Like most NBA observers, ESPN analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson believe the Knicks will be much improved this season and have a good chance of making the playoffs – with one important caveat, of course.
“I think injury has a lot to do with it,” Van Gundy, a former Knicks coach, said Monday on a conference call to preview the 2016-17 season. “They put big money into players who have had significant injuries in [Joakim] Noah and [Derrick] Rose. So I think how they bounce back and play and how many games they play is going to be significant.
“But I do think they’re a playoff team if they can remain healthy. I love the addition of Courtney Lee. I think he’s a good glue player. So I think their starting lineup is very formidable. Their depth is a work in progress and I think that will be a big factor in how they move forward.”
Said Jackson, a former Knicks player and a native New Yorker, “I believe like Jeff that they are a playoff team. They should be. They have upgraded their talent. It think Jeff Hornacek is an outstanding coach who will do a very good job with those guys.
“You add Noah, you add Rose, you add Courtney Lee, Brandon Jennings, healthier after last year coming back from injury, I think overall on paper they should be a playoff team, and there’s a reason to be excited in the New York area.”
Even in a best-case scenario, the Knicks are not expected to contend for a conference title, a designation that many believe already is a foregone conclusion for last season’s finalists, the Warriors and Cavaliers, against whom the Knicks open in Cleveland on Tuesday night.
Van Gundy said he would not bet against a rematch.
“I just think injury is the one thing that can get in the way,” he said. “I think Cleveland is even a bigger favorite out East than Golden State is out West. That’s remarkable. I saw in Vegas they have only a 29 percent chance of a rematch, which I was shocked at. I would put my money there.”
Van Gundy said he saw a victory over/under for the Warriors that had them at 62. “How can that team lose 20 games, if they’re interested and healthy?” he said, adding that with the addition of Kevin Durant they could threaten the 73 regular-season victories last season’s Warriors totaled as well as the 1971-72 Lakers’ 33-game winning streak.
“I think they’re going to get on multiple runs,” Van Gundy said. “I just think they’re going to be overwhelming, talent-wise.”
Said Jackson, “I think obviously those two teams are the clear favorites in the East and the West. That being said, I don’t think that it’s a foregone conclusion that you can automatically pencil them both in [for the Finals]. I think they’re the favorites, but there are teams that have improved, that have added to a successful year last year, and also have the experience of the success they’ve had last year.
“So there are some dangerous teams that are more than capable of advancing and winning it. Now, it’s going to take a heck of lot to beat either of those teams, but I do feel like there’s a reason we play the season, and the one thing Jeff and I always talk about is injuries. That can happen to anybody. They’re the two favorites, but they’re two teams that certainly are beatable.”