As the New York Knicks wrap up the regular season and head into a first round battle with the Boston Celtics, it’s that time to present our final New York Knicks Player Power Rankings of the season. As usual, this exercise is totally inexact, it’s dependent solely on the analysis of one person (me) who doesn’t claim to know any better than any of you. These rankings take the entire 2012-13 season into account, and are based partly on statistics and overall performance, partly on importance to the team and partly on simple personal preference. So I invite you to disagree.
Note that I’ve only ranked players who finished the season on the team’s roster – I have not ranked Ronnie Brewer, who actually played a pretty big role during the Knicks’ early season success, or Solomon Jones, who played in two games. I also have not ranked Quentin Richardson, although he’s on the team’s playoff roster, because, wait why is Quentin Richardson on the Knicks’ playoff roster? I don’t know. Do you? If so, please inform.
Also, give much credit to head coach Mike Woodson, who should be a Coach of the Year candidate after winning over 50 games with a roster many thought was highly flawed.
And away we go:
1. Carmelo Anthony – He’s had an MVP-caliber season by any standards. (Note: the previous sentence is going to be read by many as an endorsement for Anthony as this season’s MVP. That is the incorrect reading of that sentence.) He may win the scoring title (28.7 ppg), is 4th in the league in PER (24.83), and was a key player in both an 18-6 stretch early and a 13-game winning streak late, the latter of which was highlighted by his five-straight games of over 35 points (all in wins). While he was on the floor this season, the Knicks were 194 points better than their opponents. Defense has been an issue in the past, and while he still didn’t have a great defensive season, he held his own enough to make the difference between him being on the court and not negligible on the defensive end. While he didn’t rack up a lot of assists this season, he became a more effective passer this season than ever before; 79 of his 142 total assists set up 3-pointers (via 82games.com), something that plays greatly to the Knicks’ small-ball strength. I would also bet, although I have no proof of this, that he had a career-high in hockey assists (passing to the passer who got an assist).
But all of this sadly won’t matter to many unless the Knicks win a title, which is the unfair treatment that he’ll have to live with the way many great players in the past have. That’s just the way sports works, and more specifically, the NBA works. I’d like to think that if the Knicks get to the Eastern Conference Finals and give Miami a run for their money that people wouldn’t be all “SEE YOU CAN’T WIN WITH MELO!” I suppose we’d have to see how the series/playoffs shook out, but that also didn’t help Patrick Ewing, who heard that exact type of criticism when his paths to title chances kept hitting Michael Jordan detours. But if the Knicks do indeed face Miami in the ECF, it’s probably going to be because Carmelo Anthony led them there, just like he’s led them to their most successful regular season since the mid 1990s. Although I may be in the minority, I appreciate what I watched this season from Melo, as well as all the gents below:
2. J.R. Smith – Almost nobody predicted a lot of the things that happened with the Knicks this season, and the season of one J.R. Smith is high upon that list. Grantland NBA writer Zach Lowe chose Smith as his Sixth Man of the Year, and hell he very well might win the actual goddamn award. J.R. gave Knicks fans a lot of memorable moments during this season; the March Madness-style buzzer beaters in Phoenix and Charlotte, the ridiculous alley-oop finish at home against the Spurs, the dagger on the road early in the season against the Spurs (that’s right, the Knicks swept the Spurs), THE PIPE. Smith has always been able to score, has always been able to shoot, but credit coach Woodson for getting Smith to stay in line and play a more complete game this season. The 18.5 ppg is excellent but the way he got them, especially late in the season reinventing himself as a driving, slashing wing player is what’s more pleasing. As is the 5.3 rebounds per game and eight double-doubles, which paints the picture of a consistent, versatile player. “Consistent, versatile player” are not terms you would have normally used to describe Smith in the past. But that’s what he was, and what the Knicks will need him to continue to be in the playoffs.
