Hey gang! Given my extensive familiarity with the New York Knicks, their team snapshot got a bit lengthy. I apologize, but promise a cupcake and cookie reward for those of you brave readers who make it to the end!
Enemy: New York Knicks
Coach: Mike Woodson
Potential Starting 5: Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert*, Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler
Other Key Players: Jason Kidd, JR Smith, Ronnie Brewer, Steve Novak, Marcus Camby
Threats: Deadeye shooters, Isolation scorers, Shot blocking, Experience
Grizzlies 2011-12 Record vs.: 1-0
For the Knicks’ sake, the hope has to be that they find themselves in far fewer situations that force Tyson Chandler to wind up making that face pictured above for the wrong reasons, this year. Given the structure of the team, the previous statement is a tall task. For all of its obvious advantages, running a large market team is not without its qualms. Because they can, because of foolishness and because of fan and media pressures, when large market teams are in a bind they tend to spend their way out of it. Creating an even bigger mess in the process, a cycle ensues. Across pro sports, and especially in New York, the Mets, incarnations of the Rangers, and many other larger market teams have learned this the hard way what an inefficient model it is. After the absolute debacle of an era that the 2000’s was for the Knicks franchise it really seemed like they had turned the corner. Prior to the Carmelo Anthony trade, they were building strong off solid young draft picks and a fully engaged Amar’e Stoudemire. Then the trade went down as the Knicks sold the farm to get the Nuggets’ star. To be fair, the fan base might have boiled over had they not pulled the trigger. I attended a blowout loss to Sacramento at the Garden just a few weeks prior to the move, and the “We want Melo” chants drowned out just about anything else that audition would have otherwise allowed. The question of whether or not the Knicks were better off in the aftermath is two-fold. From a basketball standpoint, I sould say that they were not. From a business standpoint, it is a different story. The Knicks became instantaneously relevant again regardless of whether it’s as a punch-line as fool’s gold, or as a legitimate contender. Despite the fact that the Knicks do not draw direct profits from Stubhub as a secondary market, the spike in prices on the site is very much indicative of the demand for a seat in the house at MSG, and serves as a solid indicator of the surge of interest in the team. Similarly in this regard, it remains to be seen whether or not letting Jeremy Lin jump ship to the Rockets was the right decision. I’m going to say from a basketball value perspective yes. I’m a New Yorker. I enjoyed the heck out of Linsanity. But come on, he’s not a star and that poison pill contract he signed is a tough one to swallow. From a marketing value perspective, however, he’s worth every dime. He may be American-born, but the Chinese market of basketball fans is phenomenal to tap into. It’s huge, and relentless in its support. Choosing to weigh the on-court value option over that of the marketing appeal seems to be completely inconsistent with the way James Dolan runs his ship, and the cynic in me has got to be wondering if there was a little more to it. Anybody with some semblance of social awareness could tell that it was no secret that Carmelo was resentful of the attention that Lin was getting on his turf. You could go as far as to say that he was dogging it when he came back. There were legitimately games that I had watched where Carmelo would deliberately be out of position and Lin would be yelling at him to move to his spot, to no avail. If that doesn’t scream diva, I’m not sure what does. He successfully got Coach D’Antoni fired in the process. Sure D’Antoni lost the team as a whole, but if you don’t think that Mr. Anthony had a major hand in that, you have got to be joking. But enough with the conspiracy theories, let’s look at the Knicks roster.
