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2012 NBA Intelligencer: Behind Superstar Clusters, Unsung Variables Will Determine 2012 NBA Champions

Amare Stoudemire had a minor breakthrough on the defensive end last year, blocking a career high 1.9 points a game.  Still, if the Knicks are going to be a championship contender, he will need to become a stronger defender just outside the paint and a more active rebounder. (photo courtesy of www.d.yimg.com)

Introduction:  Focusing on the unsung variables of the championship-caliber basketball team

Mainstream media coverage of NBA championship squads focus almost exclusively on scoring prowess, super-star “dominance,” and late-game heroics.  With the advent of the Internet media, rock star sports agents, and stratospheric multi-year salary agreements, it has become axiomatic that alignments of max salary NBA players are essential toward winning a championship.  For instance, even after six months of an NBA lockout, the ostensible reason of which was to ensure parity between small markets and larger ones who can sign max salary players at will, the hype heading into 2012 is very much the same.  Basketball nation still obsesses over where Dwight Howard is going to wind up and whether the Miami Heat “Big Three” will finally “click” to go on to win numerous NBA titles.

Of course, the great majority of championship squads over the course of the NBA’s six decades have had at least one future Hall of Fame player with highlight reel skills.  However, no matter what era in the NBA, other less sexy and constant variables have been paramount toward winning an NBA title.  In a league where there are now more than a half a dozen teams that have a super-star cluster of media favorite players, the outcome-determinate variables toward which team wins the 2012 Championship will be by far more grounded.  They include:

  • The acquisition of at least one defense stopper
  • A front court workhorse
  • A litany of versatile players capable of playing different positions when required
  • A Defensive minded head coach
  • A pathologically competitive team captain

In this multi-part series, Sports of New York will analyze whether each of the ten most “super-star” packed teams in the NBA have properly addressed these unsung variables in their quest to the NBA championship in 2012.

1.  The New York Knicks [Superstar Cluster:  Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire]

Starters (2011 stats in brackets).

Carmelo Anthony (F) [26.3 ppg, 3.0 apg, 6.7 rpg]

Amare Stoudemire (F) [25.3 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.9 bpg]

Tyson Chandler (C) [10.1 ppg, 66% FG, 9.4 rpg, 1 bpg, 2010-’11 All NBA defensive team]

Landry Fields (G) [9.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 39% 3pg]

Toney Douglas (G) [10.6 ppg / 24.3 mpg]

Key Bench Players: 

Iman Shumpert [Rookie G, Georgia Tech) [17.3 ppg, 2.7 spg]

Shawne Williams (G / F) [40% 3pg]

Ronny Turiaf (C)  [1.1 bpg]

Jared Jeffries (G / F) [1.0 spg]

Analysis

 Do the Knicks have top flight Defensive stoppers:  Yes and No. 

The acquisition of 7’0 center and defensive specialist Tyson Chandler improves the Knicks from an undersized squad with one of the most porous front courts in the league to one that could be one of the toughest to establish inside scoring against.  It goes without saying that Chandler’s defensive play will be stellar – he’s a selfless player who scores a high field goal percentage on less than ten shots a game, and then gets back on defense to actively blocks shots and grabs rebounds.  The real question is whether Chandler, like Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics, will “change the culture” of the Knicks, inspiring superstars Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony to expand their game from one-dimensional scorers to tough defenders.  Stoudemire improved markedly last year, and having Chandler anchor the defense will allow Stoudemire to play more at his natural position of power forward on both sides of the floor.  Anthony, however, is still a liability at the wing.

Where the Knicks defensive woes will continue is on the perimeter.  Toney Douglas may be a slightly above average defender, but he has been plagued with knee problems and he’s by no means prepared to guard Dwayne Wade, Derrick Rose, or Rajon Rondo (assuming Rondo is still a Celtic).  Landry Fields is a capable rebounding guard, but his man-on-man defense leaves much to be desired.

The Knicks bench is woeful on the defensive end of the floor.

