Knicks supporters have a history of placing too much faith in the teams produced by James Dolan, and for the most part, that faith has been misplaced. New York has posted 3 winning seasons in the past 14 years, and it’s often been blamed on James Dolan’s increased role in management.
They’ve made poor moves. They’ve made nigh-on ridiculous moves. They traded Nene, Marcus Camby and Mark Jackson to the Nuggets for two players whom this writer can’t remember, and a second rounder. They drafted Michael Sweetney ahead of David West, Boris Diaw, Mo Williams and Kyle Korver. They took Renaldo Balkman over Rajon Rondo. They paid $100 million for Amar’e Stoudemire and then drove him into the ground.
If you’re a bit cynical at this point, it’s not without reason.
Let’s break down the Knicks team this year, though. We have one of the game’s truly elite scorers in Carmelo Anthony. Putting his lack of championship success (which you can’t place on his shoulder, anyway), the man will be remembered for a long, long time. 26.6 points a game at a career 45.5% clip is outstanding. There’s no doubt that not only will Melo be the centerpiece of this team, but he’s matured as a leader as well. He wants to stay in NY. Yes, he’s paid a lot of money, but the Knicks knew that he would’ve bolted, had he not received appropriate compensation for being an eight-time All-Star, and playing like one. This season, he’s reaffirmed his commitment to playing defense (with a reputation as a sub-par defender), and to be a leader.
A max contract for Melo, and who’s his supporting cast? Langston Galloway is likely to start at the point, and showed genuine signs of promise (albeit playing more shooting guard than point guard), scoring 12 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists a game, and making the All-NBA Rookie third team. He’ll be backed up by Jose Calderon, a proven sharpshooting veteran, and Jerian Grant, arguably the best point guard in the draft. He’s just as good as D’Angelo Russell right now – the only reason he fell as low as he did was due to his age, being four years older. He can shoot, he can pass, he can finish at and above the rim, and he can defend as well as anyone, forcing 8 turnovers against Russell in the Summer League. He’s got a propensity for the clutch, too, with huge plays in college against Duke, Michigan State and Louisville. In addition is Arron Afflalo, a sparkplug who’s always been a reliable shooter and happens to bring perimeter defense and leadership to this team, on quite a reasonable contract. That’s definitely not a bad pickup at all. Sasha Vujacic has championship experience as well, and the veteran’s looked good from deep in preseason; quite aggressive.
As for the frontcourt, it’s anchored by Robin Lopez, who really isn’t a scoring machine. The man wouldn’t know where to find the dictionary definition of range. He wasn’t the Knicks first choice, either. The Knicks would’ve loved Aldridge, but alienated him in a way that only the Knicks could do by wanting him to play centre in preference of Kristaps Porzingis. Their second option was Greg Monroe. They also missed Marc Gasol and DeAndre Jordan. So no, Robin Lopez wasn’t their go-to option in free agency. On the positive side, Lopez plays a New York brand of basketball, one that wouldn’t look out of place on the streets of NYC. He’s tough, he’s fiery, and he brings a major defensive upgrade over Jason Smith and Samuel Dalembert. Phil Jackson is definitely hoping that Lopez makes up for the loss of Tyson Chandler.
Kristaps Porzingis looks to start at the 4, and he’s not a guarantee of success, but he’s already been proven to do legitimately well as a kid in a professional environment in Europe. The NBA is just the next step up. A 7 foot 1, lengthy guy who can shoot the rock as well as any guard, run the floor, play above the rim and still play inside? That’s someone you NEED on your team – he’s hugely exciting for the city of New York, and could turn out the best player of this draft if he plays to his potential.
Derrick Williams is the last notable member of the team that came in during the offseason. The former number 2 draft pick has widely been billed as a bust, but you wouldn’t know it by the way he’s been playing in the preseason. He’s been a scoring machine off the bench, with 16.7 points a game, second only to Melo. He doesn’t have much of a range, but his athleticism means he can take it to the rim easily, and when he does, he’s as good as some of the top forwards in the league as converting those looks, at 64%. For comparison, Trevor Ariza puts up 62%, and DeMarre Carroll puts up 66%.
All of these players bring something genuinely positive to the Knickerbockers, unlike players of the past (I’m looking at you, Samuel Dalembert), and Knicks fans don’t have to kid themselves anymore when we discuss the upside of this team. For the last couple of years, they’ve said “In Phil we trust”, and were outraged after last season. But Jackson has turned this team right around, whether it be through adaptation to a changing NBA or whether it was his plan all along. But this team is young, fresh, and raring to go, and it would not be surprising if it contended for a playoff spot in the East.