Will the Real Carmelo Please Stand Up? — New York Knickerbockers Season Preview

Starting Five: PG Raymond Felton, SG Ronnie Brewer, SF Carmelo Anthony, PF Amare Stoudemire, C Tyson Chandler

Key Bench Players: PG Jason Kidd, SG JR Smith, SG Iman Shumpert, SF Steve Novak, PF Kurt Thomas, C Marcus Camby, PG Pablo Prigioni

Notable offseason additions: PG Jason Kidd, SG Ronnie Brewer, PG Raymond Felton, PF Kurt Thomas, C Marcus Camby, PG Pablo Prigioni

Offseason subtractions: PG Jeremy Lin, #LINSANITY, SG Landry Fields, PF Josh Harrellson, all discernible team assets and cap room for the next 3 years

Well, that whole Linsanity thing was fun while it lasted.  The biggest Knick storyline of the offseason centered around undrafted free agent pop culture sensation Jeremy Lin.  The Knicks infamously told anyone who would listen that they would match any contract offered to their Chinese-American star (and restricted free agent).  Then, curiously, the Knicks changed course and essentially decided to spend the money bookmarked for Lin on former Knick point guard Raymond Felton and former Knick power forward Kurt Thomas.  This led to a truly comical (and yet another “only under a James Dolan led Knicks team would this happen” moment) chain of events at Las Vegas Summer League where Knicks GM Glen Grunwald was reported to be ducking Rockets GM Daryl Morey at like a deadbeat ducks the landlord when rent was due two weeks ago. He was not so subtly refusing to receive the Rockets qualified offer for Lin and postponing the franchise’s decision on Lin’s contract until the absolute last possible moment.  #sameoldknicks

Lin and Linsanity are gone, ending a stint with the team that, ten years from now, will literally feel like it was make believe.  Now, moreso than any time since the Knicks traded 3 starters and 5 players overally to acquire him, this team is Carmelo Anthony’s and Carmelo’s only.  This team is built around his strengths and, in order to thrive, Carmelo Anthony needs to thrive.

After the Lin debacle — and really, it was a debacle, whether you were for or against the Knicks bringing him back, the matter in which it was carried out was laughably unprofessional and silly — the next biggest story of the offseason featured Amare Stoudemire down at Hakeem Olajuwon’s ranch, working on post moves.  Stoudemire, having played his entire career in Mike D’Antoni’s offense as the “pick” man on the high pick and roll, never developed any semblance of a post game, although his jumper has become increasingly reliable.  Even though the Knicks are bringing back Raymond Felton, who quarterbacked the Knicks offense to remarkable efficiency over 54 games in 2010-11 (Felton averaged 17 points and 9 assists in his first go-round as a Knickerbocker; Stoudemire averaged 26 points per game on 51% shooting with Felton running the offense), the Knicks believe that Stoudemire needs to play like a more traditional power forward for the team to be successful in 2012-13.

Which is certainly a curious thought — why, the Knicks already have a lethal post scorer who goes by the name of Carmelo Anthony.  Anthony did his best work last year when Stoudemire went down in March and Anthony slid into the 4, averaging 30 points and 7 rebounds per game and winning Player of the Month honors as the Knicks went 16-4.  For the season, all advanced metrics indicate Anthony is an elite power forward and a middling small forward.  The eye test indicates Anthony likes to bang with the bigs and loathes chasing around quicker players around the perimeter.  The Knicks, as an organization, seem resigned to insisting that Anthony and Stoudemire play together, even though this leads to Anthony playing at the 3 instead of the 4, and even though this tandem is routinely outscored in droves by the opposition.  #sameoldknicks

The Knicks would, without a doubt, be best served bringing Stoudemire off the bench as a 6th man.  His scoring is needed more on the second unit than it is on the first.  This would also hide Stoudemire’s truly horrific defense, as the second unit would be less likely to have a guy who could take advantage of STAT’s “defense” — though on second thought, maybe that is not the case.  Keep in mind that last year, players like an out of shape and unmotivated Boris Diaw (12-15 from the field for 27 points on January 4th), and League afterthought Samardo Samuels (7-12 from the field for 15 points on April 20th) abused Stoudemire for entire quarters.  Even this preason, rookie Jonas Valanciunas, a guy whose knock coming into the League was the lack of a post game, took Stoudemire into the lane and scored easily.

