An ugly stretch of basketball has led to an appropriate amount of pessimism among New York Knicks fans in the previous couple of weeks. It isn’t breaking news that this has been a .500 basketball team for the bulk of the season and that they haven’t inspired much confidence as a serious contender in the Eastern Conference. The bar was set higher this year than getting blown out in the first round of the playoffs and the peak for this team was set tantalizing high in the early weeks of the season when they ran off a 18-6 start that included a pair of wins over the Miami Heat.
So what is this team?
There has been plenty of talk of “these being the guys” and due to that, the current level of play shouldn’t be expected to improve much. However, this reality isn’t as daunting as it appears and improvements can be made with a few tweaks and improvements in certain areas.
The Knicks still have one of the 3 or 4 best pure scorers in basketball in Carmelo Anthony. He is prone to inconsistencies but also prone to hot streaks where he is simply unstoppable. They have one of the best defensive centers in the NBA in Tyson Chandler, which helps mask for some of Anthony’s issues on defense. They are in capable hands at point guard with Raymond Felton and now have a pair of scorers off their bench in Amare Stoudemire and JR Smith who can take over games for stretches if Anthony and the first unit is getting cold.
There is no ignoring how poorly key role players like Jason Kidd and Iman Shumpert have been playing but similar to how Kidd’s play has regressed to the mean after a hot start, his shooting is inevitably going to pick back up to a somewhat respectable rate. Shumpert can’t play any worse right now. He is gradually going to get more comfortable and move closer to resembling the player he was last year.
Inconsistency is the recurring theme here. Theoretically the Knicks should be able to go shot for shot with any team in the East. Their defense should get better if Kenyon Martin can give them any thing along with having either Rasheed Wallace or Marcus Camby come back to a productive role. But are all the pieces going to click at the right time? There are going to keep being bumps in the regular season but if the Knicks can hold on to a #2 or #3 seed, they are going to put themselves in a favorable spot in the playoffs. They have a legitimate home court advantage. They have an elite scorer. They have two elite bench scorers. They have an elite defensive center and they have a capable point guard. There is depth throughout the roster. This team is exactly the kind of team who can get hot in a 7 game series and make some noise.
In the meantime, let’s hope Mike Woodson is prudent enough to make a few small tweaks where necessary in this line-up: A little less Jason Kidd, so he is fresh for the playoffs and a little more Pablo Priogini. An effective work in to the rotation for Kenyon Martin and Camby or Wallace when they are back healthy. Keeping Amare at his 30 minutes per game limit so he stays fresh and effective. A change to the starting line-up if Kidd continues to flat-line like this on offense. There is enough depth and moving parts on this roster that tweaks to the rotation could make a difference.
Don’t expect the Knicks to find consistency overnight but don’t be surprised if they exceed your newly lowered expectations.