3. Tyson Chandler – This season was an ever-so-slight step down in some ways for Tyson Chandler, but he remains one of the best centers in the league. One thing he became this season, thanks to improved point guard play and team-wide floor spacing, was a devastating pick-and-roll finisher, among the best in the league at throwing down alley-oops as though the rim just stole his lunch money or something. Interestingly, it’s on the offensive end that Chandler most positively affected the Knicks this season (The Knicks are +7.9 points per 100 possessions on offense with him on the court, via 82games.com), and the defensive struggles (if you can call them that) come from the fact that the Knicks often over switch on defense, putting Chandler in tough situations. That doesn’t mean the Knicks won’t and shouldn’t lean on him for his defense moving forward.
4. Raymond Felton – The Knicks led the league in fewest turnovers by a pretty large margin this season, and a big part of the credit should go to the starting point guard. While Felton doesn’t dominate the ball for the Knicks, he still takes damn good care of it – averaging just 2.3 turnovers a game. Felton turned out to be a bit of an x-factor for the Knicks this season; in the 68 games he played in the team went 47-21, they were 6-7 without him. There’s no question that a lot of Knicks fans were not happy during the offseason when the news broke late on a Saturday night that Felton was returning via trade, which of course meant that Jeremy Lin wasn’t coming back. What the Knicks got from Felton this season is totally different than what they could have or would have gotten from Lin. Without attempting to make any definitive comparison because A) one wouldn’t really be fair and B) it seems like Lin was a Knick 14 years ago, I think the style of point guard the Knicks got from Felton this year worked just about perfectly with how Woodson wanted to play.
5. Jason Kidd – Kidd hit a bit of a wall in terms of his perimeter shooting in the middle of the year, and it kind of felt like an overall slump. But 40-year-old Jason Kidd doesn’t go through actual slumps, because he affects the game in so many positive ways outside of scoring, and he’s done that all season for the Knicks. Deflections, steals and forced turnovers on defense, the extra pass, clutch jumper, or drawn foul on offense. And even though the closest I got to the Knicks locker room this season was watching warmups at a Ranger game from the 100 level, I’m pretty sure Kidd was a positive influence there and is one of the team’s true leaders. And even still, stats can tell the story, like his 4.3 rebounds per game while playing just over 26 minutes a night.
6. Pablo Prigioni – The level of Prigioni’s importance to the Knicks has steadily gone up as the season has waged on, to the point now where he’s an integral part of the team despite not logging too many minutes. He’ll finish the season third on the team in games played, at age 35 and a rookie in the league, a pretty respectable feat by any measure. To make things really simple, according to 82games.com, the Knicks are, statistically, just a better team in almost every facet of the game when he’s on the court. Since Woodson inserted him into the starting lineup, the Knicks are 14-2. That has likely earned him a spot in the starting lineup in the playoffs, as Woodson has tinkered with lineups he’s surely learned that the Knicks are most effective with two point guards. Like Felton and Kidd, Prigioni also takes excellent care of the ball (2.4 turnovers per 36 minutes), and helps foster the ball movement that the Knicks employ when they’re at their best.
7. Kenyon Martin - Question: should we be concerned that I have Pablo Prigioni and Kenyon Martin at six and seven, respectively, in our rankings heading into the postseason? No, these rankings mean nothing, and, um, depth!
Anyways back to the positives…I think we can sum up K-Mart’s value to the Knicks pretty much by the reaction in MSG when he went down smacking the hardwood in pain last week against the Wizards. Knicks fans are a pretty intelligent bunch, and they also love tough, hard-nosed, hard-foul-giving players and that’s what Martin proved he still was in his 18 games down the stretch. If healthy, he can play a key role going forward.
8. Steve Novak – Novak took a lot of flak this season for not being able to do much else other than make 3-pointers, but I’m not really sure why, because he still does it just about as well as anyone else in the league, and because what else do people expect of him exactly? He wasn’t AS reliable as he was last season, but this year Novak played a full, non-lockout season as a regular rotation player. The much larger sample size is a reason for the slight drop in his 3-point percentage (43% this season, down from 47% last). The fact is that Novak still played a role on this team as a sharpshooter, and one who spaces the floor because he still commands attention. Defensively, yes, he individually isn’t very good, but the Knicks aren’t a significantly worse defensive team with him on the floor. It is worth giving him a run in every playoff game the Knicks play, because if he can get open looks he can make them, which helps when you’re trying to win basketball games.
