The New York Knicks have made measured improvements to their 54 win roster last season. However, with the transactions around the Eastern Conference most are projecting them as no better than the fifth best team in the East. What five x-factors could push them to exceed expectations?
1. It Is Always About ‘Melo - Ultimately, the Knicks are going to go as far as Carmelo Anthony takes them. If he can build on arguably the best season of his career last year and elevate his play further in the playoffs, the Knicks will be a force to be reckoned with. Anthony is always going to be primarily a scorer but any improvements he can bring to his passing and defense will boost the Knicks.
2. Healthy Bigs - Amare Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani both are immensely talented offensive players who have a tough time staying on the court. If the Knicks can get 60+ games from both of them and steady contributions, they will have a deep arsenal of offensive weapons and a ton of flexibility off the bench.
3. Good JR - No matter how much he drives all of us crazy, the Knicks need a healthy JR Smith replicating his regular season production. When JR is attacking the basket, avoiding bonehead mistakes and giving a full effort on defense, it makes the Knicks one of the most difficult teams in basketball to beat. He is coming back from off-season knee surgery, so he may miss some time early in the season but the sooner he is back in 2012-2013 form, the better.
4. Mas Pablo - Good things happen when Pablo Prigioni is on the court for the Knicks. With Jason Kidd now retired, Prigs should see his minutes expanded on a nightly basis. Larger doses of Prigioni will improve the Knicks offensive efficiency and ball movement. Play the man, Mike Woodson!
5. SHUMP - We saw what kind of factor Iman Shumpert could be on both ends of the court in the post-season last year. If Shumpert continues to grow, the Knicks could have their version of Paul George-Lite to pair with Carmelo Anthony. Shumpert is an elite on ball defender and if he improves his consistency on offense could become the team’s number two scoring option by year’s end.