October 21, 2009
SI.com's NBA Enemy Lines
New York Knicks
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Knicks

If I'm a Knicks fan, I can only take heart that they didn't make any major mistakes and they still have money for a big free-agent signing next summer. But they need much more than one or two good players next summer. They don't have a legitimate NBA starter on their team with the exception of Al Harrington and maybe David Lee. It's like an expansion roster. Probably the moves will come only if Harrington has a phenomenal year so they can trade him for a good player, or Wilson Chandler becomes a commodity that can bring in a good player. That's what they have to hope for -- they have to build some momentum if they hope to sign a big free agent, because those big names are going to want to win. Maybe Danilo Gallinari is a lot better than I thought, or maybe all of a sudden Darko Milicic is going to become a player. All I know is they can't afford to sit back and wait for the golden slipper of free agency.

Their best asset is probably their coach, Mike D'Antoni, who has been smart as far as making relationships with stars around the league, with the Olympic connection [D'Antoni is a USA Basketball assistant coach] being a big help. They overachieved based on their talent last year. They beat a lot of teams because of their style of play. Right now, they're wide open and running the ball, but how about adding to that on the defensive end? Because they're not going to ever win the title without defending. They need to get their ducks in order on the defensive side of the ball, and this would be the time to do it. But it just doesn't seem important to them. D'Antoni is a brilliant offensive coach, he has a great temperament and guys like playing for him, but I look at the way they're going about it -- putting all of their hopes on free agency -- and I wonder if he'll survive to still be there when they do eventually turn it around, It's going to take a long time for that to happen the way they're doing it.

Chandler would be a solid backup on a good team. He's a two-position wing who runs the floor very well and is a much better offensive player than most people give him credit for. He's a complete offensive player with good shooting range. He could be one of their best commodities to trade.

I'll be interested to see what they get from Gallinari if it's true that he's healthy this season after having back surgery last year. I saw him play one quarter when he was playing great and passing the ball very well, and you could tell he really knew how to play. Then in some other games, he couldn't move. So maybe he'll give them something to build on.

There was no harm in them giving it a try with Milicic. When Larry Brown had him in Detroit as the No. 2 pick in the draft, he was totally immature. It was like having a junior-high kid on the team. Then in Orlando, he got totally lost behind Dwight Howard. If he's ever going to have a good time in the league, this is going to be it. It's a long shot he'll make it after all these years, but it was still an interesting get by the Knicks. What the hell, I would have gone after him too if I'd been in their position. What if he all of a sudden he plays like a high pick in that offense? He has to play in the high post and that's where D'Antoni will use him. He can shoot it out there, he sees the game pretty well and he's an excellent passer. I don't know if he's a bad rebounder or just not aggressive enough or just soft, but overall it will be interesting to pair him with Harrington, who as the attention-getter on this team up front will further create space for Milicic.

My feeling about Harrington is that he seems to be a nice guy and everybody likes him, but he does a lot of silly things on the floor. He will compete for you, but if he's your No. 1 or No. 2 option, you're going to be in trouble. If the defense leaves him to help, he can take the open shot -- unless he decides to pass up that shot in order to drive it into the crowd, which must make his coaches go crazy. He's a very versatile guy. He's like a quick steamroller when he has the ball on the perimeter and he's attacking the rim. It's very difficult to stand in front of him. He can get to the lane and finish, and he's an OK defender, though he's more talk than action there. But his decision-making is something else. If an opponent makes him look bad, he might respond by deciding to go end line to end line, and in those situations, he doesn't care who's in front of him. He just makes up his mind and does it, and never mind what options the defense is giving him.

Lee is a good power forward who has really flourished in the system. Eventually, he's going to get some kind of a payday because of the stats and the system he's in, though everyone understands those stats are inflated based on the style of play. On a good team, he might be able to start at power forward -- as long as he is your fourth or fifth option -- because he competes hard. And then if he's your backup, you know you have a good team. He's an above-average passer and rebounder -- quite a bit above average considering his size [6-foot-9]. He's an above-average scorer and average as a defender. It's hard to say how effective he'd be with his back to the basket in a more traditional system. He has a winning attitude and he plays with a lot of confidence, but let's be honest: Opponents don't take the Knicks seriously enough to really game-plan to shut down David Lee. He's playing as close to his potential as is humanly possible, and he should get credit for that. But if you're hoping to get much more out of him, good luck, because what you see is probably the most you're going to get.

Nate Robinson is a good drawing card for New York City because they need some excitement and he can bring it. He's good athletically and handles the ball, but he's not a consistent shooter. He's like their version of Eddie House as a bench sparkplug to come in and get them going. He can't start for a good team because he can't defend a lick other than by taking chances, which means that for every steal there are two or three plays that he tried and failed to get the steal and took himself out of position to cost his own team an easy basket. But I love what he brings offensively.

Chris Duhon should be a backup. He does a lot of things OK, and nothing great. He's not a good shooter, he's not quick enough to get by you and he's an average passer. By the end of last year, he was exhausted from playing way too many minutes. This guy was legitimately tired down the stretch; I mean he had nothing. That being said, he competes and his teammates appear to like playing with him. He's a smart player who knows what D'Antoni wants, but he's not good enough. He would be another complementary backup on a successful team.

Larry Hughes is OK in limited doses, but if he has to play big minutes, he's going to tire. He's at the point where he is a journeyman guy who will bounce from team to team, and he'll help win some games for them this year. But he's not part of their future. He plays with a little chip on his shoulder, which I like. But if the Knicks get good, he'll be off playing somewhere else.

Rookie forward Jordan Hill looks like an athletic big man, the kind of guy D'Antoni likes to have. I would think he'll play behind Milicic, and when they go small, he can play at center.

I can see Jared Jeffries being a good player in their system because of his height, he can run the floor, he can shoot as well as put it on the floor, and he's a willing passer. I always thought he was underutilized. But put it all together and he's another complementary guy who isn't good enough to be an impact player.

Eddy Curry has no shot with the Knicks even if he gets himself in shape and shows some dedication. He was a rising star in the league who could have been a beast as a big man, but if he'd had any chance of developing last year, it would have been with any team but New York. He's a post-up guy who will never be showcased in this type of system.


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