Based on their offseason moves, the Knicks, on paper, now have their best defensive team since 2000-01.
The interior addition of Marcus Camby and perimeter one of Ronnie Brewer, coupled with Tyson Chandler and Iman Shumpert (when healthy), means the Knicks have the right role players in place to stop most teams night-in and night-out.
But how about stopping the best teams? A veteran NBA scout believes the Knicks are on the verge of doing that.
New York Knicks
"I think the smart thing to do if you're an organization is you try to either fit your coach to what you want the culture to be, or you fit your culture to the coach. Either way, you try to have some synergy," the scout told ESPNNewYork.com. "I really give the Knicks credit because what they have learned is they're not going to get away with just outscoring people. At some point, you have to be able to stop people to beat the very best teams when it really matters."
In order for the Knicks to have a chance at that, Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire need to be on the same page consistently with the defensive-focused Mike Woodson. That will also help their defensive-minded teammates maximize their abilities, because as the old adage goes, "You only play as well as your best players."
"You can't just be a run-of-the-mill team and defend your way to a championship," the scout said. "You've got to have great players, but if you also have that talent that buys into getting stops, that's when you go from being a 50-win team to say a 60-win team that actually has legitimate championship aspirations."
Even the Showtime Lakers of the 1980s, with all their great offensive talent, were one of the top 10 defensive teams in the league. Their coach, Pat Riley, brought that same full-court mentality to the Knicks in the following decade, which John Starks and Charles Oakley experienced first-hand. And that's something Woodson will have to get across to his team during his first full training camp in New York, which starts a month from now.
"Before Pat Riley, it was all different types of identities. We had the pieces, but it was a different identity," Oakley told ESPNNewYork.com. "Pat Riley had a good philosophy and a way of structuring stuff. But the individual's got to want to do it. He said, 'I want you to play less minutes, I want you to do this, I want you to do that.' My thing is, I want to win. I said, 'Okay, cool.' If your numbers are going down and you're winning, it's an asset for the team."
Oakley said that Anthony and Stoudemire need to think beyond their individual talents and recognize how they can help the team come together. That starts with playing tough on defense, which Oakley was all about in New York for 10 years from 1988 to 1998.
"I can do my job all I want, but anybody else got to want to do their job just as hard as I do," he said. "We know Carmelo and Amare can score, Tyson is a defensive guy. But it's like a mansion. They got the house; now you just got to buy the furniture. I think with the Knicks, this is their second year together, and the furniture's in now."
Starks said Anthony and Stoudemire showed some promise defensively under Woodson in the last 24 games of the season. And this summer, Anthony improved on that end during the Olympics and Stoudemire worked with Hakeem Olajuwon on shot-blocking techniques. But Starks agreed with Oakley, stating that both stars need to prove it over a full 82-game season.
"The most important thing is that Woodson held everybody accountable on that end of the court, and [Anthony and Stoudemire] responded very well," Starks told ESPNNewYork.com. "Everything starts with your key players, and when your key players buy into that end of the court, everybody else follows. It should be good to have a whole training camp, as well as a preseason, for him to really enforce what he's trying to get across to them. Defense first, offense second."
New York Knicks
Starks said that while this season's Knicks is different offensively compared to his former teams, in that their scoring will come more from the perimeter (mostly Anthony generated), he said they both have anchors down low.
"We had defensive-minded players right off the bat: Patrick Ewing, Anthony Mason, Charles Oakley, guys like that," he said. "It made our job, as guards, much easier, because if guys got past us, we had those guys down there. This team is similar to that. You have a good shot-blocker in Tyson Chandler. He covers for a lot of guys' mistakes. You have to have that big man in the back in order to play the best brand of basketball. They have that as well in Marcus Camby."
Chandler and Camby will really come in handy against the Heat, with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade constantly attacking, as well as the Thunder and Lakers with Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, and Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, respectively. What's especially great with having Chandler and Camby, according to the scout, is that both players can defend the best big men in the league one-on-one. That will enable the Knicks players to double-team less throughout the game and stick to who they're guarding more often, therefore making them have to work more to get their shot off.
"You don't talk about stopping LeBron James or guys like that," the scout said. "What you do is you try to make them work for every point they get, you try to make them take more shots to get to their points than they normally would, you try to make them take more difficult shots, you try to just make it more difficult and not allow them to be as efficient as they normally would be. The Knicks now have the ability to do those things."
With all the talk about how the 1992 Dream Team would fare against the 2012 Olympic squad, how about a Knicks' old vs. new defensive contest, featuring last decade's team and this one?
"It would definitely be a fun game," Starks said. "Obviously this team is more perimeter-oriented, more so than the teams that we had. We were more of an inside-outside type of team. It would be curious to see how the two styles would match up."
Stay tuned on Friday for an interview with Jeff Van Gundy, where he discusses this season's Knicks and reflects on his time with the team in the 1990s.
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