By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Training camp is just over a month away, so it's time to start addressing some of the storylines that have developed over a busier-than-expected Knicks offseason. From now until the end of September when the journey officially gets under way, we'll dive into the biggest questions facing the Orange and Blue.
First up: We know the Knicks can score, but what about the defense?
Last year, the Knicks had the league's third-best offense (points per 100 possessions), but became one of only 11 teams in NBA history to advance past the first round of the playoffs with a defensive efficiency below league average. They finished 18th.
It was a curious number for a team that boasted the league’s fifth-best defense the previous season. The question is: what does it mean for this year?
Generally speaking, there are two ways a team can get better on defense: by bringing good defenders onto the roster, and by building cohesion among the existing group. Add more talent, or get the talent you have to play better together. Knicks fans, who see a team that is built around the same core that excelled defensively not too long ago, are hoping for a little of both.
In Mike Woodson's complex read-and-react schemes, all five players must be in sync with each other. If one person misses an assignment, the rest are hung out to dry. In the playoffs, we saw how one crucial lapse in focus can swing a game or even a series.
On top of desire and toughness, it also helps to have the versatility to guard multiple positions to execute all the switching and recovering required in the Knicks' defense. Enter Metta World Peace, former NBA Defensive Player of the Year. On the perimeter or in the post, for 14 seasons you've known the kind of effort you are going to get from the 6-7, 260-pound forward.
(FUN FACT: World Peace is second among active players in steals per game (1.85), behind only Chris Paul.)
How Woodson utilizes newcomers Andrea Bargnani, Beno Udrih and rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. remains to be seen, but by incorporating World Peace, the complexion of New York's defense changes dramatically. All of a sudden, Woodson has the flexibility to play matchups on offense -- and Carmelo Anthony at whichever forward spot he pleases -- without sacrificing at the other end.
Less is more with Chandler
World Peace joins a roster that should improve organically as a result of playing together for almost two years. Tyson Chandler was dynamic in his first season in New York, earning D.P.O.Y. honors as he anchored the paint and caused havoc on pick-and-rolls for the Orange and Blue. He played in 62 of 66 games during that lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, averaging over 33 minutes per contest.
It was a significant increase in workload from the previous season -- in which he averaged just under 28 minutes a night in 74 games for the world champion Dallas Mavericks -- and it continued last year, his second with the Knicks. He was such an important presence in the middle of the defense and that it became difficult to take him out of games. Woodson also had no one to turn to in many instances, with the team's frontcourt depth severely compromised due to injury.
But with more minutes came more punishment for Chandler, whose athleticism and all-out style lends itself to collision, and the pounding he absorbed caught up with him. Various neck and back injuries forced him to sit out 16 games; by playoff time, he had lost weight and was never able to return to peak form.
With a full season of Kenyon Martin -- another committed, versatile defender -- and Amar'e Stoudemire, to go with Bargnani and perhaps even another big man for the last roster spot, the Knicks believe they have a reliable rotation to take some of the wear and tear off Chandler, even if the others can't replicate his unique abilities.
Iman Shumpert, who missed 37 games himself last season, also figures to be back to full strength after recovering from knee surgery just over a year ago. The Knicks will be counting on Shump to be a difference-maker as he enters his third pro season, armed with both the experience and the drive to be great on the defensive end.
Baby steps, big leaps?
At least in theory, it all adds up to improvement over last year's performance. They've added depth to preserve their stars and, on paper, they have type of impact talent that can galvanize an entire team to buy in on the defensive end.
It sounds simple, but becoming even slightly above-average on defense could mean big things for this team -- certainly if the offense remains as potent as it was a year ago.