A couple of weeks ago I posed twenty questions, the answers to which will likely determine whether the 2014-15 Knicks achieve success (make the playoffs) or struggle (miss the playoffs). Some are factual and have become more clear with the start of the preseason while others can only be answered over time. I’ve never been too concerned with being right around here so I’ll try and answer them without the benefit of, you know, actually knowing all that much.
1. What position will the finally slim Carmelo Anthony play? Does his dramatic weight loss suggest the Knicks plan on using him at small forward?
The Knicks plan on using Carmelo Anthony at small forward. They’ve started him at the three in both their preseason games.
2. How good can Melo be in the Triangle? Will he buy into the team’s new gameplan? Will he move the ball like he’s going to be asked to?
The results in this area are promising so far. In two preseason games Melo’s been able to get all his usual jumpers and one-on-one midrange work while showing a willingness to move the ball and getting it in promising situations. The stats don’t tell much of a story but passes like these do. Every indication we have so far is that Melo’s willing to do whatever it takes to win this season and that the Triangle is the perfect offense for him to do it in.
3. What is the Triangle offense? How structured is it?
The Triangle offense was originally known as the Triple Post and it is helpful to think of posting up as the framework for the offense, which focuses on spacing and ball movement and not isolation or pick and roll play and uses posting up in the high and low post to create that spacing. A lot of savvy people have written about it extensively. But it’s not as structured as most people think. When working properly it’s supposed to flow and is not wildly different from a lot of the offense the Spurs run. It’s about spacing and movement but it isn’t an offense that’s full of set plays to get shots for specific players or where Coach Fish is going to call, say, Diamond, and that means it’s that dumb downscreen the Knicks ran for Melo to start every game last season. There will still be plenty of side out of bounds plays and all of that. If Phil Jackson doesn’t have set plays how do you think it ended up that Toni Kukoc took that shot to to end Game Three of the 1994 Eastern Conference Semifinals? You think Phil Jackson just said “Tony, Triangle” and then Scottie Pippen went and sat on the bench?
On top of all that, at his appearance at this week’s New Yorker Festival, Phil Jackson pointed out that the first and easiest option is to get a basket is in transition before the defense gets set and mentioned Jose Calderon as a player who can be counted on to push the pace.
4. What is it like to have a point guard who can shoot it like Jose Calderon? How does he keep his shadow that five o’clock?
I almost always have a five o’clock shadow myself and I can tell you that the way to keep it that way is by being a great person. Calderon has already shown that he can shoot the hell out of it this preseason. But he’s also shown a willingness to move the ball upcourt using the pass and to probe in transition before pulling it back out. His shooting and pace are going to give the Knicks not one but two dimensions they didn’t have last season when starting point person Ray Felton shot 31% from three (compared to Calderon’s 45%) and the Knicks scored a league-low 9.0 fast break points per game.
5. Will anyone in the rotation other than Iman Shumpert be able to pressure the ball on defense?
This is a tough question to answer but lightning quick second year man Shane Larkin seems to be the favorite to be the Knicks’ backup PG to start the year and he ought to be able to harass opposing PGs. Quincy Acy, a tweener forward without much to offer in terms of offensive skills, also seems to be capable of playing aggressively on defense while scaring the hell out of his opponents.
6. How much did Mike Woodson’s coaching (or lack thereof) have to do with the stagnation of Shumpert’s development? Can he take his game to another level? Will trade rumors dog him again this season?
I can’t actually answer this question. I wouldn’t be surprised if Shump is the team’s starting shooting guard when the playoffs start but I also wouldn’t be surprised if they trade him at the deadline. They floated him last year, after all. They also declined to offer him a contract extension during the offseason, which wasn’t surprising since they want to maximize their financial flexibility and can make him a restricted free agent by making qualifying offer later. One way or another at the end of this season there won’t be any more room for excuses or explanations; after four years and three coaches Shump will be a fully formed Shump and will need to be evaluated as such.
7. Does the new regime view JR Smith as a player who should come off the bench like Mike Woodson did? If not, will he start at small forward?
8. How much of “Bad JR” will we see? Will The Triangle get him the spot-up jumpers that he’s so adept at making (as opposed to the off the dribble ones that he’s better off passing up)?
These questions are intertwined. Coach Fish hasn’t said anything much about who’s going to start other than Melo while Jackson mentioned at his New Yorker talk that Dalembert and Calderon are likely to do the same. That leaves shooting guard and one of the forward spots open. There’s a chance that JR ends up starting but I think it’s more likely that Shump starts and Smith provides off the bench, as he did with mixed results the last two seasons (a fantastic 2012-13 that won him Sixth Man of the Year, a rough start to 2013-14 that obscured a solid stretch run).
