2013-2014 NBA Preview: Atlantic Division

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Oct 17, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (center) warms up prior to the game against the Washington Wizards at Baltimore Arena. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

New York Knicks (43-39)

In 2012-13, the Knicks won 54 games and were the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference. With that, it seems absurd to drop them to 43 wins and the #6 seed, but that’s where we are. If the Knicks were fully healthy (they aren’t), I would certainly have them in the 5th spot, but their decrease in stature as almost as much to do with the improvements by the East’s elite than it does with the Knicks decline.

Carmelo Anthony is back, and he’s one of the best offensive players in the league. Melo averaged 28.7 points per game last year (which led the league), and played the majority of the year at the power forward spot, which allowed him to exploit his unique size/quickness combination against varying degrees of defenders. He’s the one constant on this roster, and it’s safe to pencil in a top-3 finish in the scoring race with average (and improving, it seems) defense, and his usual ball-stopping tendencies.

Outside of that, the questions begin to come. Ray Felton and Iman Shumpert form the starting backcourt for the Knicks again, and they could be solid. Felton is a scoring point guard who finally lost weight and became, at minimum, an average starter last year, and that’s probably all they need. He’s maddeningly inconsistent from game-to-game, but the former UNC Tar Heel did post a 15.2 PER, making him thoroughly average. As for “Shump”, Atlanta fans will remember him from his time at Georgia Tech, and he possesses some unique traits. For starters, he’s wildly athletic and versatile, but he can’t quite play point guard and his defense isn’t quite as good as it could be with a little seasoning. I do like Shumpert, and he may be better with a full year after a recovery from his ACL tear.

Tyson Chandler, at the center position, should be a “lock”, but he was visibly unhealthy at the end of last year. The double-double machine did appear in 66 games, but back issues slowed him and that type of thing doesn’t disappear for a 31-year-old 7-footer. I love Chandler’s game, as a defensive savant with pick-and-roll abilities, but the Knicks absolutely need him to be healthy, and I’m not sure he can stay that way for a full slate.

Speaking of injuries, JR Smith and A’mare Stoudemire are both banged up as the season begins. When healthy, there’s an argument that Smith and Stoudemire are both top-4 players on this team, but Smith is recovering from knee surgery (which he famously waited too long to have) and Stoudemire was just (finally) cleared for contact as a result of his own knee issues. Smith was outstanding for the majority of last year, putting up career-highs in virtually every category en route to the 6th man of the Year award. I frankly didn’t think he deserved the honor, but his play wasn’t the reason why, and he’s a valuable asset when contained. For A’mare, he’s a shell of himself physically at this point, but he put up incredible offensive numbers. Stoudemire had a 22.16 PER last year and averaged 22 points per 36 minutes, but he’s a complete and utter defensive disaster (this may not be strong enough), which causes the Knicks to stumble when he plays significant minutes.

The rest of the bench is “anchored” by the newly-signed Andrea Bargnani, who I like as a reclamation project. Bargnani is another guy who can’t defend at all, but he can really score when healthy. I’m not sure how the Knicks will use him and A’mare both (yikes), but it’s a low-risk move to bring in a former #1 overall pick and I liked it. Tim Hardaway, Jr. is the guy making the most noise elsewhere, as the rookie from Michigan will see some time early while JR Smith sits, and he could be solid right away. Pablo Prigioni and Beno Udrih will vie for minutes in the backcourt, and each guy should produce at least passable minutes at the point guard spot when Felton sits.

If the shots fall, the Knicks could easily be as good as they were in 2012-2013, but even that same level of effectiveness will sap their win total, and I’m not convinced they can repeat it.