So the problem with the Knicks, then, is they are still a franchise known for, in the parlance of “Knicks Message Board” universe (online forums for recovering Knicks fans), “starfucking.”  Regardless of merit or skill or even objective numbers as to what lineup is our best unit, the Bockers play the guy who will sell the jerseys, who, when Wall Street brokers bring their 8-year-old to the game, the 8-year-old can say “hey there is Stoudemire!”  Indeed, there is Stoudemire, getting taken to school by Boris Diaw.

Enough on S.T.A.T.–at this point in his career the guy deserves to be on the second unit and he’s still a starter, but I digress.  This was supposed to be about Carmelo Anthony, a “star” that’s advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs exactly one time in his decade in the NBA.  That season, the 2008-09 campaign, Anthony was coming off a successful run in the Olympics, where he was a critical bench scorer for a team that won the gold medal.  This year, Anthony is coming off a successful run in the Olympics where he was a critical bench scorer for a team that won the gold medal.  That year, Anthony had a heady veteran point guard (Chauncey Billups) who could control the game and direct the offense down the stretch.  This year, the Knicks have a heady veteran point guard (Jason Kidd) who can control the game and direct the offense down the stretch.  That year, the 6th man for the Nuggets was a streaky shooter named J.R. Smith.  This year, the 6th man for the Knicks is a streaky shooter named J.R. Smith.  There are parallels here, people!

The effort has got to start with Melo on the defensive end and on the glass.  Anthony, who came into camp in great shape (he is 12-15 pounds lighter than he was last year, which leads one to ask “why was he 12-15 pounds overweight last year?”), now needs to be a leader on the court for the first time in his career.  Melo doesn’t need to be barking instructions and encouring guys all “rah rah” but he does need to be exerting himself defensively, making hustle plays at least occasionally, and not losing focus for the less important games on the schedule.  This team is deep and talented — Felton will have a chip on his shoulder and looks primed to return to the form he was in as a Knick in 2010, JR Smith is in a contract year, Novak added a few wrinkles to his game (a recently, in a preseason contest, hit a 3-pointer in preseason from about 40 feet like it was nothing), Tyson Chandler is still one of the better defensive players in the game, and defensive stalwart Iman Shumpert is on pace to return in February.  This team has the pieces, from the depth at point guard, the perimeter defenders, and the interior toughness.  Whether the season is a success or a failure will likely answer the question “Is Carmelo Anthony a franchise player?”

Best Case Scenario:  OMG, Melo is really quite good.  While his numbers drop, Carmelo brings a renewed focus and hunger that has been missing in years passed, and a deep Knicks team wins 50 games and the Atlantic.  Ronnie Brewer and Iman Shumpert emerge as a viable defensive duo on the perimeter, and Melo plays a good amount as the stretch-4 with that group.  Raymond Felton-to-STAT on the pick-and-roll is as lethal as it was in 2010, and Jason Kidd and Kurt Thomas bring the vet savvy this team has desperately needed.  The Knicks roll through the first round as Melo ups his scoring, and win a tough second round matchup, advancing to the Conference Finals for the first time since 1999, where they give Lebron and the Heatles a run for their money.

Absolute Apocalypse Scenario:  Carmelo Anthony isn’t just a cancer….he’s not even a top-20 NBA player.  The Knicks sputter out of the gate, and soon their “veterans win championships” strategy blows up in their faces as Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas, and Jason Kidd all miss time with injuries.  Shumpert suffers a setback in returning from his injury and the Knicks have to rely more than ever on the Melo-STAT pairing, which, by year 3, is clear that the pieces do not fit.  Phil Jackson was right (is he ever wrong?) when he said the STAT&MELO pairing is “clumsy” and “don’t fit well together.”  The Knicks are talented enough to make the playoffs, but get steamrolled in the first round by a more cohesive team.  The Knicks head into the offseason capped-out, with old players signed to guaranteed contracts.  Fans begin a countdown to the summer of 2015 when these washed-up losers come off the books.  #sameoldknicks

Expected outcome: 2nd in the Atlantic division, 4th in the Eastern Conference

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