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The Knicks had their best season since 1996-97 last year but ultimately sputtered in the playoffs, losing in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Disappointing as the post-season may have been, the Knicks were clearly better during the regular season than any non-Miami team in the East and only added talent in the offseason, losing few players and none worth keeping.
At the same time, this Knicks team is old and injury-prone. Between Tyson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Kenyon Martin, Pablo Prigioni, Amar’e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Metta World Peace, and Beno Udrih, most of their rotation is 29-year-old or older. Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani, Iman Shumpert, and J.R. Smith are proving to be huge injury risks on top of that and Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton spent most of last season banged up.
All of that risk should give their two young guys, Tim Hardaway Jr. and C.J. Leslie, a chance to produce when several of those players miss significant time. Let’s take a look at what’s in store for the reigning Atlantic Conference champs in 2013-14.
Points Per Game: 11th
Points Allowed Per Game: 7th
Rebounds Per Game: 26th
Notable Additions: Andrea Bargnani, Tim Hardaway Jr., Metta World Peace, Beno Udrih, Cole Aldrich, C.J. Leslie
Point Guards: Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni, Beno Udrih – Grade: B-
Felton isn’t great but he’s as steady at they come. Entering his ninth-season in the league, he shot .427 last season (.414 career) and posted 13.9 PPG (13.5 career), 5.5 AST (6.6 career), and 1.4 STL (1.4 career). The one area Felton needs to improve in is assists. In his first go-around with the Knicks in 2010-11, Felton averaged nine assists over 54 games. It’s not all his fault with the Knicks’ inconsistent shooting but he definitely needs to be a better court general.
Prigioni, a 35-year-old rookie in 2012, is mostly there for his defense and figures to spell Felton at the point once again this season.
Udrih is a wild card, one that I believe will prove to be a big sleeper on this team. He averaged 10.2 PPG and 6.1 APG as a backup guard in Orlando last season and is only two seasons removed from his 13.7 PPG, 4.9 APG season in Sacramento. He’ll produce off the bench if given the chance.
Shooting Guards: Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Tim Hardaway Jr. – B-
Shumpert struggled last season after returning from knee surgery but is 100% coming into this season and figures to see improvement over his 6.8 PPG, 1.0 SPG, 1.7 APG, and 3.0 RPG. He only played 22 MPG last season and has yet another guard breathing down his neck in rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. this season.
Hardaway was the Knicks’ first-round pick and the 24th player taken in this year’s draft. Hardaway has a ton of potential but he’s very raw. He averaged 14.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.1 APG, and 1.9 3PPG over three seasons in Michigan but only shot .425 from the floor and averaged two turnovers a game. Despite his holes, he should prove to be a big contributor for the Knicks, even if not a consistent one.
J.R. Smith just signed a four-year, $25 million deal and then opted to have knee surgery and was suspended for failing a drug test. He could be out until late November after his Sixth-Man of the Year campaign in 2012-13 and disastrous playoff run. Really, the playoff run was no surprise to anyone paying attention. He shot just .422 from the floor and .407 in 2011-12, his production is largely based on volume alone and his inconsistency is mind-numbing. He’s one of the most overrated players coming out of last season and most likely to disappoint.
Small Forwards: Carmelo Anthony, Metta World Peace, C.J. Leslie – Grade: A
Say what you will about Carmelo’s team play and playoff run, this guy carried his team all year. He averaged a league-best 28.7 PPG, a career-high 2.3 3PPPG, 6.9 RPG, 2.6 APG, and shot .449 from the floor. In most seasons, that wins you an MVP. It could be Melo’s last season in New York but it’ll be a good one once again.
The logic in signing Metta World Peace is lost on me. He’s a 34-year-old walking distraction, a terrible shooter, and a declining defender. The Knicks certainly didn’t need additional veteran presence with almost nothing but long time vets on the team. In any case, Peace averaged a solid 12.4 PPG last season (albeit on .403 shooting), 5.0 RPG, 1.6 SPG, and 1.9 3PPG. So there’s the guy that will fill the void vacated in Smith’s temporary absence.
C.J. Leslie is another sleeper. A 6’9” undrafted rookie out of North Carolina State, Leslie averaged 15 PPG over his last two NCAA seasons, shooting over .520 and averaging 7.4 RPG, 1.0 SPG, and 1.4 BPG. Leslie was injured when he worked out for NBA teams and slipped through the draft but the Knicks called him before the second-round was even over. Watch this kid, he could be an even bigger contributor than Hardaway if given the chance.
Power Forwards: Andrea Bargnani, Amar’e Stoudemire, Kenyon Martin – Grade: C+ to B-
The amount of draft picks the Knicks gave up to get Bargnani, an injury-prone declining forward who has never lived up to his first-overall pick potential, is mind-boggling. Bargnani played just 35 games last season and started only 25. He averaged 28.7 MPG, 12.7 PPG, a paltry 3.7 RPG, and shot a miserable .399 from the floor. He’s only two years removed from his 21.4 PPG season in 2010-11 but he’s averaged 17 or fewer points in five of his seven seasons. The Knicks aren’t likely to have a problem with both Amar’e and Bargnani since the two are unlikely to ever be healthy at the same time.
Stoudemire apparently had a secret knee surgery in July and while the procedure was minor, it’s his third knee surgery in the last year. Amar’e only managed to play 29 games last season, averaging just 23.5 MPG but putting up a solid 14.2 PPG and .577 FG% although he didn’t contribute anything on defense or in the rebound game. He’s only played 76 games over the last two seasons and between him, Smith, Bargnani, and Tyson Chandler, the Knicks are going to need as much bench as they can get.
Those injury problems are likely the only reason Kenyon Martin still has a job. Originally signed on a 10-day contract late in the season, Martin ended up playing 23.9 MPG over 18 games, shooting a career-high .602 from the floor for 7.2 PPG, 5.3 RPG, and 0.9 BPG. He’s a solid contributor off the bench and necessary with such high injury risk on the team.
Centers: Tyson Chandler, Cole Aldrich – B
Chandler was banged up all season but didn’t decline much. He played 32.8 MPG, shooting a strong .638 from the floor for 10.4 PPG, 10.7 RPG, and 1.1 BPG. Defensive Player of the Year a season ago, Chandler can still bang with the best of them down low when he’s healthy but at 31-years-old he’s not the same player he was as a 19-year-old in Chicago.
Aldrich is a minor player and it remains to be seen if the Knicks even have room for him. He’s never played more than 12 MPG and only has 89 appearances over three seasons. The one positive, however, is his strong .540 shooting percentage. His production over eight minutes per game extrapolates to 9.0 PPG, 10.4 RPG, and 2.4 BPG over 36 minutes but he’ll never see that.
Team Grade: B