Grading Every Position Heading into NY Knicks Training Camp

John Dorn@JSDorn6Correspondent IIISeptember 23, 2013

Grading Every Position Heading into NY Knicks Training Camp

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    After an offseason of improving a roster than won 54 games in 2012-2013, the New York Knicks stand as one of the NBA's deepest teams. They have talent at every position, and the focus will be on coach Mike Woodson to piece it all together.

    Following the departure of Jason Kidd, the front office solidified the point guard position by re-signing Pablo Prigioni and adding Beno Udrih. Metta World Peace was signed on the cheap after being amnestied by the Los Angeles Lakers, adding defense to a team that lacked it last season.

    Carmelo Anthony is presumably healthy after an offseason of rehabbing a partially torn labrum. A year removed from an individually amazing but overall disappointing campaign, he should be more motivated and hungry for a title.

    Each position will have its own battles heading into training camp. Here, we dish out grades to each spot based on the depth chart as it stands right now. 

Point Guard

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    Position Grade: B+

    Glen Grunwald and the front office made it a priority to revamp the point guard rotation after the departure of Jason Kidd. The Knicks will certainly strut out one of the league's deepest. 

    Raymond Felton averaged 14 points and 5.5 assists a season ago, despite battling through an injured pinky finger through much of the first half and being forced to miss a month with the ailment. He posted much steadier numbers after the All-Star break, shooting around 47 percent from the field while taking roughly four less attempts per game.

    As the starter, his capability of penetrating the paint and creating his own offense is important to the Knicks when Carmelo Anthony isn't on the floor. Pablo Prigioni's ability to encourage ball flow and his reliable jump shot are key to the offense avoiding stagnation, and Beno Udrih's offensive arsenal can only help—especially when paired off the ball with another 1.

    The only issue presented with this point trio—and it's a concerning one—is defense. Last season, opposing point guards trampled the Knicks, equating to a 17.5 player efficiency rating (PER), according to 82games.

    Felton can provide short stretches of decent on-ball guarding but is a mediocre defender overall. Prigioni's athleticism is astounding for his age, and his pesky steals are no doubt an asset, but asking him to hang with a quicker guard over the course of a game is unreasonable. Udrih has never been the quickest guard, either; the Orlando Magic allowed 2.5 points per 100 possessions less when he sat, according to 82games.

    Toure' Murry opened eyes in the summer league by playing exceptionally on both ends of the court. His offensive game is unpolished but well-rounded, and his 6'5" frame and athletic body make for a formidable defensive matchup.

    Point guard isn't necessarily a need for New York, but if there's no clear training-camp winner for the final spot, bringing on Murry would be a sound decision.

    Point guard could be the team's deepest position, and all three members of the rotation will play a major role in the offense. But if none show improvements on the defensive end, the Knicks could finish the season in the same disappointing fashion as last year.

Shooting Guard

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    Position Grade: B+

    With J.R. Smith set to miss the season's first slate of games with injury and suspension, Iman Shumpert will likely take on the brunt of shooting guard minutes to open the year. Assuming Smith doesn't miss much more than the mandatory first five games, New York should be able to stay afloat offensively. 

    Shumpert's defense, as he enters his third NBA campaign, is already on par with the stingiest guards in the game. During the playoffs, New York allowed nearly five points less per 100 possessions with Shumpert on the floor, per Basketball-Reference. His overall net rating was plus-11.5.

    Smith's playoff downfall last spring was a topic of discussion all through the summer, but the contract he settled on in July is beneficial to the Knicks. The team will pay the reigning Sixth Man of the Year roughly $5.5 million this season, after he averaged 18 points per game in 2012-13. 

    While Smith's on and off-court antics become a bit tiresome over time, the Knicks wouldn't have been able to survive last year without his scoring. He'll likely play a similar role in the offense this season upon returning, so Knicks fans can only hope that Woodson continues breaking through to the volatile swingman.

    It's important to note that both Shumpert and Smith could log significant time at the 3 while Woodson runs out some lineups with two point guards, which would bump Anthony to the power forward. Both Prigioni and Udrih will likely see time at the shooting guard slot as well.

    Rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. was drafted with the 24th overall pick in June, but it'll be difficult for the 21-year-old to find time, especially under a coach who favors veterans as much as Woodson does. While Smith is forced to sit out, Hardaway might have a chance to showcase his stuff, but that could be the only extended minutes he sees.

    A lot depends on Shumpert's progression with the ball, but his 40 percent three-point shooting from a year ago makes him a valuable accessory. If he improves his ability to handle, penetrate and finish at the rim, the 22-year-old could become one of New York's prime scorers. That vision seems like a long-term goal rather than a 2014 outlook, but the team should be just fine at the 2 this season.

Small Forward

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    Position Grade: A

    Of the things that New York has to worry about this season, Carmelo Anthony is not one of them.

    Much will be made of the Knicks star moving back down to the small forward spot after a full season of dominating power forwards. Under different circumstances, this position switch would be detrimental to New York. But not under these circumstances. 

