4:10 pm Nov. 2, 2012
It's been said that Raymond Felton is somehow in charge of the Knicks' destiny this season, simply because he effectively replaced Jeremy Lin on the roster.
Felton sort of buys it. But no one else should.
"Jeremy's gone," Felton said, paraphrasing what has become his mantra, along with endless repetition of an admission that he wasn't in shape last season, during a forgettable campaign with Portland. "He's in Houston now. That's a lost cause. He's not coming back. It's my team. I'm the point guard. Me and [Jason] Kidd, so Jeremy Lin is in Houston. Only time he comes back is when he plays against us."
And really, the 2012-13 New York Knicks are scarcely more Raymond Felton's team than they are Jeremy Lin's team. Sure, the better Felton plays, the more the Knicks can maximize their overall returns at the margins, with a playoff appearance likely and a playoff run possible. And Felton, in shape don't forget, should be just fine, though clearly not at Lin's level as a player. His backup, Pablo Prigioni, should also provide point guard production the Knicks simply didn't have, other than Lin, last year.
Really, though, this team will go as far as Carmelo Anthony takes the offense, and Tyson Chandler lifts the defense. That the team has such a capable offensive player in Anthony, and the league's reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Chandler, speaks to their potential.
At the same time, there's no backup plan.
Consider that one of the only reasons Felton, and not Lin, is in New York today is Anthony's reported bristling at Lin running the offense based around who was open, rather than getting the ball to Anthony and getting out of the way. Accordingly, the ball will be in Anthony's hands often, which by itself is a good thing.
But the Knicks lack any reasonable plan to score without Anthony. Amar'e Stoudemire is headed for knee surgery, with his newly estimated timetable for returning at six-to-eight weeks. There's no telling how healthy he'll be when he gets back, or whether he and Anthony will finally figure out a way to play together effectively.
The Knicks don't even have, strictly speaking, a backup small forward for Anthony. If he plays power forward, Ronnie Brewer, the defensive specialist, will join Jason Kidd in a three-guard attack much of the time. And there's Steve Novak, who is a brilliant three-point shooter, but not a small forward, or really any position, in terms of the basic rebounding, defending or passing one expects there.
This isn't merely a problem if Anthony gets hurt. The Knicks are likely to be searching for any offense at all when Anthony sits. And on nights when Anthony's shot is off, the Knicks are likely to lose.
Similarly, the team is incredibly dependent on Chandler defensively. To their credit, they went out and imported Marcus Camby, a Chandler-like player, to rebound and defend when he's off the floor. But Camby, due to a left calf injury, did not play in the preseason. And at age 38, he's more appropriately viewed as a player to spell Chandler, not to replace him for any extended period.
Remember, last season the Knicks were both a Top-Five team in defensive efficiency, and allowed 112, 118 and 119 points in three of the four games Chandler missed. The defense really is a Chandler-or-bust operation.
Other questions remain unanswered. How much will J.R. Smith's offensive prowess provide the Knicks, when combined with his determination to shoot at will? (He's probably the team's main source of offense when Anthony sits, at least until Stoudemire returns.) Can Rasheed Wallace, after two years of retirement, and Kurt Thomas, still going at age 40, provide enough production at power forward in Stoudemire's absence to keep the Knicks afloat? Or will they have to turn to Chris Copeland, who made the roster based on his strong offensive preseason, but simply cannot guard power forwards?
The combination of Carmelo Anthony's offense and Tyson Chandler's defense should be enough to get the Knicks at least a few home playoff games in Madison Square Garden. But heaven help the Knicks if either one is sidelined for any extended period of time. There's no Jeremy Lin around to save the season this year.