Carmelo Has Help

New Faces: Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Brandon Jennings, Courtney Lee, Justin Holiday, Marshall Plumlee, Maurice N’dour, Mindaugas Kuzminskas, Willy Hernangomez

2015-16 Record: 32-50

2015-15 Achievements: 1st: Free Throw Percentage. 7th:  Defensive Rebounding, 3-Point Percentage (Defense)  9th: Blocks, 2-Point Percentage (Defense).  10th:  Points (Defense), Total Rebounding, Field Goal Percentage (Defense),

Leading Scorer: Carmelo Anthony, 21.8

Leading Rebounder: Carmelo Anthony, 7.7

The Knicks have rebuilt their team around Carmelo Anthony by focusing their attention on the defensive end of the ball and with good results. They were a top-10 defense in 2015-16 and proved they could dig in with toughness, stop shooters, clog the paint, defend pick and roll, block shots and rebound. In phase two of the rebuilding, they have to create an offensive scheme whereas everyone can share in the wealth.

Go away Kurt Rambis. Hello Jeff Hornacek.

Hornacek is an enabler of guards in a fast moving offensive pace so the Knicks, in essence, are joining the rest of the league.  Last season, they were 26th in assists, 26th in field goal percentage, 20th in 3-point percentage and 28th in 2-point percentage, meaning the Knicks were holding the ball and throwing up a lot of bricks. While Hornacek’s offense is sure to move players around and move the ball, the jury is still out on whether the shooters can actually make shots. In the offseason, the Knicks signed veterans.

The Knicks gave Courtney Lee a nice salary ($12 million per year). Lee has a defensive identity and yet he shot 37.8% from behind the arc for Memphis and Charlotte. That was after shooting 40.2% for Memphis in 2014-15. Lee is entering his 9th year. He’s not particularly athletic but his career low field goal percentage, 43.3%, was posted five years ago. Every year he has been in the league, he has averaged over two offensive rebounds a game. He’s not explosive, not many dunks, but he makes his man have to work to get shots. He’ll fit in with the Knicks defensive identity and he can score the ball and make open shots and not want it to all be about him.

The Derrick Rose reclamation project takes one more twist and turn except with a huge media glare. At the start of preseason games, the civil trial for gang rape that has Derrick Rose right smack in the middle is set to begin. Rose might settle the case by then but if he doesn’t it will be a distraction for a couple of weeks. Once the trial ends, Rose’s play will be put through yet another microscope. The questions about his quickness will continue until Rose can show he can blow by players like he used to do in the past. Will he have to sit some games out like he did in Chicago? And how is he going to defend the quick guards of the league? Rose’s body is the most important story about Rose’s game but this is true too. He is an average NBA player when it comes to scoring the ball. Last year, he shot 29.3% from three and 42.7% overall, a far cry from his 48.9% of his MVP year.  On the last year of his deal, this is an audition for Rose.

Backing up Rose is Brandon Jennings. Where Rose may be compromised with quickness, no such problems hamper Jennings who will be a good fill in if Rose can’t go. Jennings is a good mover of the ball but he’s an apathetic shooter. Last season he made 36.6% of his shots which fit the Jennings narrative. In 7 NBA seasons, he has shot 40%+ twice. In 2011-12 he shot 41.8% and in 2014-15 he shot 40.1%.

The signing of Joakim Noah is both good and bad. Noah is a versatile pick and roll defender and rebounder who can make a shot when it’s necessary. He has good energy, is great in the locker room but he’s getting up there in age, 31 years old. He has a problem staying healthy. and his field goal percentage has descended every year since the 2012-13 season when he shot 48.1%. The state of his aging body makes it unlikely he’ll give the Knicks 11 rebounds like he did in his prime but 9 rebounds seems more in line with his capabilities.

The expectations for Kristaps Porzingis will be off the charts but everyone needs to take a breath. Porzingis is still developing. Last season, to the surprise of many, he proved what a solid offensive player he was with defensive instincts. He should crack the 18 point threshold. He needs to be a more efficient player, particularly from the perimeter. Last year, he tired after the All-Star break. And he can be a better rebounder, given his size. I still think he can crack the 2 blocked shots per game mark.

Finally, Carmelo. The Knicks sun revolves around him (as usual) but for the first time in a long while Anthony has a lot of veteran help. There are no drafted rookies on this team. He will be with players that know how to play. How will Anthony’s leadership evolve? Can he, with skilled players, push them, even on occasions when it means they may not like him? His game is still as sublime as always but he can’t lose focus defensively which sometimes happens.

Carmelo is coming off of an extraordinary summer where he asserted himself politically and socially and then went to Rio and won a gold medal. His confidence and maturity is at its highest point.

The Knicks start the season with a bang. They start at the Cavs. Then play the Grizzlies, Pistons, Rockets and Bulls. A week later the tough teams continue. They play the Celtics, Raptors, Mavericks, Pistons, Wizards, Hawks, Blazers, Hornets and Thunder.

It is a rough start. How they survive it with 10 games at MSG and 8 games on the road will give a clue as to how the Knicks approach this season with a bunch of new players.

Predicted record: 41-41

 

photo via llananba