During the 2016-17 NBA season, headlines will be dominated by Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors on a daily basis. However, having a super-team doesn’t guarantee a championship; just look at the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers. Everything can change and anything can happen in the NBA. A team can implode, the injury bug could strike, or a team simply might not play to its potential. In this Last Word On Pro Basketball series, we’ll break down which two key factors will determine the fate of each team in the upcoming season.
Two Key Factors to a Successful New York Knicks Season
There is no getting around it: the Knicks collapsed last season, and not even firing Derek Fisher could keep them from finishing with a win-loss record of 32-50. Fans and pundits can and did point to many factors in New York’s struggles. There was fatigue, Carmelo Anthony‘s health, the revolving starting lineup, a weak bench, and aging players. Now that last season is in the past, what will be the biggest factors for the success of the 2016-17 Knicks?
The Knicks have changed. The coach is different, the players are different, and Kristaps Porzingis is still developing as a rising star. The only constant is Carmelo Anthony. Anthony is the only part of the team that fans don’t have worry about.
First Key: Build Chemistry
The thing that the Knicks need to worry about right now is chemistry, which, according to science, is a real factor in basketball. The Knicks have lacked chemistry for a while. But at least since last year, it seems that they’ve had a definitive one-two punch in Anthony and Porzingis. They just need that duo to become a legitimate threat to the entire league this year.
Being a second option is a lot to ask of a sophomore. Anthony is a seasoned star; he has weathered storms with both the Knicks and the Denver Nuggets. Porzingis needs to pick up only some of the slack. There is good reason to believe that he can do it. The revamped bench is the last piece to the chemistry puzzle. The new reserves will need to mesh together in order to be successful.
Chemistry with Limits
Former All-Star Joakim Noah and former MVP Derrick Rose need to use their influence and steady leadership to play to the needs of the game and season. Veterans Courtney Lee and Brandon Jennings need to be the X-factors and not look to re-invent themselves. No player needs to play above his ceiling. Knicks fans might want to see an entire lineup of star performances, but that isn’t how the team is built. There is a clear number one guy and an emerging number two guy in Anthony and Porzingis, respectively.
It might seem good for Rose to play like his former MVP self all year, but that would actually hurt the Knicks. That’s partially because of the short-term deal that New York has him for. The Knicks acquired Rose with a salary that could sky-rocket under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, with the rising cap. If Rose becomes crucial to New York’s future, the team would have to give up too much money to keep him. His emergence would also hurt the direction of development in which the Knicks are heading. Anthony is the old guard and he is ready to pass it along and play nice with Porzingas. Rose would mess up that easy transition.
Second Key: Keep the Train Moving at All Costs
The Knicks will worry about fatigue and effort. Even if they stay healthy enough to make it through the whole season, some of the older players will struggle to remain effective. Even team president Phil Jackson said that he thought the team flagged a bit during last season. If Jackson wants to bring a change in culture, that would be a good place to start. Just ask Stephen Curry how important health is come playoff time.
Coaches have to monitor minutes and stay strict. They have to be savvy with the schedule and practices. Trainers have to be on the money with rehab. The players are unlikely to stay healthy, and even the young Porzingis may have injury problems towards the end of the year. They need to peak at the right times; coaches will have a big hand in that. Take a page from the book of Gregg Popovich. Take the fines. Sit the players. Go deep in the playoffs.
If the Knicks want to make a run at the playoffs and make it count, they need to be healthy. That health starts in off-season training sessions and it continues through the regular season. Fans wouldn’t grocery shop for six months at a time so don’t ask the Knicks to go two months without resting players. The risk is too high with for that, given their current personnel. This season, fans should celebrate rest days.