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Oct 25, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony (7) controls the ball against the Charlotte Bobcats during the third quarter of a preseason game at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

New York Knicks: Keys to Contending

With the New York Knicks season starting tonight, there are many key factors necessary for the Knicks to win 54 games again this season.  The bar is now set for the Knicks to not only win their division, but advance beyond the second round of the playoffs.  It begins with Carmelo Anthony growing as a person, a player, following the example of LeBron James and what sacrifices it takes to win a championship.  Players covet the “RING;” James learned from his Cleveland experience, one man cannot do it alone.  He now will do whatever it takes to win, he has learned to trust his teammates, and in return, they love and play for him.  Anthony must develop this same chemistry starting tonight with his teammates.

The # 1 key to a championship season is Anthony must remain healthy.  Coach Mike Woodson must protect his prime asset and not burn him out prior to the fourth quarter.  This can happen if other Knicks step up and meet their contribute.

In addition, Woodson must prove he is more than a two-year coach.  He is not in Atlanta anymore, he is on center stage, in the world’s greatest arena.  He can no longer be wishy-washy, about his game plan, his starting lineups, his rotations.  He must motivate his players and get them to play to their potential. Having played for Bob Knight and having coached with Larry Brown, he now must show he learned his lessons on player management.

It begins with Iman Shumpert, Andrea Bargnani, and Raymond Felton.

Let’s start with Shumpert, who proved in the playoffs last season and this year in the preseason, he could be the starting guard.  Metta World Peace, called him the best shooting guard in the NBA.  Now although that may be a stretch, Shumpert is talented and now in his third season, he needs to prove he is the real deal.  With two other talented two guards in J.R. Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr., if he doesn’t get off to a solid start this season, he could once again be trade bait around February.  With the potential to get buried behind his fellow guards, Shumpert must show the world what he can do.

Raymond Felton has tremendous skill, but he, too, must prove he is a New York starting point guard. Raymond has never matched his 17 PPG, first stint with the Knicks.  Woodson favors Felton, but his defense is weak and he too often slows the game down.  He must not continually walk the ball down the court and pass it to Anthony on the left wing while he parks himself beyond the three point line.  He must march the ball up the court, penetrate, and give 100% on defense.  Felton needs to be a reliable offensive and defensive threat for the Knicks to reach their potential.

With a three-pronged point guard system, who will be the last man standing?  Pablo Prigioni, is good for 17-20 high energy minutes per game, plays solid defense and is a fan favorite.  Beno Udrih penetrates and clearly outplayed Felton in the preseason.  He has two other assets neither Felton or Carmelo possess:  he owns two championship rings from his time with the San Antonio Spurs.  He and Tyson Chandler know how to win, what it takes to win.  If Felton falters, this will be his last year in New York.  Toure’ Murry is my sleeper to earn Woodson’s favor as he is clearly the best defender in the Knicks backcourt.

Bargnani will be either the steal or the bust of the offseason.  How Coach Woodson utilizes him will bare on his future.  He showed in the preseason as in the past when he played alongside Chris Bosh, he is not a center.  Yes, he is a seven foot person, but height alone does not make a center.  Bargnani can play the 3 or 4, which gives Carmelo Anthony flexibility.  If Bargnani can score 15-17 points per game and be the offensive weapon he once was, it will give Carmelo the opportunity to pick his spots and not carry the burden of offense on his back.  If Bargnani becomes the player he is capable of being the Knicks will be the surprise of the NBA.

Five games from now returns another key to unlocking the Knicks championship season.  J.R. Smith is probably the most athletic Knick.  When under control, he creates an explosiveness that makes him one of the most difficult players to defend in the entire NBA.  His presence on the court will not only aid Anthony, but will create opportunities for all of his other teammates.

Tyson Chandler brings toughness, height, and a new mid-range jump shot to his repertoire. You have to love an athlete that only wants to win and will do whatever his or her team needs.  Chandler is a selfless guy.  His updated jump shot will prevent teams from clogging the middle.  Combine this with Bargnani offensive ability, and the Knicks can cause havoc on most teams.

However, there are still two keys who we have yet to see much of or at all this preseason can change the season. Kenyon Martin and Amar’e Stoudemire offer a second team that not many teams can handle.  Both these men in their day dominated their position — if heathy, they can provide Anthony the game rest he will need to offset the pounding he takes on a nightly basis.  Stoudemire looks strong and stated, he feels great.  We need an assist from Mother Nature on these two former All-Stars.

Metta World Peace is another key asset that assists Carmelo as he creates for himself on both ends of the floor.  His toughness is germane to the Knicks being a top ten defensive team.  I love his attitude and presence and many reporters are calling for him to start alongside Anthony. We’ll see how this plays out, but it may not be a good idea to take a valuable defender off the bench while also demoting Bargnani so early in the year.

The Knicks have the talent if Anthony’s teammates step up and meet their potential.  Yesterday, Anthony heeded the criticism of Charles Barkley.
Barkley’s latest criticism of the Knicks is centered around Anthony. Barkley and his fellow TNT analyst, Kenny Smith, said on Monday that Anthony should be focused on recruiting players to New York rather than his pending free agency. This is a great insight on the mindstate Anthony should have this season: strengthening his teammates, not looking for greener pastures. Anthony not only didn’t back down, he responded in a positive manner.

Anthony stated today and was reported on ESPN he plans to recruit players to come to New York this summer, which could be taken as a strong indication that Anthony will re-sign with the Knicks.

“I haven’t had a complaint yet in my 11 years in this NBA about playing with me. I think people would love to come to play in New York,” Anthony said. “And when that time comes we’ll be working on that. I have a big black book. I have a big Rolodex. People that talk about what’s going on with me in the offseason, this and that, I should be getting people to come here, I am. I’m trying.”

True words spoken by a future champion.  I love Anthony, his grit, his talent, his overall court presence.  He plays the right way and today said the right things.  Now it is up to his teammates to do their end of the bargain and show Carmelo they not only want him to stay in New York, but bring home a Championship.

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Tags: 2013-14 NBA Season Carmelo Anthony Knicks Championship New York Knicks New York Knicks Season Opener

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