FanPost

Why to bet the house that the Knicks will be a .500 team in 2015-16



Let’s face it. Nobody, other than serial Knicks-basher Charles Barkley of all people, expects the Knicks to make the playoffs this year. ESPN has condemned the Knicks to 14th in the conference, just ahead of the Sixers who would struggle to make the playoffs in the D-league. Vegas set the early line at 31.5 wins. And no lottery pick to boot, thanks to that clever Bargnani trade. All rational prognosticators are in agreement: Knicks fans should brace themselves for another very long season, …or very short one, considering their dismal chances of playing beyond tax day.

But I have a vision of Knicks basketball in late April. I see this franchise rising up from the smoke and ashes of last season’s catastrophe. It is a vision based on truths soon to be revealed as training camp approaches, a vision of rising stars, redemption, and patience rewarded. It is a vision emanating from the mind of the Yoda of NBA basketball, the most successful leader the sport has ever seen, the man who was passed over by his ancestral team while he was making a coaching name for himself with the Albany Patroons, only to go on to become a legendary nemesis for the Knicks and their fans. Now, in the twilight of his career, he has returned to the scene of his first days of glory, and has taken on his most daunting challenge: transforming this once-proud franchise from laughing stock to perennial contender. And in a year and a half, only the enigmatic Carmelo Anthony remains from the "clumsy" roster he inherited. As rookies tend to do, he stumbled early on, making rash moves to put his stamp on his new toy. But that’s all in the past. Who cares about the Chandler trade, or the JR/Shump deals? They matter not at all any more. Take a good look at where we are right now, and allow yourself to think big, now that Dolan and his Reign of Error is, well, let’s say in exile for now. Beyond being a serial blowhard who sometimes tweets as if he's losing a battle against early-stage dementia, Phil has done some great work. The result of his moves will be a ticket to the dance as an 8th seed this year and a promising future beyond. Here's why:

Carmelo Anthony will be healthy and will return to his 2012-2014 form

For some reason, a significant number of fans and prognosticators have concluded that Carmelo’s recent knee surgery is a sure sign of physical decline. Nonsense. His knee has been bothering him for a while. He had to have it drained in 2013. He played crazy long minutes through the pain without complaining and continued to play through it last year, even after he tweaked it in Game 2 of the season, until he elected to shut it down at the All-Star break I think we will be seeing an improved (i.e. free from pain) version of Melo this year rather than a deteriorating one. At the very least, it’s reasonable to expect that he will pick up where he left off in 2013-14, i.e. playing 2500+ minutes at a TS% of .560 and a WS48 of .180 or so.

Phil passed on (or was passed over by) FA Fool’s Gold

To anyone who thought that paying the max to either LaMarcus Aldridge or Greg Monroe was a smart move for this franchise, I offer the following:

LaMarcus Aldridge would have been a TERRIBLE fit for us. He and Melo are essentially the same player and occupy the same space, unless you make Aldridge a C (he balked at the possibility, and for good reason…he would suck there.) It would be a future filled with inefficient fall-away jumpers and opposing dunks, layups and 3-pointers. And for good measure, take a quick glance at LMA’s playoffs stats. In 5 appearances, he never cracked a WS48 of .100 (average of .069). His playoff TS% is .494. His career regular season TS% is .532 with a career season high of .560. You want to pay $20+ million of cap space for that??

As to Monroe, he’s promising, but not nearly as promising as Porzingis. Is he worth $10+ million more than Seraphin + O’Quinn? Does he fit next to Melo Better than Robin Lopez?

I didn’t bother to mention DeAndre Jordan or the other big-name FA’s because they simply were not coming here no matter what. That’s not Phil’s fault, but even if it was, no matter. In terms of building a sustainable contender, we are further along with what we wound up with than with any of the available guys.

Robin Lopez was the real star of this year’s FA class!

I was never as high on Tyson as some here, but even though he was clearly a huge factor in the team’s short-lived run of success, Lopez might actually be much better for this current team. Granted, he will not post the same numbers as Chandler did during his DPOY year, but RoLo is the steadier headier player, maybe one of the smartest centers in the league…he’s legit Stanford material between the ears. Last week, SI rated him the 84th best player in the NBA. My guess is that if SI compiled a list of the 100 players who did the most to make teammates better, Lopez would be in the top-10. His on-off numbers speak loudly as to what he did for Portland’s O and D; and specifically for LMA’s rebounding. He’s a better rim protector and post defender than the man forever to be known by Knicks fans as Hibbert’s, well, you know. He also won’t spend nearly as much time collecting T’s for gesticulating at the zebras as HB. In short, he’s a winner’s winner. By the end of the year, Doc and Pop will be wishing they had gone for RoLo instead of Mr. Brick Stuff and LM(I)A.

