Knicks fans finally have something to cheer about.
They have a much-needed marquee player in what is Year Three of coach Mike D'Antoni's tenure. Amar'e Stoudemire, the $100 million free agent signing, will try to lead the Knicks to their first playoff spot since 2003-04 and their first winning record since 2000-01. Here's a look at Stoudemire’s Knicks:
Free agent signee Raymond Felton brings comfort and predictability — in a good way — to a position which has been a serious concern. “He has the toughness to deal with New York fans,” said NBA TV analyst Dennis Scott. "I hope they give him a fair shot." Scott warned it will take Felton time to build chemistry with Stoudemire. Fans certainly can't expect Stoudemire to be as comfortable with Felton as he was with Steve Nash in Phoenix. Shooting guard is a weak point. Toney Douglas is rumored to be the possible starter with Wilson Chandler coming off the bench. Douglas needs to improve his 39 percent three-point shooting from his rookie season.
Team success begins and ends with Stoudemire. Scoring won't be a problem for him — he has averaged 21.4 points for his career— now that he's the clear-cut go-to guy for the first time. Rebounding is where he needs to improve. The ninth-year veteran has never averaged double-digit boards for a season. That makes it tougher for him to statistically replace David Lee, who pulled down 10-plus rebounds in three of the past four campaigns. Danilo Gallinari is a perfect fit in D'Antoni's offense. His deep-range shooting complements Stoudemire's presence in the post. "As a shooter, you want to be on the same side of the floor when a guy gets double-teamed so you can be the first option [on the pass] out of the double-team," Scott said.
This is the team's weakest link. Starter Timofey Mozgov is a Russian 7-footer whose athleticism made him a preferred choice of D'Antoni. Yet he hasn't shown a reliable nose for rebounds in the preseason. He's also a foul machine. Ronny Turiaf's rebounding and shot blocking could get him starts at the pivot.
Plenty offensive opportunities exist for Chandler if he comes off the bench. Al Harrington averaged 17.7 points last season, and he started just 15 of his 72 games. Turiaf is vital for his defense and leadership. Roger Mason Jr. and Bill Walker provide more scoring. Anthony Randolph may be the team's wild card. He has All-Star potential but has to find his place in D'Antoni's offense. Scott is less certain of his potential impact, partly because of D'Antoni. "You've never seen D'Antoni take a guy and mold him into a great player," Scott said. Randolph's shot blocking ability and athleticism could turn him into a valued defender against small and power forwards.
Not much has changed with D'Antoni. He's clearly one of the best offensive minds in the sport, and now he has a few new parts to complement his style of play. The additions of Felton, Stoudemire and Randolph inject much-needed athleticism and experience to operate his scheme. D'Antoni will look even smarter if Galinari fulfills his All-Star potential, and if Mozgov proves that he can hold his own. Both were his choices.
This is certainly the most likable Knicks team in recent memory. It's not a rough-and-tumble group. Their fast-paced game will finally give D'Antoni the players to fit into his system. Still, only consistent winning will satisfy the demands of New York fans. If the Knicks learn to play to the Madison Square Garden crowd, then home-court advantage can return for the team. "If the Knicks stay healthy, and Amar'e, Felton and Galinari have solid years, the Knicks should be competing for the eighth playoff spot," Scott said.