COMMENTARY | Fresh off their first second-round appearance since the 1999-2000 season, the cap-strapped New York Knicks still managed to add pieces to their roster this offseason by trading for Andrea Bargnani and signing Metta World Peace.
Despite adding talent and losing little from last season's roster, the prevailing opinion on the 2013-14 Knicks is that they are not one of the Eastern Conference's elite teams.
The Miami Heat won their second straight NBA title. The Indiana Pacers are a young, improving team that will get Danny Granger back. The Chicago Bulls will welcome back point guard Derrick Rose, the 2011 NBA MVP, and the Brooklyn Nets added Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko.
The Knicks also have a new GM as Steve Mills replaced Glen Grunwald just over a month before the start of the season. As a result of all the offseason turnover, the Knicks enter training camp with many unanswered questions for the upcoming season. What are the biggest issues facing the team leading up to its October 30 season opener?
When Will J.R. Smith and Amar'e Stoudemire Be Back?
The biggest controversy surrounding the Knicks this offseason was J.R. Smith having knee surgery shortly after signing a 4-year, $25 million contract with the Knicks. The team claimed to be aware of Smith's knee issue and signed him anyway, but Smith recently admitted that he delayed the surgery until he scored his money in free agency.
Add this to Smith's five-game suspension for a third violation of the league's anti-drug policy and already the Knicks may be questioning re-signing a player I thought they should have let walk. On top of Smith's issues, news recently came out that Amar'e Stoudemire had a secret knee surgery that the team did not announce, leading to questions about whether he will be ready for the start of the season.
How Will the Knicks' New Faces Fit?
In the aftermath of the news on Stoudemire, it makes more sense that the Knicks gave up a first-round pick for Bargnani when nobody else wanted him. The World Peace signing makes sense as well with the Knicks' lack of frontcourt depth behind Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler.
New York also brought Kenyon Martin back to bring toughness to the frontcount when Chandler heads to the bench, and it's highly likely that the Knicks will need all five of their forwards to play at least 15-20 minutes per game to start the season, assuming Stoudemire doesn't make it back for opening night.
One of Bargnani or World Peace may start the Knicks' opener and the team will need to get both up to speed quickly if it wants to start well, with four very winnable games in its first five (Milwaukee, Minnesota and Charlotte twice). How quickly those two mesh into the Knicks' rotation will go a big way in determining New York's early-season success.
Who Will Pick Up the Scoring Slack?
Smith was the team's second-leading scorer last season and the Knicks will be without him for at least the first five games and likely more, as the NBA will need to clear his knee for game action before he can serve his suspension. Stoudemire was the team's third-leading scorer despite playing just 23.5 minutes per game, and the Knicks will need to replace more than 30 points per game from last season.
Raymond Felton (13.9 PPG) and Tyson Chandler (10.4) are obvious options, but both have other roles to play. Felton needs to be a distributor and set up the offense, while Chandler needs to stay in the post for offensive rebounding opportunities.
The Knicks will need Iman Shumpert to step up on offense like he did at times in the playoffs to help replace Smith's scoring, while Bargnani and World Peace will need to put up points in the frontcourt. New York needs at least two of the three to average 12-13 points per game early to prevent the offense from bogging down and becoming over-reliant on Anthony.
Can Iman Shumpert Take the Next Step?
Speaking of Shumpert, the Knicks' lone core player under the age of 27 (he's 23) will need to continue to develop his game heading into his third NBA season. His jump shot was much improved once he got his legs back after tearing his ACL, and he will need to take the next step both offensively and defensively for the Knicks to contend this season.
Shumpert's steals were down last season after averaging 1.7 swipes as a rookie, as he averaged only one steal per game in both the regular season and the playoffs. If he can back to being their defensive stopper on the perimeter and solidify himself as an offensive threat, the Knicks have a shot at the second round and beyond.
Will the Knicks Start Two Point Guards?
New York best success last season came when Mike Woodson started both Felton and Pablo Prigioni in the same backcourt, allowing Felton to play off the ball and focus more on scoring while not needing to cover the opponent's point guard. Prigioni's ability to keep the ball moving on offense and pressure opponents was a big asset to the Knicks last season.
With Smith and Stoudemire likely out to start the season, will Woodson go back to the two-point guard set? If so, will Shumpert start in the frontcourt alongside Anthony and Chandler or will Woodson opt to bring him off the bench and insert Bargnani or World Peace into the starting lineup?
Many questions surround the Knicks heading into camp and we should get some answers in the next few weeks once the preseason gets underway. With a small taste of success last season, Knicks fans are hungry for improvement despite all the talk of regression.
Chris Tripodi lives in New York and has followed the Knicks since the days of Patrick Ewing and John Starks in the early 1990s. He has written for numerous online sources, namely Draft Insider, Optimum Scouting and Jets 101. Follow him on Twitter @christripodi.
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