DEE-FENSE!

In addition to RoLo, this team has an impressive collection of long, defensive bigs. O’Quinn is the most Oakley-like player we’ve had since, well, Oak. Seraphin can hold his own on both ends. Zinger is going to surprise a lot of guys who think they can go around, through or over him to score. 7’3" with a 7’6" wingspan, good hops and vertical quickness? Too much is made over his lack of bulk. For example, in Summer League it took him exactly one half to figure out how to use his length and quickness to stifle Okafor.

Perimeter defense is more of a question mark, but Galloway and Grant have nice physical tools, smarts and tenacity. Afflalo has done it before and has something to prove; hard to believe that he’s in decline at age 30. It would be great if we could count on Thanasis or one of the other rookies for a few solid minutes as a 3 and D guard with Calderon or Vujacic, but that’s probably asking for too much. Lance can help in small doses, but at the price of perimeter offense. This is where most of our 40 losses will be rooted.

Youth

The EC is becoming younger and more athletic. Melo, Afflalo, RoLo and Calderon are not going to be able to defend in transition. Teams like Milwaukee, Orlando, Detroit and Boston will run slower teams out of the gym. But now, Fisher can counter with an up-tempo lineup like Grant-Galloway/Thanasis-Early/Thomas-Williams/O’Quinn-Porzingis. Not sexy, but better options than were available last year. You could even throw Melo or Afflalo in there to slow down the tempo with post scoring.

B-Ball IQ+Character=Chemistry

For all the to-do about the Triangle, Phil’s focus seems to have been on building team chemistry via intelligence and character, exemplified by the Amundson and Thomas signings. In addition to those two, Afflalo, Calderon, RoLo, O’Quinn, Porzingis, Grant, Galloway and Seraphinall seem to be exemplary in these regards. Melo is Melo, Vuj is Vuj, and Early and Williams won’t get invited to any MENSA meetings any time soon, but surrounding Anthony with smart, unselfish players should make for less hero-ball on his behalf.

Porzingis

There really isn’t a good historical comparison to Kristaps. He’s possibly the most skilled 7’3" player since, I dunno, Sabonis? The most impressive thing about him is his poise. He seems to be intelligent, unflappable and a determined gym rat. The way his big brother is keeping a close eye on him here in the States is priceless. He displayed about 20 different things on both ends during summer league that put any concerns I had about him to bed, except for injury. If he stays reasonably healthy, there is no reason to believe that he won’t emerge as a generational player. He will take a year, maybe two, to get it all together, but when he does, he will terrify opponents on both ends, inside and out. All I can say is, start preparing the spot in the rafters for his #6 jersey…it’s a sure thing.

Grant for TH2? How did THAT happen?

Grant is ready to go. Other than his 3-pt% in senior year, he excelled at just about every NBA skill in college and in summer league. Maybe he’s not destined to be a star, but he will be the best young PG we have had since Mark Jackson and Rod Strickland (and please, don’t bring up two-week wonder Jeremy Lin.) He will probably take a half-season to figure things out, but once he does, he will help win a bunch of games for us on both ends.

Derek is no dummy

Derek Fisher is a born leader, a highly intelligent and prideful guy. He was over his head last year, and a bit too deferential to Phil, but if ever there was a trial by fire, Derek endured it with grace and stoicism. Frankly, I’m not sure whether Kerr could have handled it. Despite the horrific record, Derek never lost his cool, enthusiasm, dignity or most importantly, the respect of his players. My guess is that he did some soul-searching over the summer, put his nose to the grindstone, and is going to work his way into establishing himself as a winning coach this year. I have no doubt that he is a tireless worker, and that he is spending countless hours preparing for getting the most our of his shiny, new toys. The triangle will still be a staple in our offense, but with a healthy dose of P&R and small-ball mixed in, I expect a much different look, starting in preseason.

Playoffs, here we come!

So, take heed, non-believers! You will all feel accurs’d, and hold your manhoods cheap, when our beloved combatants in orange and blue cross the lines to face off against the mighty Cavaliers next spring