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Enemy: New York Knicks
3SOB Forecast*: 50-32

Credit: Gary A. Vasquez / USA Today Sports

What’s new in the Big Apple?

Not to be outdone by their little brother over in Kings County (Brooklyn), the Knicks appear determined to keep the sports section headlines of New York newspapers dedicated to their likeness. Between the supremely talented Carmelo Anthony, the under-achieving Andrea Bargnani, and the… let’s be nice and call him “nebulous” Metta World Peace, the Knicks stand a solid chance of achieving just that.

Now just for a second, let us backtrack and discuss just how we got to this point.

The Knicks kicked off a puzzling off-season on draft night, when they selected Michigan Wolverine, Tim Hardaway Jr. I had the pleasure of attending the draft, and the pseudo-home crowd at the Barclays Center erupted into uniform elation at the announcement of his name. The overwhelming roar was received on my end as more of a proclamation that “this is our town,” than a “yes, great pick!”.

Shortly thereafter, news of the Nets trade for legends in the making, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett began to permeate the NBA info sphere. For better or for worse, the Knicks were sure to turn around and reclaim their throne on the back pages, so they shipped out sharpshooter Steve Novak and veteran big Marcus Camby to Toronto for former number one pick, Bargnani.

Then, writing a wrong in a twisted sense, the Knicks followed this up by bringing home the amnestied World Peace — a player whom they should have drafted in the first place some fourteen years ago, when they instead selected Frederic Weis. Yes, that Weis, whose basketball legacy has been cemented by getting taken advantage of by vintage Vince Carter.

Also on the agenda in the Apple was to retain Pablo Prigioni, J.R. Smith, and Kenyon Martin, and acquire another point guard to compensate for Jason Kidd’s defection across the East River. To achieve the latter, it warrants mention that they beat out our Grizzlies for the services of Beno Udrih.

With “baby brother” in Brooklyn looming large as far as offseason improvements go, and threatening a takeover of the town, there is rampant speculation that the Knicks have not done enough in the tank to propel themselves beyond the upper-middle-of-the-pack range heading into the season.

The lack of flexibility towards upward mobility is worrisome, especially given Carmelo’s opt-out clause to follow this season. The tension has risen to such extremes that some New York fans are actually arguing that the contract of Amar’e Stoudemire rivals that of cross-sport comparison Alex Rodriguez. Although maybe the recent situation will cause them to soften that stance.

With pressure mounting for the team to win now and the window of opportunity shrinking like George Costanza in a pool, the coming season can make or break this incarnation of the Knicks.

Who are they working with?

PG: Raymond Felton
SG: Iman Shumpert
SF: Carmelo Anthony
PF: Andrea Bargnani
C : Tyson Chandler
6 : Amar’e Stoudemire

If I could pin down a real issue with the Knicks’ construction last season, it would be plain and simple: their identity. The Knicks were a team that liked to play small lineups, but did not like to play the small-ball game. In terms of pace, they found themselves among the five slowest teams in the league, with 92.0 possessions per game in 2012-13. Even worse, they ranked dead last in transition points per game. I get the desired departure from “D’Antoni ball,” but if you are going to play small, you don’t want to play directly into the opposition’s hands by allowing them to settle into half-court sets all game. With the infusion of Bargnani, they get a little bit bigger on paper, but Bargnani and the notion “playing big” have never really found their way into the same sentence, let alone onto the same basketball court.

The Bargnani addition gives the Knicks another seven-footer to play with in the rotation, and at that one that has played the stretch 4 as well as anybody, in the past. That said, he’s played just 66 games combined in the past two seasons – 10 fewer than the infamously broken down Stoudemire – and struggled to find his range when he did suit up, posting the two lowest respective 3pt percentages of his career.

The other main addition, the artist formerly known as Artest, may be a shell of his former self, but he is a great fit for what the Knicks like to do. He’s strong enough to guard the four, allows Carmelo to play even less defense than he already does, and will have no problem camping out beyond the arc to clear out the paint. Knick fans are going to love him.

Shifting focus to the returning players, the x-factor is going to be the improvement of Iman Shumpert. The “best flat top” candidate had his growth stunted by the recovery process extending between his rookie year and last season, so how he responds to having an offseason to truly work on his game should be telling of the type of player that he will become. In spite of the lost time between seasons, Shumpert returned a much better shooter last year, upping his 3pt conversion rate by nearly 10 percentage points.