9. Iman Shumpert – As the basketball world watches and waits for Derrick Rose to return from a severe ACL injury, credit must be given to the Knicks’ sophomore for getting back so relatively quickly. It was Shumpert’s defense that has taken more time to come around (given all the lateral movement, it makes sense), and while he hasn’t been a plus-offensive player, he did shoot 40% from behind the arc. Often times (especially during the Knicks’ 13-game winning streak) Shumpert got hot from the perimeter early in games. Woodson hasn’t shown a lot of trust in Shumpert as he rarely played in crunch time of games. Given the Knicks’ back court options, that will probably continue for the playoff run.
10. Chris Copeland – Much like Prigioni, Copeland joined the team this offseason and most fans thought he would become the new Rick Brunson. For a lot of the season, that’s what Copeland was – he’d come in during blowouts, putting up decent numbers and looking good doing so, causing some fans to believe he should be playing more and getting actual, important minutes. Except this time they were kind of right. Copeland became a guy that Woodson could go to when the Knicks needed a spark on offense, and he’ll likely carry that role into the playoffs (especially with the Knicks’ frontcourt health issues). Copeland did put up a lot of his bigger numbers in garbage time, but his late-season performance in the second quarter of the Knicks’ victory in Oklahoma City – perhaps the Knicks’ best win of the season – stands out as meaningful and proof that he can indeed play in the league.
11. Rasheed Wallace - The Knicks didn’t take much of a risk in signing ‘Sheed, who didn’t play in the league last season, but it feels like a risk now that they leaned on him quite a bit early on when he was healthy and his body simply couldn’t hold up. When he was on the floor, he provided excellent interior defense on the second unit, and took and made a lot of threes. I really hope we can still see him share the floor with Kenyon Martin, because I want to see opponents legitimately scared of going to the paint.
12. Amar’e Stoudemire – The unfortunate thing about the Stoudemire situation this season is that, individually, Stoudemire played really well when he was healthy this season. However, it just didn’t help translate into wins. To be fair, the timing of Stoudemire’s return this season came at a time when a lot of Knicks were going through a bit of a slump, and the team in general was in a malaise. It’s just hard to ignore that the Knicks had their best, prolonged stretches of basketball when Stoudemire was out. I think that Mike Woodson is a good enough coach that going forward he can find a role for Stoudemire, especially with the Knicks’ small-ball style. Stoudemire can still finish in pick-and-roll and pick-and-slip situations. His lack of passing ability makes him a bit of a square peg in a round hole on this current team, and I’d envision that the Knicks will try to play a similar style next season. As for the very immediate future, the playoffs? We’ll see how far the Knicks go, how they’re playing, who’s playing well and not before we say whether or not it would be prudent to give him minutes if and when he gets back healthy.
13. Kurt Thomas - As a fan, it was just fun having Kurt Thomas back on the Knicks. He played a lot more than I, and likely most observers, initially thought he would. And it’s not an understatement to say that he played a huge hand in one of the Knicks’ biggest wins of the season. You may recall that the recent 13-game winning streak started in Utah, on a night where a shorthanded Knicks team was looking to prevent an 0-5 west-coast trip. Despite being injured, Thomas pulled off a turn-back-the-clock performance, knocking down jumpshots, playing rough and tumble defense and rebounding the ball. The Knicks could use his veteran presence in the playoffs, but injuries will sideline him for the remainder of the season and likely for the rest of his playing career. I say this in all honesty, Thomas was a great Knick.
14. Marcus Camby – When the Knicks acquired Camby, I was personally very excited because I envisioned a dominant rebounding and defensive presence to slide in right behind Tyson Chandler on the second unit. Camby’s early health woes kept him on the bench, and the Knicks pieced frontcourt help in Rasheed Wallace and Kenyon Martin, who gave the Knicks what Camby was supposed to give them and perhaps more. And when he did play he wasn’t very effective. Definitely a big time disappointment this season for Camby, who is also signed for two more years.
15. James White – Inexplicably, James White started 15 games on a team that finished second in one of the conferences in the NBA. In most of those games he played a handful of minutes, and wasn’t very much a factor. White also represented the Knicks in the Slam Dunk Contest, which was very exciting in the lead up, and very disappointing during and after the fact.