    The reason for Anthony's prior relative struggles at the 3 while playing next to Amar'e Stoudemire was a battle for spacing. Stoudemire, especially when his perimeter game is as rusty as it has been lately, operates from the same region as Anthony. With Bargnani at the 4 slot, however, this issue shouldn't be something to worry about.

    Of Bargnani's 425 shot attempts last season, 356 were jump shots. Only 109 of those were taken from within 10 feet. In theory, he should assume the court position that a traditional small forward would, leaving the inside available for Anthony to work. 

    Anthony's playoff performance wasn't as stellar as he would have hoped, but after a full offseason of rehabbing a shoulder injury suffered late in the regular season, the ailment should be a thing of the past.

    On defense, it'll be interesting to see how 'Melo performs against opposing small forwards. Last season, against bigger, stationary post players, Anthony excelled. Synergy Sports had him as one of the best post defenders in the league. 

    Previously in his career, when lined up against athletic small forwards, Anthony had struggled chasing players around the perimeter and fighting through screens. His defensive fortune was usually related directly to the amount of effort exerted nightly. 

    That should be the only unknown in regard to Anthony this season: his effort on defense. Against bigger players like David West in the playoffs, he could primarily confine himself to the paint and rely on brute force to shut down opponents.

    That won't be the case at small forward, and the Knicks will need his attention and dedication on the defensive end while he's logging small forward minutes. 

    When 'Melo will be spending time away from the 3—whether it be at power forward or on the bench—Metta World Peace will make for a perfect role player.

    He can provide defense along the perimeter and the ability to contain both forward positions. He can also knock down threes from the corner, which is usually a Woodson wing's primary duty.

Power Forward

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    Position Grade: B-

    Aside from being known league-wide as the two most untradeable players in the NBA, Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani have earned reputations as big men with elite scoring ability. This would lead you to believe that the Knicks shouldn't have a ton to worry about from their power forward position. 

    The truth is that the position is actually their most worrisome.

    Bargnani, the projected starter, is currently a three-point specialist big man with no post game who can't shoot. Over the last two seasons, he's shot the three-ball at just a 30.3 percent clip. He isn't an imposing figure on the boards either—the 7-footer has pulled down a weak 4.8 boards on average for his career.

    According to advanced metrics, Bargnani is one of the better post defenders in the league, which comes as a surprise to casual fans and even most well-informed followers. Using metrics unveiled at last year's MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, it was revealed that Bargnani sported the second-best proximal field-goal percentage (the field-goal percentage of opponents when a defender was within five feet of the rim) in the NBA.

    The Knicks will bank on these studies proving true, because Stoudemire isn't even close to competent on that end. 

    Although he had one of his most offensively efficient seasons in 2012-13 (albeit in just 29 games)—he posted the 13th-best PER in the league—his ability to defend is so atrocious that pairing him in the same lineup with another defensively deficient big would be akin to spotting an opponent free points.

    Despite the Sloan metrics, Bargnani, until he proves otherwise as a Knick, is a player whom Stoudemire cannot be paired with. It's for this reason that the former first overall pick must start gamesso that he's not on the same bench unit as Stoudemire, who's medically relegated there.

    If both members of the platoon stay healthy while playing up to their ability, the Knicks will have two of the more offensively unstoppable power forwards on their roster sharing minutes. The issue will be defending the opposition. Both players will be forced to lean on the center for help all season long.


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    Position Grade: B+

    He didn't make a good case for himself during last year's playoffs, but Tyson Chandler is the best defender the Knicks have down low and one of the league's best at the position.

    His putrid playoff output on both ends was a direct result of being overworked in the regular season, which led to injuries. While rehabbing those injuries at the end of the regular season, he caught a sickness that forced him to lose significant weight. So by playoff time, the Knicks' defensive anchor was, in an almost literal sense, a shell of himself. 

    A healthy Chandler will provide the bare essentials on offense—putbacks and dunks while acting as primary screen-setter—and be able to defend most other centers. The question will be if Woodson can help Chandler hold up over the course of a full season.

    Kenyon Martin is back for another year in New York, which should help preserve Chandler from the get-go. While undersized, "K-Mart" brings the same defensive intensity and toughness that Chandler does, but he'll be 36 by January. 

    After impressing in the summer league, Jeremy Tyler was added as another insurance policy for Chandler, but the 22-year-old underwent foot surgery earlier in the summer and could be sidelined until mid-November.

    If Martin can act as a sufficient backup for Chandler over 82 games, the Knicks shouldn't have much to worry about. If Martin doesn't impress the way he did last year, or if his body breaks down, Woodson will be forced to rely on a young and potentially hobbled Tyler to spell the starter.

    Former LA Laker Josh Powell has received an invite to camp, according to Bleacher Report NBA analyst Jared Zwerling. As an undersized big with some experience at the 4 and 5, he'll have an opportunity to earn the 15th and final spot.

    The team has room for three more camp bodies, and it's fair to assume that there will be at least one more center prospect in the fold for October.

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