The New York Knicks finished second in the Eastern Conference last season, while winning the Atlantic Division title for the first time since 1994. They also made it into the second round of the play-offs, where they lost in six games to the Indiana Pacers. It wasn’t a championship season, but it was definitely a step in the right direction after a decade of mediocrity for the Knicks organization. Yes, I know they made the playoffs the year before, but they were a Dwayne Wade miss from being swept by the Miami heat. The 2012-2013 season is the season the Knicks looked like they were really coming together. This is why it is so puzzling that during the off-season, so many analysts seem to think the Knicks are probably the fifth best team in the East coming into the 2013-2014 season. I am by no means a Knick fan, I never have been, so I am not an angry fan here to blast the analyst and rival eastern conference fan bases; I have no bias for this team. If anything, it is the complete opposite; I actually root for a rival team. Yet, if you are looking at the Knicks from a purely basketball perspective, they are better than just a fifth seed.
The Knicks spent the off-season adding talent, getting rid of dead weight, and keeping its core players from last season together; to me that seems like a recipe for success, not disaster. If you look at the Knicks off-season acquisitions, they’ve added another scorer to help Carmelo Anthony, Andrea Bargnani; they’ve added a tough defender who can score, Ron Artest, and have gotten younger by adding rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. to their bench. They have arguably one of the top five players in the NBA with Carmelo Anthony, who is playing in his prime years, and seems to be able score at will. They have one of the best centers in the NBA, Tyson Chandler, who is a first-class defender; and they have the reigning sixth man of the year JR Smith. The Knicks also have a pretty deep bench, with Amare Stoudamire, Pablo Prigioni, and Kenyon Martin, plus either Artest or Bargnani; whomever of those two they decide to have coming off the bench. They lost their three-point shooter Steve Novak, but his loss won’t be missed if Bargnani can stay healthy and be productive. Bargnani and Artest will be the x-factors for this team, if they want to stay near the top of the Eastern Conference standing and make a deep run into the play-offs.
Bargnani has been struck by injury his last two seasons in the NBA. He’s played a total of 66 games in two years, and when he does play, he only plays one side of the ball, offense. He is also not known for his rebounding, and at 7’0 tall, there is no reason he should be averaging less than five rebounds a game. He is a gifted scorer, and will be able to pull out whatever power forward or center will be guarding him away from the basket, creating more spacing on the floor, and that will help. The problem is, Bargnani may be a defensive liability, and his lack of rebounding is not going to help a Knicks team who finished dead last in offensive rebounding, and twelfth in defensive rebounding. It will still leave a heavy burden on Tyson Chandler to grab as many rebounds as possible. Regardless, Bargnani is still a vast improvement over Steve Novak, and at only 27 years old, Bargnani is in his peak years. If the Knicks coaching staff can preach rebounding, and maybe get him to at least attempt to play some semblance of defense, he is definitely a good pick up for the Knicks. That leaves x-factor two, Ron Artest.
The Queens New York native will be playing his first season for his hometown team, and with him comes the good and the bad of his persona. At times he can be an absolute head case, the elbow against James Harden two seasons ago in Los Angeles that led to a seven game suspension, is one of Artests’ most recent nut-job displays. Then, you get the Artest that picks up the slack for Kobe Bryant in game 7 of the 2010 NBA finals against the Celtics, and propels the Lakers to their 16th world title. Just like with anything in life, you have to take the good with the bad. For the Knicks, I think the baggage Artest brings with him is well worth it. His presence will be uplifting to the Knicks die-hard fan base, while making opposing players think twice about bullying any of the Knicks less crazy players. Artest is well past his prime, but he still averaged 12 points and 5 rebounds last season. What he brings to the team in toughness, as well as his offensive and defensive productivity, will be vital to the Knicks continued success.
The Knicks have a star player in the peak of his powers, a great defensive center, and a number of very capable role players throughout the entire roster. If Bargnani can stay healty, if Artest can stay sane long enough to be productive, if JR Smith and the rest of the bench players like Amare can keep it all together, this Knicks team will be better than last year. Yes I know, those were a lot of “ifs,” but that’s how predictions work ladies and gentlemen. Believe me, if I knew exactly what every player and team would do next season, the last place I would be is here writing this, I’d already be in Vegas placing my bets.