A car crash worth watching: New York Knicks Season Preview

Starting Five: PG Raymond Felton, SG J.R. Smith, SF Metta World Peace, PF Carmelo Anthony, C Tyson Chandler
Key Bench Players: SG Iman Shumpert, PF Andrea Bargnani, G Beno Udrih, PF/C Amar’e Stoudemire When Healthy, PG Pablo Prigioni, PF Kenyon Martin
Notable offseason additions: PF/C Andrea Bargnani, SG Tim Hardaway Jr., PG Beno Udrih
Notable offseason subtractions: PG Jason Kidd, SF Steve Novak
FACT OR FICTION #1: Andrea Bargnani will be a key contributor off the bench for the Knicks.
FACT. Most people derided this trade, because trolling the Knicks is “in” and the Knicks usually make bad trades. #ANALYSIS. This is just the world we live in, and as Knicks fans, you have to get used to it.
There was a time where Andrea Bargnani actually had some basketball skills. He was a 7 footer who could score from the block, shoot the 3, find the open man when the double-team came. He has averaged 40% from 3 for an entire season. He has averaged over 20 points per game for a season. There are not many 7 footers in the NBA with those line items on their resume. Yes, he is a rebounding zero. Yes, the most quotable commentary when you search “Bargnani defense” is “LOL”. Yes, he freaking stunk last year. But he is a big who can score, who is only 28, and who may just be salvageable.

Did the Knicks throw in draft picks because, well, they are the Knicks and they don’t give a damn about draft picks? Of course! Did the Knicks, operating with all the leverage, use none of it and get taking to the cleaners AGAIN by Masai Ujiri? Hell yeah they did! As we say around here in MAMBINO Country, it’s the Same Old Knicks. (#SOK for short). This is what the Knicks do.

But at the end of the day, the Knicks swapped Steve Novak, a one-dimensional three-point shooter who the Bockers couldn’t get off of the bench the past two years in the playoffs due to his defensive limitations, and got back a former #1 pick who is 7-feet tall and has some offensive skills. Playing alongside the reigning scoring champion will be a welcome change for Bargnani, who was booed on a nightly basis last year and had the worst year of his career. Can Bargnani be one of the better players on the court against team’s second units? I think so. Can he get buckets against back-up big men in the Eastern Conference? Yeah, he can.

Bargnani will be a nice bench piece for the Knicks, which is where I expect he will end up this season, especially after his absolutely horrific preseason. He may not live up to his contract, or his draft status, or his nickname (apparently he is called ‘the Magician’ in Italy? Unless he can do actual magic tricks, like pulling pennies out little kids ears or making my watch stop ticking, this is a silly nickname), but he can be a relevant contributor off of the bench for the Knicks second unit, a unit which will desperately need scoring with J.R. Smith’s likely move into the starting lineup and Amar’e’s imminent return to the disabled list.

FACT OR FICTION #2: Amar’e Stoudemire will appear in more than 30 regular season games.

FICTION. Here’s a fun bit of trivia – in the 2009-10 season, Stoudemire’s last season with the Phoenix Suns, Amar’e played in 82 out of 82 games, averaging just under 35 minutes per night. He played in all sixteen of the Suns playoff games that year, before signing a 5-year, $100 million contract to become the franchise player of the New York Knicks. Amar’e played in 78 games his first season in NYC, only to hurt his back in a layup line stunt gone wrong in the first-round playoff matchup against the Boston Celtics.

Since the layup line fiasco, Stoudemire has been a walking injury. In the strike-shortened season of 2011-12, Stoudemire only appeared in 47 of the 66 games, with injuries to both knees forcing the big man to miss 19 games and limiting his once-unmatched athleticism. The playoffs saw Stoudemire again injure himself while not playing in an actual game – this time around, Amar’e was swatting a fire extinguisher door out of frustration, opening a gash on his hand which required 20 stitches.

While it is true that head coach Mike Woodson will keep S.T.A.T. on a minutes limit of around 20 minutes per game and hold the Apostrophe out of the second night of back-to-backs, the harsh reality is Stoudemire is a fragile player who will inevitably spend most of the season in bespoke suits at the end of the Knicks bench. Reading between the lines, it was this reality which prompted the Bargnani trade more than anything else.

FACT OR FICTION #3: After losing Jason Kidd to the Brooklyn Nets, the New York Knicks will have a leadership void.

FACT. Swapping out wily veteran Jason Kidd for the League’s most unpredictable player in Metta World Peace will create a massive leadership void in Madison Square Garden. Kidd was the player who got both Melo and J.R. to buy into “the ball will find you” mentality. The Knicks’ season featured two long winning streaks, and in each the Knicks moved the ball and found the open man. The result was a bevy of three pointers, a sharing of the offensive load, and a lot of wins. Although Kidd was mocked for his inability to hit a shot in the playoffs, make no mistake, the now-retired point guard was the only person on the bench who could pull Carmelo Anthony aside and tell Carmelo to play within the offense, to make the extra pass, and to cease being a ball-stopper.