Aside from the mixed bags that are Felton’s conditioning, Stoudemire’s knees, and the newly re-signed J.R. Smith, who will be recovering from a knee surgery of his own, you pretty much know what you are going to get with the rest of the roster. Carmelo will continue his high usage/high production reign of terror, Tyson Chandler will continue to do what he does in protecting the paint and slamming home two-handed alley-oops, and Pablo Prigioni will continue to catch inbound passers sleeping, to rack up his steals. The added Udrih offers them the luxury to either run the dual-point guard sets that they ran last season, or simply spell Raymond Felton off the bench. I’d expect very few surprises from this portion of the roster.

How do the good guys stack up?

Credit: Nelson Chenault / US Presswire

Josh Coleman:

While the addition of Metta World Peace (TAFKARA) will help to bolster the Knicks’ defense anchored by former DPOY Tyson Chandler, it is doubtful that he can help their inability to grab rebounds (something the other big newcomer, Andrea Bargnani will also have no effect on), which makes these two games a question of philosophical differences. The Grizzlies want to pound it in the paint on offense, while the Knicks largely live and die by the three-pointer, outside of the supreme abilities of Carmelo Anthony (a legit offensive wizard) to operate all over the court. If the Grizzlies can stay with their assignments on defense and deny open looks to the Knicks’ perimeter threats, then they should be able to grind out victories in both of these contests — especially if Chandler doesn’t regain his previous elite level of play on the defensive side of the ball.

David Vertsberger (of Knickerblogger):

The Knicks will have to beat the Grizzlies with what was their shtick last year and what they’ll hopefully stick with this year: the three-pointer. New York’s floor spacing will either dismantle or succumb to Memphis’s defense depending on whether the shots fall or not. Another factor to look at is how Tyson Chandler will perform this season coming off of a disappointing season. A repeat of 2012 Chandler would make it difficult for the Grizz to find their offense. However, if we see 2013 Chandler again – Memphis will have little trouble scoring and even less trouble grabbing boards. Simply put, we’re still trying to figure this Knicks team out so I’ll just take the safe bet and say the series is split.

Robert Silverman (of Knickerblogger):

Considering the Knicks and Grizz didn’t really do much more than make cosmetic changes to their roster — no franchise-redifining trades or wholly unexpected, lavish free agent signings (Don’t say Bargs. The Bargnani trade might be the Knick-est thing to happen in the last few seasons. It was universally pilloried, they added salary, overpaid, the player they acquired seems like a clumsy fit given the rest of the roster and involved Masai Ujiri running, dancing, gamboling and even possibly gleefully frolicking around his office wearing nothing but Walter White’s tighty-whities and rubbing sweet, creamery future 1st/2nd round Knick draft picks against his cheeks. And yet, I dig Andrea. I’m so hoping the odds are miraculously defied and he has a bounce-back season in New York. In conclusion, #TEAMBARGS.) — the two times they clashed last year should provide a fairly accurate model of what to expect in 2013-14.

When the Knicks are at their floor-spreading, three point-jacking best, they’re a matchup problem for the Grizzles. There’s no one on the floor Zach Randolph can reasonably guard, whether they try to hide him versus a wing like Shumpert or JR Smith or let him take his lumps trying to contain Melo at the four. Of course, I’m presuming that the Knicks will return to the two-PG, smallball lineup that was dizzyingly effective for most of the previous season. The aforementioned Bargnani trade plus need to find minutes for Amar’e Stoudemire [when healthy] means it’s far from a sure thing. For my sanity’s sake, let’s assume they will.)

Of course, conversely, when the Grizz get their grind on, they’ve got the beef to absolutely pummel New York in the paint. Just as Z-Bo can’t be expected contain Anthony, Melo has zero chance of withstanding 36–odd minutes of brutality in the low post without being ground into a fine paste. The Grizzlies’ strengths also mirror some of New York’s most glaring weaknesses, whether it’s gobbling up offensive rebounds or shredding their slow rotations and picking them apart with interior passes to exploit the Knicks’ insistence on switching on every screen.

Beyond that, last season the Knicks were routinely given fits by teams that were able to get under their skin and force them to lose their composure. The Bulls, Pacers, Celtics and yes, the Grizzlies at various moment so peeved the ‘Bockers that they spent vast gobs of time kvetching to the refs whilst an opponent was jetting down the court for an odd-man rush/easy fastbreak opportunity.

In the end, it depends on which team forces the other to play their style and adjust and will will inevitably make for some entertaining-as-hell hoops.

When and Where do they square off?

December 21st: 11:00AM at Madison Square Garden
February 18th: 7:00PM at the FedEx Forum

For more Knicks content, check out our TrueHoop comrades at Knickerblogger.

*3SOB forecast projections are derived from an average of the contributing staff’s predicted win totals.

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