By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Oct 14 2010 7:50PM
No, they didn't get the guy they wanted most this summer. But they did improve their roster and allow themselves to upgrade it even more next year. Most important, the New York Knicks can finally move forward.
At the center of the Knicks' roster overhaul is Amar'e Stoudemire. The five-time All-Star is the new headliner on the Madison Square Garden marquee and the best player the Knicks have had since Patrick Ewing was in the pivot.
Knowing they couldn't dare strike out with the top free agents, the Knicks gave Stoudemire a $100 million uninsurable contract. It was a hefty price to pay, but necessary to get the franchise back on the path to validity.
Yet the addition of point guard Raymond Felton, signed for just $14.6 million over two years, was arguably just as critical.
It's no secret that Mike D'Antoni's offense runs better with talent at the point. Chris Duhon was a serviceable placeholder for the last two years, but was unable to push the Knicks' offense to the level it needed to be.
In D'Antoni's first two seasons in New York, the Knicks have ranked 17th and 15th in the league offensively, a far cry from the No. 1 spot that the coach held in each of his four full seasons in Phoenix.
And over time, D'Antoni ran his offense through center David Lee more than he did Duhon. Felton gives the coach the chance to go back to a point-driven attack, though D'Antoni downplays how important a point guard is to his particular system.
"I think any team, wherever you go, the point guard is critical," the coach said. "It doesn't matter. If you've got a really good point guard, you're going to be pretty good. And the coach is going to look pretty good. If you don't, then you're going to struggle some nights."
In D'Antoni's system though, the point guard needs to be a legitimate triple-threat, able to distribute, penetrate and shoot from the perimeter.
"With this type of offense, the point guard has got to be a threat," Felton said. "The defense has got to feel the point guard, [my] scoring, my creating ability, in order for shots to be open for [Danilo] Gallinari, Roger Mason, even for the screen-and-roll with Amar'e. So I've got to be aggressive too."
An underrated part of Felton's game is his shooting ability. Even D'Antoni noted after a week of training camp that he didn't realize how good of a shooter his new point guard was. Felton made 38 percent of his threes last season, but will certainly be taking them at a higher volume with the Knicks. Duhon attempted almost twice as many threes per game last season (3.9) as Felton did in Charlotte (2.0).
For Knicks president Donnie Walsh, signing Felton was about more than just a talent upgrade. It was also about pace.
"[Felton is] a guy that likes to play fast, that will push the ball up," Walsh said. "He does that as well as anybody."
He hasn't done that over the last two seasons with the Bobcats, who have ranked in the bottom five in the league in pace each season under Larry Brown. But Felton is ready to get back to pushing the ball.
"I love it," Felton said. "It's getting back to doing what I love to do. This is my type of game, getting the ball up and down the court, fast-paced, using my speed, using my quickness."
Felton will have plenty of teammates ready to run with him. Athleticism is one of the areas where the Knicks clearly upgraded this summer. But in order for athletes to maximize their potential, they need to get the ball in the right position. That, of course, is the job of the point guard.
Just as important to the Knicks as what Felton can provide offensively is improvement on the defensive end of the floor. New York ranked 27th in the league last season defensively, allowing 109.1 points per 100 possessions, and has ranked in the bottom seven for the last six seasons.
Felton, on the other hand, was part of the league's No. 1 defense in Charlotte last season. He's not the best defensive point guard in the league and he got burned by Jameer Nelson in the playoffs, but he can only help the Knicks on that end of the floor.
"He's always been good defensively," D'Antoni said. "He's strong and tough."
Communication, energy, and a presence in the paint are critical to defensive success, but pressure from the point guard can disrupt an offense as well.
Stoudemire is New York's newest star, but when it's time to take the floor, it's Felton who will set the tone on both ends.
"I think Raymond has an ability to win basketball games," D'Antoni said. "And that's what he's here for."
1. KEEP STOUDEMIRE HEALTHY
Amar'e Stoudemire will carry a big load for the Knicks, but the health of his knees will always be a concern.
2. IMPROVE DEFENSIVELY
The Knicks don't have to be a great defensive team, but they have to be at least somewhat respectable.
3. PROTECT THIS HOUSE
Desperate for a winner, New York basketball fans can give the Knicks one of the best home-court advantages in the league.
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LAST YEAR: 29-53, 3rd in Atlantic
FINISH: Missed playoffs
2009-10 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2009-10 Stats|
RAYMOND FELTON, GUARD
12.1 PPG | 3.6 RPG | 5.6 APG
Probably the most important player on both ends of the floor. He'll initiate both the offense and the defense.
WILSON CHANDLER, GUARD
15.3 PPG | 5.4 RPG | 2.1 APG
Needs to take another step forward both offensively (3-point shooting) and defensively (taking on the role of stopper).
DANILO GALLINARI, FORWARD
15.1 PPG | 4.9 RPG | 1.7 APG
Ranked second in the league in both 3-pointers attempted and made last season. And D'Antoni wants him to shoot more.
AMAR'E STOUDEMIRE, FORWARD
23.1 PPG | 8.9 RPG | 1.0 APG
Not only a world-class talent, Stoudemire leads with his work ethic. He's the last one off the practice floor every day.
TIMOFEY MOZGOV, CENTER
N/A PPG | N/A RPG | N/A APG
A free-agent signing from Russia, Mozgov is active with good hands. He earned the starting job in camp.
|Kelenna Azubuike||6-5||215||G-F||Recovering from knee surgery. Candidate to eventually start at the two.|
|Anthony Randolph||6-11||225||F||Never got much of a chance with the Warriors. Could flourish under D’Antoni.|
|Roger Mason Jr.||6-5||205||G||Another candidate to start at the two. Struggled last season.|
ADDED: Andrew Rautins, Landry Fields, Jerome Jordan, Amar'e Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, Roger Mason, Jr., Shawne Williams, Kelenna Azubuike, Anthony Randolph, Ronny Turiaf
LOST: Chris Duhon, Al Harrington, Sergio Rodriguez, Eddie House, Tracy McGrady, David Lee
MIKE D'ANTONI, COACH
They didn't get the biggest star, and there could be more upgrades coming next summer, but the Knicks' waiting period is officially over. Without Steve Nash to carry his offense or any excuses about a roster-in-waiting, we can really judge D'Antoni as a coach now. And with the talent he has, the playoffs are a realistic goal.
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