The New York Knicks are a team that has something to prove to the rest of the NBA. The team’s stars, Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, have to show the rest of the league that they deserve superstar status. Their point guard, Raymond Felton, has a huge chip on his shoulder, stemming from criticisms of his weight and work ethic. Marcus Camby and Jason Kidd must prove that they can still be productive, even at their advanced ages.
Yet, even more so than individual players, the Knicks’ organization must validate the way it has conducted business and built its team. The Knicks have been constructed in an unconventional way. The team acquired Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, two stars that do not fit well together, in hopes that they will eventually “work it out”. Chauncey Billups, the presumed starting point guard at the start of last year, was waived via the amnesty provision, even though he was on the last year of his contract. The team did not match the offer sheet for Jeremy Lin, instead signed Raymond Felton coming off of a poor season.
Overall, the team has traded away almost all of its draft picks, choosing instead to build a team via free agency. It remains to be seen whether this strategy can truly work over a long period of time. When the stars align for a team, like in the case of the Miami Heat, free agency can be the basis of a championship team, but the Knicks have lost out on a plethora of players while completely disregarded continuity (the longest tenured player on the team is Amare Stoudemire).
Even more questionable is the Knicks’ strategy in terms of what types of players the team acquires. Everything with the Knicks begins and ends with their stars, Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. The two players are dynamic scorers, but they are just that, scorers. It would not be a stretch to say that Anthony and Stoudemire are, for the most part, one dimensional. To fix the defense, the Knicks acquired center Tyson Chandler, who went on to become the defensive player of the year in his first season with the Knicks. But, the problem with Tyson Chandler is the same problem that Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire have: Chandler is mostly a defensive player. The Knicks are always trying to compete with the Miami Heat, but the Heat have 3 stars that are multidimensional; the Knicks do not. Because of this, role players become more important than ever.
However, the role players on the Knicks seem to have a similar problem; many of them are specialists. J.R. Smith, for example, has one true role and plays it well – he is a scorer off the bench. Last season, Smith was asked to do too much and fans saw that he has trouble handling the ball and often lapses defensively. Steve Novak led the league in three point percentage last season, but doesn’t have a natural position and really does little but catch-and-shoot. Marcus Camby is primarily a defender and rebounder at this point in his career. Recent acquisition Ronnie Brewer and injured Iman Shumpert are primarily wing defenders who struggle with their shooting (Well, Shumpert’s working on it). This Knicks team is deep, but it is deep with specialists.
This actually gives the Knicks a great opportunity; the team can throw a multitude of looks at any team in a given game, giving Mike Woodson versatility. The team can go big or small; focus on defense or on offense; featured Carmelo Anthony or Amare Stoudmire. For example, the Knicks can run a lineup based around Anthony with Jason Kidd, JR Smith, Steve Novak, and Tyson Chandler. This lineup gives Anthony the opportunity to control the ball in the post and kick it out to the team’s best three point shooters. The lineup centered around Stoudemire would run the pick and roll with Raymond Felton and would have Ronnie Brewer to make cuts to the basket. Marcus Camby or Chandler could help provide rebounding for the lineup and Woodson has the option to play JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, or Steve Novak in the remaining spot.
No matter what he chooses, Coach Woodson has no lack of options. However, the problem comes with the fact that Woodson does not really have a best option. For example, the Knicks can use a defensive lineup with Jason Kidd, Iman Shumpert, Ronnie Brewer, Marcus Camby, and Tyson Chandler. Such a lineup would assuredly be able to make stops, but they might have a tough time scoring. Specialists have limits, so the Knicks are unable to run out a lineup that can be successful on both the offensive and defensive sides of the floor.
The problem, of course, once again traces back to the building blocks of this team. Having specialists as role players can lead to success, but only if a team’s best players are versatile. Going back to the Miami Heat, Lebron James can play in an offensive lineup, a defensive lineup, a small lineup, or a big lineup; Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire cannot. At this point in time, the Knicks lack the glue guys who are versatile: able to play multiple positions and roles. It is easy to find a player who is good at one ability, but it is harder to find a player that is good at multiple things.
This is not to say that there is not a place in the NBA for specialists, but the question still remains whether a team of specialists can win in the NBA. The Knicks have group that can run out plenty of lineups and that will help them in the regular season. But if fans are to evaluate the Knicks on the basis of “win now” than they have to look at whether or not the Knicks have the right kind of versatility needed for the playoffs. In the playoffs, the bench loses importance, so one has to wonder what lineup the Knicks will go to that can compete both offensively and defensively. When the game is on the line, will Mike Woodson go with a specific lineup or will he play his one dimensional stars together despite their inefficiency as a group. When that time comes, the Knicks fans will have their answer. They will know if a team can win with just a scorer as its best player. This team has a three year window. Will it change the way NBA teams look at specialists and player versatility?