With the ink officially dry on Tyson Chandler’s $56 million dollar contract, the Knicks now have one of the more talented and versatile front courts in all of basketball. His addition addresses some perceived weaknesses (toughness, interior defense) and completely eradicates others (rebounding). If the truly BIG three manage to stay healthy for the compacted season, it’s safe to say they won’t be the culprits for another banner-less season at the Garden.
The weak spot of this team now lies in the backcourt, where optimists see potential, pessimists don’t see a point guard, and everyone with eyes sees inexperience. Save for elder statesmen and resident defensive statue Mike Bibby, the Knicks rotation will rely heavily on three guards with a combined three years of experience. With the chips stacked high in the front court, the Knicks bet for a championship now rests on a few long shots they acquired in the past two years.
The occasional intrusion from Bibby won’t change the reality that the Knicks created once they freed themselves of Chauncey Billups’ contract. Toney Douglas will be the ringmaster of the show at the World’s Most Famous Arena. I’ve been steadfast in my support of Douglas, and I still think he’s in the process of really learning how to play point guard for the first time in his career. Considering he was the seminal source of offense for Florida State, it’s a safe bet that Toney has been a primary offensive option since at least high school.
But there are indicators that Douglas is due for a career year at the point. The small sample would be his 9 starts last year where he shot 52% from the floor and averaged 5.7 assists. A larger one would include his numbers post-Melo trade, which improved in nearly every area (in those 28 games he averaged 4.5 assists to 1.2 turnovers, while shooting 43% from downtown). Obviously, those numbers will be difficult to sustain with increased minutes, but I believe Douglas' post-trade play was more foreshadowing than mirage.
Most importantly, his assist to turnover ratio was an astounding 3.73, which would rank him among the most efficient point guards in the league over a course of a full season. That number will regress as he attempts a higher quantity of more difficult passes this season, but it should stay well over 3. I wouldn’t trade Toney Douglas for Jamal Crawford, and I definitely wouldn’t even consider a swap for JJ Barea. Douglas has all the raw tools to be a great point guard, and by the end of the year the Knicks will not have to address the point guard problem, because there won’t be one.
If I wasn’t completely convinced Landry Fields’ stay in New York was just going to be a layover, there would be a 6 on my Knicks jersey instead of a 1. For a guy whose name prompted groans and Google searches throughout the entirety of New York on draft night, Fields proved to be one of the better draft values in Knicks history. He rightfully has a reputation as a hard worker, which manifested itself in several areas.
Regarded as an average shooter in college, Fields’ percentages saw major jumps in his rookie year. His 49.7 field goal percentage was 5th amongst all shooting guards, and his 39.3 three point percentage made him a reliable kick out option in D’Antoni’s three heavy offense. Most notably, Fields proved himself very un-shooting guard like in his willingness to do the dirty work. At season’s end, he was tied with Dwyane Wade as the best rebounding guard in the NBA last year.
The logical prediction this year is for a Fields regression, and I won’t try and say that he’ll make the leap to star status. But thinking Fields will simply fade into the bench would be discounting all of the work that he’s already done. Fields’ number may never threaten the rafters anywhere, but I see him settling in as the Knicks version of Tayshaun Prince.
Both Fields and Douglas have previous NBA experience to draw upon when predicting their futures. The same cannot be said of rookie Iman Shumpert whose resume is a long list of daunting questions. What position should he play? Can he shoot? Will he create more turnovers on defense or offense? Shumpert is sushi-raw; the floor is Gerald Green, the ceiling is Andre Iguodala.
If D’Antoni were a chef, Shumpert would be the nicest raw ingredient there is. There is no limit to what can be done with it, he just needs to know what steps to take to make it sing. The staff will have some work to do untangling the knots that Shumpert developed under Paul Hewitt at Georgia Tech. But in a league full of the world’s best athletes, Shumpert’s measureables stand alone near the top of the heap, highlighted by his unrelenting on-ball defense. but there’s so much potential left to unlock.
D’Antoni has a history of cold-shouldering young players in favor of veterans, but it would be unwise neglect a talent this prodigious. By all accounts, Shumpert’s jump shot has shown signs of thawing, and his great defense is the mark of someone willing to work hard to improve their game. This year I’m expecting Trevor Ariza reincarnate, albeit slightly smaller. A lightly used role player with outstanding defense and the capability of sending the Garden into a frenzy with some awe-inspiring finishes.
- Douglas is going to be somewhat frustrating out of the gates. The combination of his first year starting and the brevity of training camp will give him some headaches. But his terrific defense and outside shooting should keep him above water until he acclimates himself completely. Mark my words, there will be games this year that you won’t care that the Knicks lost out on Chris Paul.
Fields will get the majority of the minutes at the 2. His stats may not jump off the page (with the exception of rebounding), but watch for some subtle improvements or new areas to his game. Maybe more accurate passing, or an increased willingness to take his man off the dribble. In Conclusion, the numbers may not look a lot better, but the player will.
- The majority of Shumpert’s minutes will be at the 2, and he’ll be Jekyll and Hyde throughout the course of games. The turnovers and jumpers will be ugly at times, but his Kevlar tight defense of opposing guards and nitro boosters in his legs will make those moments ultimately forgivable.
- Mike Woodson will at some point employ an awesome press of Douglas and Shumpert with Jeffries roaming against some guard deficient teams and make their life getting over half court a living hell.