Fun and troubling fact:  Over the last 30 years, every NBA championship squad has had at least one player who has won at least 5 All-NBA defense team honors. 

Do the Knicks have a front court workhorse:  Yes.

Tyson Chandler fits this bill perfectly.  Stoudemire, if he so chooses to accept his position as a #2 scoring option on nights where Carmelo Anthony has obvious matchup advantages, could combine with Chandler for one of the most lethal defensive front courts in the league.

Most championship squads have benches built with players who can come in, swallow up fouls while meting out a bruise or two against offensive juggernauts, grab a few key rebounds, and do some dirty work.  Tyson Chandler can’t do everything.  The Knicks bench is sorely lacking in this category, and as the season moves on, this will be a deleterious issue for the squad.

Do the Knicks have a litany of quality versatile players:  No.

As it stands, the Knicks players are all entirely too one-dimensional to form fluid, unpredictable, and adaptable games against the NBA’s elite. Ideally, with just average Knicks point guards, Carmelo Anthony would assume the role of point forward for some of each game, and scoring forward for another part of it.  This would facilitate the offense for other Knicks and cause opposing teams great headaches.  Unfortunately, Anthony’s has what seems like an intransigent scorer’s mentality.

Do the Knicks have a defensive minded head coach:  No.

Mike D’Antoni is one of the worst defensive strategists in the history of the NBA.  Mike Woodson has been hired by the Knicks, presumably to take over if D’Antoni starts the season poorly or to do so when D’Antoni’s contract is not extended at the end of the year.  Just how much leverage Woodson is going to have when competing against D’Antoni’s up-beat offensive style of play is highly questionable.

Do the Knicks have a pathological competitor:  No.

With all due respect to Amare Stoudemire, who has undergone numerous MRI knee surgeries and what must have been a hellish training regimen to recover his game to 100%, he doesn’t have the same stature as do Kobe Bryant or Dwayne Wade.  If Stoudemire were truly a pathological competitor, there is really no reason for him not to be averaging more rebounds a game and not permit opponents do dance around to do little waltzes and salsas around the paint before scoring an easy layup.

Carmelo Anthony wants to win, but he doesn’t feel all that much pain when he loses.

2012 Prediction: 

Tyson Chandler’s shot blocking and rebounding abilities should shave a couple of points off opponents’ scoring and create a couple of additional fast breaks against even strong NBA teams.  As a result, expect fewer contests where the Knicks are either down by 15 points heading into the fourth quarter due to anemic defense, or where they relinquish leads during the final minutes of a game.   That means the Knicks are most likely a high forty to low fifty win team.

The Knicks will most likely be a four seed in the Eastern Conference, and defeat their first round opponent, who will most likely have significantly less talent than the Knicks.  However, unless the Knicks shore up their perimeter defense and improve their ball movement, the Heat or Bulls should defeat them over a relatively easy six games in the second round.

About Argun M. Ulgen

When I was young, my dad and I used to watch a lot of MSG midnight replays of Knicks basketball after he came home from work. One night at 1am we grilled steaks and watched the Knicks somehow hold onto a 4th quarter lead. Sometime later, I started to fall in love with reading all sorts of literature, including sports books.The dawning of this romance came soon after my deep relationships with HBO reruns of its fine series programming, not to mention the Encore channel's more than generous replays of Scarface, came to a close. I write, but only when I don't feel like being idle. Feel free to AIM me at YoProtein (that's "Yo, Protein!") with comments or suggestions about my work. I more than welcome feedback.

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One comment for “2012 NBA Intelligencer: Behind Superstar Clusters, Unsung Variables Will Determine 2012 NBA Champions”

  1. […] Featured, Knicks, Nets ⋅ December 18, 2011 at 2:11am ⋅ Post a comment Tweet In Part I of the NBA Intelligencer, a list of unsung attributes toward winning an NBA championship team was discussed.  In this […]

    Posted by 2012 NBA Intelligencer: The Unusual Superstar, Chris Paul | Sports of New York | December 18, 2011, 2:11 am

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