Carmelo and Lebron James broke into the league together in 2003 as something surprisingly not so far from equals. Today, Lebron is about a crab dribble step away from the NBA’s stratosphere, while Carmelo has not quite evolved himself as a player. He is still as one-dimensional as they come, as an iso scorer. What has been lost somewhere along the way, however, in this scathing assessment that I’ve delivered of Carmelo, is the glaring fact that he is one heckuva scorer. There are few guys in the association that possess the killer scoring instinct that this guy does. He wants to rip the heart out of his defender, and he can hurt the defense in a variety of ways out of the triple threat, and even following up on the glass. At the end of the game, if it’s even possible, he wants the ball in his hands even more than usual, and he is capable of throwing daggers at the opposition, illustrated beautifully by his late fourth quarter/overtime performance against Chicago last season. You may be thinking to yourself at this point, “man, this dude is really fixated on Carmelo Anthony,” and I guess to some degree I am, but my reasoning is simple: I don’t think there is one “playoff contender” that is as reliant on one single player as the Knicks are on him. This is a pretty big deal, because contrary to what he may think, Melo can’t do it alone. Supposed to be his fellow superstar accomplice, Amar’e Stoudemire’s effectiveness has melted away and evaporated like a sheet of ice in the middle of July. What gives? That’s a question that many of us are left searching for an answer for. Surely he’s been banged up a bit, but when he first got to New York, he was playing like the greatest thing since Patrick Ewing to ever put on the orange and blue. I can hardly recognize the shell of himself that I saw on the court last year. I’m going to give him some time to pick back up this year before I pass judgment, and hope that last season can be chalked up to injury, the coaching change, and unfortunate off the court distractions, but his rapid decline has been alarming to say the least. On the other hand (no pun intended), the rest of the Knicks roster is a bit more inspiring. I am a huge fan of Tyson Chandler. He may bark a lot, but he also has a nasty bite. He won the Defensive Player of the Year award last year, which is an award I believe to be well deserved. From his Hornets days, to his Dallas days, to now his tenure with the Knicks, he has a knack for shifting the defensive culture of the team that he is brought aboard. Most notably, the Knicks lured back a bunch of familiar faces, in Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas, and Raymond Felton, along with Jason Kidd, who also had some popularity in the area during his stay with the Nets. Camby, Thomas and Kidd are as stable as they come, and Felton made a believer in New York fans during his last stay, and is hoping to recreate those results after ballooning in Portland. Additionally, management was sure to lock JR Smith and Steve Novak back up, who provide the type of instant offense spark that any team would welcome from its reserve unit. Smith is a fearless scorer, and Novak epitomizes an assassin from beyond the arc. Lastly, it’s a shame that the Knicks trade away all their draft picks, because if there’s one thing that they do well, it is evaluate young talent. They’ve made late draft pick magic out of guys like David Lee, Wilson Chandler, and Landry Fields in recent years, and struck gold again last year with Iman Shumpert. Shump is a super athletic, gritty defender, with pretty good scoring ability and an improving jumper. He reminds me of a more tenacious Courtney Lee. Former Grizzly-for-a-hot-minute, Ronnie Brewer, comes in to fill his role for the time being, but fans have to be hopeful that Shump has a healthy return early enough to have an impact, because he could really become something special.
All of the drama and changes within their organization aside, what we really want to focus ourselves with is how our roster and gameplan stacks up against theirs. Even though they’re in the post-D’Antoni era, the Knicks are still pretty fixated on getting out in the open court and chucking threes, with a healthy dose of isolation basketball in the half court. Kidd fits the fast-break mindset to a tee, even with his depreciated athleticism, as he is a masterful floor leader, while Felton excelled tremendously in the role under D’Antoni and hopes to replicate for Mike Woodson. If the Knicks can establish their pace against us, we will be in danger due to our inability to close out on shooters. This could be especially threatening if they run Steve Novak out there at the 4, stretching us thin. If we can confine the game to the half court, however, things look far more promising in our favor. Carmelo and Amar’e then take turns going 1-on-5, which figures to be much less efficient than our through-the-post offense. Tyson Chandler is a great defender, but he can’t guard Marc and Zach alone. In addition, I like Rudy Gay matched up against Carmelo. He always seems to get up for their battle of Baltimore small forwards, and in recent memory has fared well in the matchup. I’ll be absolutely sure to be in attendance when our Grizzlies roll into Madison Square Garden on March 27th, and I don’t think I will be disappointed in the product on the floor.
And as promised… Yum!