy for not choosing to leave around $30 million on the table?

Even with Melo returning to the fold, the Knicks are expected to endure another consecutive lame duck season as they wait for the caustic contracts of Amare Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani slip off the books, but it appears that they finally have their ducks in a row, which – trust me on this one – has been more than half the battle for Dolan and company.

What are they cooking with?

The Knicks’ superstar has taken a ton of heat in recent years for being “inefficient,” just a volume scorer, not leading his team deep into the playoffs, and so on and so forth. Even yours truly used the terminology “fool’s gold” to describe the numbers he’s capable of adorning upon the scoreboard. And yet, ironically, amidst his absolute worst season in terms of team success I established a true appreciation for just how good a player Carmelo Anthony is. To do so for yourself, it wouldn’t be a bad place to start to take a look at this write up on the evolution of Melo’s shooting by Jacob Rosen at the Nylon Calculus.

As far as the Knicks’ drought of success, we might want to be fair to number 7 and note that he was on an island as far as production was concerned. In the 2012-13 season where the Knicks mustered 54 wins, it would suffice to say that he got a little help from his friends. According to Basketball Reference, the 2012-13 Knicks squeezed greater than 5 win shares out of three players other than Carmelo Anthony. As you can see in the graphic below, last season they were not so lucky.

Pretty much everyone around Melo was worse last year than they were the year prior, with the exceptions of Amare Stoudemire and Pablo Prigioni. There are many of culprits for the dramatic swing from year-to-year without much roster turnover to speak of, including but not limited to the fluky-hot 3 point shooting early on in 2012-13 skewing their outcomes, the absolute circus surrounding the team last season, and the introduction of the Bargnani factor (seriously, Masai should be arrested for that heist the next time he sets foot on New York soil). Going back to STAT for a second, though, you might have missed it if you blinked, but Mr. Stoudemire played 61 games last season — the most he’s suited up for since his inaugural season as a Knick. And not only did he manage to get on the court; he managed to play well. Since there’s hardly any chance they find a taker for his contract going into this season, they might as well milk however much they can get out of him from here on out.

The alterations to the overall landscape of the roster are largely derived from the characteristic transaction of the offseason that shuffled Chandler and Felton to Dallas. In replacing Chandler with the less-heralded but similarly-profiled Dalembert, the Knicks may have done some damage to their rim protection, and free agent acquisition Jason Smith may be an elbow-jumper virtuoso, but will not help in that regard. The trade-off, however, should prove to be worth it, as Calderon was simply a flamethrower last year in Dallas, which is illustrated in the shot chart below, and has a history of being a world-class distributor.

Shot Chart from NylonCalculus.com

Shot Chart from NylonCalculus.com

He’s exactly the type of guard that you would want to pair on the court with Melo from an offensive perspective, and if you can get Shumpert to screw his head on correctly, you can sandwich him in between the two to mitigate the defensive shortcomings in the backcourt. If you can tap into Hardaway Jr. and J.R. Smith to fire bombs away again off the bench, and good things might happen.

With stable point guard play and a more defined leadership structure at the helm, I believe there are better days in store for the Knicks than the aggregate 3 Shades of Blue win projection of 42, and wouldn’t be surprised by a return to the playoffs in what is generally expected to be a lame duck season on deck.

How do the good guys stack up?

Photo: Justin Ford / USA Today Sports

The Vibe Behind Enemy Lines

To gauge how the #KnicksTape realm of the basketball world feels about the Knicks’ chances when going head-to-head with our beloved Grizzlies this season, we linked up with not one, but two of the great voices of Knickerblogger.net, in Robert Silverman and David Vertsberger. Silverman also writes for The Daily Beast, VICE, The Cauldron, Deadspin, The Classical, and co-authored We’ll Always Have Linsanity, while Vertsberger is also a contributor for Hardwood Paroxysm, interns at the ABA’s Brooklyn Skyrockets, and handles the beat for Stony Brook University Seawolves basketball in the Statesman newspaper. Suffice to say, these guys know hoops.

Robert Silverman: So the Knicks decided to (once again) revamp its front office, booting out the last round of visionary savants to make room for an honest-to-goodness hoops GAWD, one with serious ties to the franchise’s long-ago glory days, Phil Jackson. You might have heard of him. Dabbles in the dark magicks from time to time. Has been seen perched on a golden palomino, with leather-bound mystical books in his saddlebags and sporting a Native American headdress bedecked with RINGZZ-accented feathers.

So yeah, there’s this odd thing called ‘patience’ wafting through the corridors of Madison Square Garden. The team will have a nice little bit of cap space squirreled away for 2015, and of course, the most glaring need is a front court player that can A) function in the Triangle and B) backline a gossamer-thin defense.

So when the ‘Bockers n’ Grizz find themselves facing one another, it’ll partly be about the actual game, but more than a few fans (and team officials, and players) will instead be looking to the near future, drooling with envy and perhaps hoping that their dandy new Spanish point guard can find a few moments during a break in the action to whisper a few Catalan-accented sweet nothings in his fellow countryman’s ear.

In case I’m not being clear. GIVE US MARC GASOL. NOW.

David Vertsberger: I’d like to make this bold prediction: Vince Carter drops 30 or more in a game against the Knicks this season. Yes, New York only plays Memphis twice, but I’m pretty confident in this. Carter’s got a history as a Knick-killer, averaging more points per game over his career against the Bockers than against any other team in the league. Not really sure how to explain this.

Maybe it’s because Carter spent the majority of his career in the Atlantic Division as a rival? Who knows. Carter knocked home seven threes against the Knicks the last time they faced off, which was this past February. In Memphis, Carter’s going to have plenty more shots with the roster’s lack of offensive creators. New York’s dismal defense is now without former Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler. This is a recipe for vintage Carter, and I’d look forward to it if I were a Grizzlies fan.

The Vibe at 3 Shades of Blue

Josh Coleman: The Knicks finally got their man in Phil Jackson. Unfortunately, the Zen Master couldn’t get his man in Steve Kerr, so he had to settle for Derek Fisher as the new head coach in the Big Apple. Memphis went through their own growing pains with a new coach last season, but at least he had been a head coach previously. For that matter, at least he had been an assistant coach before. Fisher has no coaching experience, unless he headed up a few of his niece’s games in the summer, so he’ll likely face the same problems that Jason Kidd dealt with in his rocky start with Brooklyn last year.

The Knicks re-signed Carmelo Anthony after he talked to eleventy different teams in the offseason (while talking about the importance of winning), meaning they return one of the best pure scorers in the entire league. A trade with Dallas saw the two teams swap starting centers and point guards, a move which weakened the Knicks’ front-court even further — not something you want to hear when contemplating matching up with the Memphis Grizzlies’ two bruising big men.

While Melo will certainly continue to get his and J.R. Smith might have another supernova performance in him if the Grizz defense falls asleep, this is not a team that stacks up well against the Grizzlies. They’re too old and too one-dimensional at too many positions to hope to take both games from Memphis, leaving them hoping to win at Madison Square Garden to avoid another likely season sweep.

When Do They Square Off?

1/5/15 – FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN – 7:00 PM CST
3/23/15 — Madison Square Garden, New York, NY – 6:30 PM CST

What Do Y’all Think?

Cast your vote below and reach out on Twitter @StevieDanziger to discuss more on the matchup!

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One Response to Assessing the Enemy: “Go New York, Go New York, Go”

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