Knicks 'zzone

Newsday's Al Iannazzone takes you inside the Knicks.


Knicks improved this offseason

The Knicks are just about done putting their roster together for next season.

There could be some things that come up between now and training camp – a trade call can come at any time. But other than that, all the Knicks have are minimum contracts to offer free agents.

The Knicks have 15 players under contract, 13 of them guaranteed. Chris Smith’s deal isn’t fully guaranteed – although there is a good shot it will be if he’s on the roster Nov. 1 - and Chris Copeland isn’t guaranteed.

They didn’t get Steve Nash or Ray Allen and they let Jeremy Lin and his $25.1 million salry go to Houston. But the Knicks got older and more experienced, added defensive players and are a better team overall.

They’re not a championship contender yet. They’re still not better than the Heat and haven’t proven they’re better than the Celtics yet.  But they are deeper than before and if you compare their roster last year to what they have as of Aug. 1 they’ve improved.

Point guard
Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, Pablo Prigioni

Felton’s conditioning is a concern, but he can run a team and is more proven than Lin. It would be wise for coach Mike Woodson to run some pick-and-roll with Felton since he was pretty strong at in his 54 games with the Knicks two seasons ago. Kidd can still play. He’s probably the Knicks’ best passer. He’ll make his teammates better, play defense and if he’s left open he can knock down threes. Prigioni didn’t look good against Tony Parker in the Olympics. But Prigioni has been one of the top European point guards for years. He can penetrate and find players.

Last year: Jeremy Lin, Baron Davis, Mike Bibby, Toney Douglas
Lin was the Knicks’ best pickup last season. He blew up and probably enjoyed one of the most memorable stretches in New York sports history. But he’s still unproven. Davis and Bibby had some good moments, but health issues and age had them hanging on by threads. Douglas was mostly out of the rotation and wasn’t part of the Knicks’ future.

Shooting guard
Ronnie Brewer, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Chris Smith

They will miss Shumpert the first couple of months of the season, but Brewer was a nice addition, especially for a minimum salary. He isn’t a good shooter, but he’s a quality defender and is an upgrade from Landry Fields. J.R. Smith can be erratic with his shot, but when he’s hot he’s fun to watch. He’s also great in the open court. He just needs to make sure he plays with energy and effort all the time so he makes plays for the Knicks when he’s struggling through a 2-for-12 night. His brother will have trouble carving out a spot in the rotation, but could spend time in the D-League to help his development.

Last year: Landry Fields, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith
Fields is more of a small forward than shooting guard and he wasn’t going to play small forward as long as Carmelo Anthony is around. Fields’ confidence and production dropped after the Anthony acquisition. Shumpert had a strong rookie season and ulitmately supplanted Fields in Woodson's rotation. Smith came in from China with little practice time and sometimes it showed.

Small Forward
Carmelo Anthony, Steve Novak, James White
After his summer in the Olympics and being around champions such as LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and recent NBA Finalists Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Anthony should return in better condition and with a better understanding of what it takes to get out of the first round. Everyone keeps waiting for Anthony to become more of a complete player. The Knicks hope this is the year. Novak’s shooting should be a big component for the Knicks again, but Woodson also wanted him to work on his mid-range game and taking guys off the dribble. White is a terrific athlete who has yet to prove he can make an NBA rotation.

Last year: Carmelo Anthony, Bill Walker, Steve Novak
Anthony was either injured, playing a position he wasn’t comfortable with (point forward) or in an offense that didn’t suit his game for much of last season. But after Woodson replaced Mike D’Antoni coaching change, he improved his defense and played more comfortably on offense. He was one of the top players in the league the last month of the season. Walker had a few good moments but never consistently became the scorer the Knicks needed off the bench and ultimately cut him. Novak was a major find and contributor. But his defensive deficiencies and ability to get open against the better and more physical defenses showed.

Power Forward
Amar’e Stoudemire, Kurt Thomas, Chris Copeland

Unlike last year, Stoudemire has been able to train this offseason so he should return in better basketball shape and rhythm than last year. You have to believe he’s going to be determined to have a better season than last year after everything that happened with his inconsistent play, the fire extinguisher, the Twitter situation. The Knicks also can use Anthony here as he showed last year and in the Olympics he can play well at power forward. Thomas is old, but still a strong post defender and a good pick-and-pop player. He’s one of the Knicks’ best shooters. Copeland should work hard to prove he deserves his contract guaranteed.

Last year: Amar’e Stoudemire, Jared Jeffries, Josh Harrellson
Stoudemire had a rough season between the death of his brother and his back injury just when he started playing well. Jeffries played well defensively throughout the season and scored on occasion. Harrellson had some good moments, but his early season injury really set him back.

Tyson Chandler, Marcus Camby

In Chandler and Camby the Knicks have two selfless big men who care only about playing defense and rebounding the ball. Chandler will be the Knicks’ glue and emotional leader. Camby is a better shot blocker and rebounder and will be among the best in the league in both per minute.

Last year: Tyson Chandler, Dan Gadzuric, Jerome Jordan
Chandler arguably was the Knicks’ MVP last season. He was consistent as a defender and rebounder, playing most of the season with a hand injury and was rewarded with his first Defensive Player of the Year Award. The Knicks lost a lot at center when Chandler went to the bench, especially when Jeffries was injured or limited. Gadzuric was a late-season acquisition who did little and Jordan a rookie with a long way to go.

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