Some fans would say “Hey! Mike Woodson is tough on Melo!” While it is true that Woodson preached accountability on defense and being “tough” on Carmelo Anthony as a reason to keep him as the head coach after his interim head coach status ended, Woodson is a lackey, not a leader. If there is a leader of this team, perhaps it is Creative Artists Agency, the agency which represents Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, and now head coach Woodson as well.  As the excellent Ken Berger of CBS Sports broke down in his piece in May of 2012, CAA is the one calling the shots at One Penn Plaza. (Note – this story has only gained steam since the Knicks gave CAA client Chris Smith, J.R.’s little brother, a spot on the roster even though saying “he belongs in the D-League” is an insult to the talent point guards in the D-League.)

Some fans would also say that Tyson Chandler is the leader with Kidd gone. While Chandler is the backbone of the defense, he has never been a vocal leader in New York. In fact, Chandler’s insistence on arguing with the referee regarding each and every foul called against him has set a bad precedent on the team, which can now be found acting with complete shock and disdain whenever the whistle is blown. Chandler has 21 technical fouls over the past two seasons, including a staggering 11 in 62 games in 2011-12.

The result will be two-fold – for starters, the ball won’t move as much without Kidd harping the benefits of moving the rock. Expect a lot more of the ball stopping with Carmelo, or J.R. Smith shooting 19-foot fadeaways with a hand in his face.

All of that being said, I love the addition of World Peace, the former St. John’s standout who still brings a lot of moxie and toughness. Yes, World Peace doesn’t have the athleticism he once did, and he often resembles the Tin Man running up and down the court, but he is still as strong as an ox and feared universally across the League. The news that Ron (sorry, I just can’t help myself) is defending Carmelo in practice every day can only be a good thing. What the Knicks lost from Kidd on the offensive side they have gained with World Peace’s addition on the defensive side – he will bring an intensity and energy to defense that others will match. Come playoff time, anticipate a lot of Shumpert at the 2, Metta at the 3, Carmelo at the 4, and Chandler at the 5 – a slew of good defenders surrounding one of the League’s elite scorers.

Best case scenario: Melo continues to dominate most matchups as a stretch-4, and leads the League in scoring yet again. J.R. Smith returns from his knee injury, serves his suspension, and plays with a focus and determination as a starter. Iman Shumpert emerges into one of the top perimeter defenders in the NBA, and a defensive unit featuring Prigioni at the point, Shumpert at the 2, World Peace, and Chandler at center leads to a lot of “D-FENSE” chants at the Garden, and, shockingly, some stops. Bargnani stays healthy and re-emerges as a big man with an effective offensive toolbox, and plays well when featured next to Anthony in the front court. Injuries slow down the Nets, the Knicks find a way to win the division, and earn a date with the Heat in the second round of the playoffs.

Absolute Apocalypse: The ball stops moving, Carmelo reverts to “Bad Melo” in forcing a ton of low percentage shots, and the Knicks offense sputters.  J.R. Smith fails another drug test.  Upon serving his suspension for failing three drug tests in a calendar year, J.R. is J.R.  Injuries end another Amar’e Stoudemire campaign early.  More vicious and vocal fans turn on Bargnani, and he wilts under the bright lights of the Big Apple.  Metta World Peace does things only Metta World Peace could be expected to do, and bad things result.  Mike Woodson folds his arms a lot and stares into space, confused.  The Knicks trade Iman Shumpert in a desperation move, taking back a loser vet from a team that was ready to release said veteran.  Knicks miss the playoffs, and their lottery pick goes to the Denver Nuggets.  Rival fan trolling of Knicks reaches unprecedented levels.  Knicks owner Jim Dolan releases a new blues album called “JD Don’t Give A Damn”.  The Nets eliminate the Heat from the playoffs and go on to win the NBA championship.  New NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio ousts the Knicks from the Garden and forces them to move.  Carmelo Anthony exercises his player opt out, and the Knicks re-sign him to a max contract extension, which is announced on the same day the Knicks raise season ticket prices.

Expected outcome: 44-38, 2nd in the Atlantic, 5th in the Conference, and a first round knockout.

Do you smell what MAMBINO is cooking? Check out the rest (so far) of our 2013-2014 NBA Season Preview series:

Central Division

Chicago Bulls
Cleveland Cavaliers
Detroit Pistons
Indiana Pacers
Milwaukee Bucks

Southeast Division

Atlanta Hawks
Charlotte Bobcats

Miami Heat
Orlando Magic
Washington Wizards

Northwest Division

Denver Nuggets
Minnesota Timberwolves
Oklahoma City Thunder
Portland Trailblazers
Utah Jazz

Northwest Division

Dallas Mavericks
Houston Rockets
Memphis Grizzlies
New Orleans Pelicans
San Antonio Spurs

Atlantic Division

Boston Celtics
Brooklyn Nets
Philadelphia 76ers
Toronto Raptors

Pacific Division

Golden State Warriors
Phoenix Suns
Sacramento Kings


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