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Christmas comes early for Knicks fans… wait, actually right on time I guess? It certainly arrives for the first time for many Jewish Knicks fans, i.e. most Knicks fans, who will get to enjoy a new look team in between bites of Schezuan chicken and egg rolls this Sunday.
No one has any idea what will happen this NBA season in general, and certainly not for the Knicks, who will enter the season with the most volatile potential in the whole league. They could lose 40 games, they could win 50, they might get swept again in the first round or make it to the conference championship or, hell, win the whole thing.
But don’t say that to Knicks fans, who for the most part have convinced themselves that this is the year. My friend Max had an interesting strategy for our fantasy basketball draft this past Sunday. With back-to-back picks at the end of the first round, he went all in on the 2011-12 Knicks and selected Carmelo Anthony and Amare’ Stoudemire. Later on, he snagged new Knick Tyson Chandler to complete the beastly front court troika that has been the talk of New York the last few weeks.
He is an idiot. For many reasons, but this just adds to the evidence.
Fantasy basketball is not real basketball. Two high-volume scorers who can pour in 20 points a night are great for fantasy, and often not so great for the NBA. The New New York Knicks, as opposed to the Old Terrible New York Knicks, have only played together for about 30 games. They lost their starting point guard before the start of the season. They will dish out significant starter minutes to three players with a combined five years NBA experience in Toney Douglas, Landry Fields and rookie Iman Shumpert. They just signed a guy with a bad back most likely due to the gravitational force of his expanding potbelly.
They have their hopes resting on the knees and detached retinas of a power forward who is one bad fall away from the Brandon Roy special. Their new $58 million center has not started 79 games in a season since (gulp) 2007-8. Their superstar will never be that guy down in Miami, no matter how hard we all pray.
Their coach is under more pressure than anyone in the league, and has his “retired” replacement waiting in the wings. Their fan base is positively delirious with expectations. The last time there was a lockout season, they made the Finals.
They might win 30 games. They might win it all. But I guarantee, it’s going to get weird.
So why is my friend an idiot? Mainly because he is assuming, like the Knicks front office assumed, that two guys who score a lot of points by themselves will still score a lot of points playing together. This ignores the fact that they both need the ball to score – both Melo and STAT tend to create their own shots, and were moderately successful together last year playing with a competent PG. This year, with a locked out summer and an abridged training camp, they will once again have to figure it out on their own while playing with a rotating crew of decrepit veterans (Mike Bibby, Baron Davis, maybe Gilbert Arenas?) and greenhorns who have shown flashes of mediocrity.
Chandler will help – a lot. Scouring the list of free agents last season before the lockout, I figured Chandler to be the absolute best fit for the Knicks and never in a million years thought they would be able to land him. He is a one-man defensive wrecking crew, and will hopefully be able to negate bigs like Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard while protecting the rim from slashers like LeBron and Wade. Of course, he cannot do it all himself, and the matador defense that Stoudemire tends to play will not help.
Anthony can be a great defender when he actually tries, but he will not be able to guard the opposite team’s best scorer night in and night out – that burden will probably fall on Landry Fields, who was a revelation as a glue guy last year, AKA the pejorative term for “low ceiling player.” Fields will never score in the high teens, and will probably wind up somewhere between Shane Battier and Tayshaun Prince as a player. Prince will win you a championship provided he is surrounded by better players. Battier will get you to the playoffs, but only if he asked to do very specific things. If Fields can build on last year and get even better, the Knicks should be a tough out in the playoffs. If he regresses, this will be an enigmatic team all season.
So what is going to happen in 2012? A lot depends on the rest of the NBA as much as it depends on the Knicks. The Heat will likely cruise, but teams like the Magic, Hawks and even the Celtics may take huge steps back. Division rivals like the Sixers and Nets are tough to predict, while many folks are picking the Pacers to have a breakout season. The Knicks should certainly make the playoffs – in a short season, with two superstars, they have a leg up on those nights when both teams are playing their third game in a row and someone needs to step up and take over.
But they also have an astonishing lack of depth, and will have no answer for an injury, no money for a big signing and no ability to make a trade. The opening day Knicks will basically be the team they go to war with all season, barring injury.
So strap yourself in for what is bound to be a crazy season. And remember: Santa Claus didnt dye his beard black and sit the Knicks bench – that’s Baron Davis.