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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The New York Knicks are a good team. At 19-6 they tote a one game lead over the Heat including two decisive victories over their former southern rival.
The franchise that hasn’t won a playoff series since May of 2000 – when they coincidentally beat the Zo-led Heat in the Conference Finals – has finally become a formidable presence during the first third of the regular season.
The question is over sustenance, both during the grueling 82-game season and into the playoffs. Do they have the makeup of a team destined for greatness, a team capable of sending LeBron James’ multiple championship aspirations to a halt?
Several facets of this roster come to mind in deciphering potential answers.
The first and most disturbing is their shooting, where a heavy dose of skepticism lingers. As a unit, they’re attempting a league leading 29.5 threes a night and connecting on 41 percent (3rd in NBA) of them. In the offseason, they added not one rotation player with a career mark above 34 percent to a team that ranked 19th in three point shooting last year.
Three of their top four chuckers are Jason Kidd (47%), Carmelo Anthony(46%), and Raymond Felton (39%). They collectively make up half of their three-point shooting pie while cashing in at an unfathomable 44 percent clip.
Felton and Anthony have career averages of 33 percent while Kidd is a tad better at 35 percent. All are well above their career numbers, and all are seasoned veterans. What gives? Is the rim twice as wide as normal?
Outliers can surely exist over the course of a full season. But as the games tally, and the natural regression to the mean comes into play, it will be highly unlikely any or all three can maintain these absurd percentages.
One player on this roster is regarded as a pure shooter for his career.
Steve Novak can shoot the crap out of the ball and there’s nothing to indicate otherwise. But outside of this seemingly translucent role player, can a team so dependent on the long ball survive a deep playoff run tied to a handful of streaky overachieving shooters?
Next there is debate over what will happen once two key players return from injury.
The once springy Amare Stoudemire from his Phoenix days would have added another dimension to a Knicks offense lacking multiple self-sufficient scorers. The 30-is-the-new-40 Amare isn’t the same dynamic player of the past. With his defensive calamities and health issues, he’s become a $100-million mistake, a thorn stuck in their backside for the foreseeable future.
We’re talking about a top-five paid player, who may not even make a positive impact on the roster.
The more intriguing injured player is Iman Shumpert, the second-year guard who shredded his knee in game one of the Heat-Knicks series last year. He also happens to be the best perimeter defender on the roster, one who has flashed the rare ability to keep elite playmakers out of the paint. After tearing the very ligament (ACL) that stabilizes his greatest weapon – his elite ability to glide laterally – when and will he return to form?
The concerns outlined before you aren’t even their most pressing issue, something their jarring shooting has masked this year. They’re an average defensive team, allowing 102.5 points per 100 possessions (16th in NBA). An average defensive team clinging heavily to the long ball is not a recipe for success in the playoffs.
Playoff basketball is a different game, one that places high weight on getting stops and creating offense against stingy defenses. The Knicks’ undoing last year was in part due to their misguided dependency on isolation basketball. Is the addition of Kidd’s understanding of ball movement and spacing really going to drastically improve this offense in the half-court against elite defenses?
Despite their weaknesses and the vicissitudes of outside shooting, this is a team that can win a playoff series or two in the relatively weak Eastern Conference. They should also win 50-plus this year. But their hopes as a contender will likely fall short.
Could they steal a game or maybe two against the Heat in a series? Unlikely but plausible with a scoring rampage from Melo. But to compete with a team built around defensive principles and three star players, one of which is definitively the best in the world, they’re going to need more ammunition and a foundation based on playoff survival.
New York is a second tier team in the NBA hierarchy of contenders.
It’s going to be impossible to contend without stellar defense while shooting a historical number of threes by a slab of average career shooters while paying a fringe starter $60 million over the next three seasons. Besides that, there’s always the premise of hope I guess.
The franchise built a deceivingly alluring house this summer. It’s pricey and has an ocean view, but with hurricane season inevitably approaching (NBA playoffs), it’s doubtful the wobbly foundation can survive the wave of storms.