If Smith plays the best version of his game - which involves plenty of spot-up jumpers and drives to the rim and few extended dribbling sojourns - he’s a deadly player who will probably finish games at shooting guard.
9. Can Tim Hardaway remember that there are things to do with a basketball other than shoot? Can he show some semblance of an understanding of team defense?
Hardaway came back from the summer with quite a bit of muscle added to his frame so I assume he’s planning on using it for something.
10. What does Amar’e Stoudemire have left? Can his mid-range jump shot make him useful enough in the new offense to offset his defense?
I’m not sure what Amar’e has left but they’ve been careful with him already, keeping him to just fifteen minutes in each of their two games so far. His mid-range jumper is definitely an asset and in limited minutes he should be somewhat useful. He seems to be in the running to start at power forward. Which brings us to…
11. Will Andrea Bargnani play at all?
This looks like a definite yes. He started the first preseason game before sitting out of the second with a sore hamstring. He looked a lot like Andrea Bargnani when he was playing. He may start. I don’t know what to say about that other than that none of us are at practice and maybe the organization sees something we don’t. Also, gross.
12. Will the Knicks let Stoudemire and Bargnani’s contracts expire when the season ends and turn them into cap space? Or will they do something dumb?
I think these contracts are simply going to go poof at the end of the league year. Expiring contracts just aren’t worth much anymore. There’ve been rumors floating around that the Sixers could use Amar’e to hit the salary floor before the trade deadline in an effort to save a few bucks (just trust me, it’s complicated), maybe in exchange for a second round pick or two (they have four in the upcoming draft) but other than that I don’t see them getting traded for the contract of a certain overpaid Laker whose contract matches up with the combined value of Bargnanamire’s perfectly (kidding).
13. Can Samuel Dalembert, who has been on five teams in the last five seasons, provide the Knicks with rim protection? Will he piss Derek Fisher off the same way he has Eddie Jordan, Paul Westphal, Kevin McHale, Scott Skiles and Rick Carlisle?
He’s got the skill set the Knicks need and he’s looked solid in the preseason. We’ll see.
14. Who is Jason Smith? How many times will he be compared to Wennington/Perdue/Longley? Does that question count as one time? Three times?
Not a lot to report here. He missed the first preseason game due to the birth of his first child and didn’t play in the second. And yes, that counts as three times. He’s said to have a solid jump shot and a tendency to get injured.
15. Were the flashes Cole Aldrich showed at the end of last season indicative of anything or is he still Cole Aldrich?
Unless I missed some tweets, Cole Aldrich is still Cole Aldrich. I do not believe that he’s a viable basketball player beyond playing the Jason Collins “give six” role.
16. Was Cleanthony Early the steal of the draft?
Early looked like a man in college and looks like a kid in the NBA, which is funny because that’s how going from school to the workplace is for everyone except LeBron and Greg Oden. He had a solid second preseason game. My guess is he’ll show some flashes but most of his development will be away from game action this season. Based on what I know about his game I think that his success as an NBA player will depend on whether he can shoot the three at a somewhat above average level.
17. How much will we all love Quincy Acy and his amazing beard?
I already love it. And Fisher seems to like Acy alright too, giving him the start in Bargnani’s absence on Saturday night. He doesn’t have a bit of offensive game but he’s a garbageman in the truest sense. He’s that guy, he moves weird, he’s a little out of control and a little reckless, a little scary. He’s the kind of player the Knicks have been missing for a long time (save a few healthy stretches for Kenyon Martin).
18. How hands on will Phil Jackson be? How present will he be (both literally and metaphysically)?
Seems to me he will be literally hands off and metaphysically hands on. He discussed philosophy at length at the New Yorker talk, mentioned that the Knicks will be doing “mindfulness training” and said that he will be available for players to talk to whenever they like. So his aura will be present if not his actual self.
19. How much of an adjustment period will there be for Derek Fisher? What do the fans expect? How much pressure will there be on him?
Fisher seems prepared, smart and ready. But there will be growing pains. That said, you know how everyone always says “everyone always says you can’t rebuild in New York but you really can, New York fans are smart”? Time to prove it, neighbors.
20. Can the Knicks make the playoffs?
Yes. Assuming health, the Knicks are definitely not as good as Cleveland, Chicago, Washington, Miami or Atlanta. They are probably not as good as Toronto. They are as good, better or worse than Brooklyn and Charlotte. That’s eight teams. That means that with a few breaks they could find themselves in the middle of the pack but that a few unlucky moments and an injury or two and they could find themselves in the lottery. Also, congratulations, you just enjoyed my Eastern Conference preview.
Whew. I’m excited, you should be excited, it’s going to be an exciting season no matter what happens.
The Knicks will continue to not really answer any of these questions when they take on Toronto tonight at 7:30. Have fun.