Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire
The additions of Nene, Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal have the Wizards eyeing the playoffs, but it's a tougher Eastern Conference than you remember. This week, Path to the Playoffs takes a look at the New York Knicks.
Fan expectations for the Knicks fluctuate wildly each year, and the team is still searching for a way to integrate Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire into a cohesive offense. Free-agent acquisition and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler more-or-less squared away the defense and if New York figures out how to tune the offense, look out. For now, there's little reason to expect the team takes a leap in the standings...unless that Jason Kidd guy can still play and Raymond Felton regains some of his old form. Maybe the Wizards won't be scrapping with them at the bottom of the conference after all?
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The two teams could hardly be more different at starting point guard. John Wall is lightning fast, in the dawn of his career and didn't shoot much better than a one-eyed four year old with a musket at midnight from beyond the arc. Come onnnnn, Dave Hopla. Jason Kidd is a seen-everything former All-Star who developed a three-point shot to help him remain relevant as his athleticism faded but can still run the offense and provide solid perimeter defense...just not for 35+ minutes a night. Raymond Felton has returned to the fold in New York and A.J. Price came to DC, so both teams are sporting reliable backups. There's no question which PG fans would prefer going forward, but this seasons matchup at the 1 should prove consistently interesting.
At the 2, things are murky. In terms of talent, DC has the edge. Bradley Beal, Jordan Crawford and (probably) Cartier Martin form a more capable rotation, but really I just can't stand J.R. Smith's game. Iman Shumpert and Ronnie Brewer redeem things at this position...and with Beal's shooting being a (surprisingly) quiet question mark, it could really go either way. But if Brewer's addition and Shumpert's extra year of experience (and successful rehab) bring all they might, this could be a stronger SG unit than DC puts out. Maybe if Jordan Crawford starts shooting those corner threes exclusively?
Things get a little ugly at small forward. This team will win plenty of games by virtue of having 'melo score a whole lotta points. Of course, that's not a recipe for playoff success, but a suddenly stable stable (heh) of point guards changes the equation. Steve Novak is a slightly richer man's Cartier Martin, but that's it for New York...but honestly, do they need any more? The Wizards will split time between Trevor Ariza, Chris Singleton and Martell Webster (flip Cartier and Martell here, if you like). The Knicks are obviously missing perimeter defense in that equation...but with the kind of offense 'melo provides, it's assuredly a losing battle. And then, there's that whole 'team gets better when Carmelo sits' thing...
Is this the year Amar'e breaks down? As a long-time Phoenix resident, it feels inevitable. This is another defensively-challenged unit (Kurt Thomas renaissance!), but again, Stat isn't a stopper, but when he's on no one can stop him. I'd take Nene every day and twice Sunday...this group is one injury away from big trouble. Otherwise?
Tyson Chandler is the BAMF on defense. His play has been transformative, and is the big reason it's only going to take cohesive play from PG to pull the Knicks out of playoff hell and away from lower East seeds. And honestly, with Kidd and Felton on board it feels like this is finally the year New York gets to the second round of playoffs since the year 2000. A critical injury at PG or C? This team is scrapping with the Wiz, assuming the Wiz are healthy, with the (homer's) edge to the Wizards. #Okariza fo life, y'all.