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Will revamped supporting cast help Carmelo, Knicks make the playoffs?

The Knicks are coming off their worst season in franchise history. Can they really make the playoffs this year?

The New York Knicks have floundered over the past two seasons to a 54-110 record. Their 65-loss campaign last season was, statistically speaking, the worst in the organization’s history—which dates all the way back to the 1940s.

But even though the Knicks stunk worse than Pepé Le Pew in a sauna a year ago, fans remained loyal. New York’s average attendance of 19,812 ranked No. 4 in the NBA a season ago and was actually up from the year prior. So will that dedicated fan base be rewarded for its dependability with a winning season in 2015-16?

In order for the Big Apple to turn its basketball fortunes around—or at least vastly outperform the 17-win kerfuffle in Derek Fisher’s first season as head coach—Carmelo Anthony, who missed half of last season, will need to be the catalyst for success.

Provided that the Knicks won just 17 games, it’s logical to conclude that Melo had a down year. But in actuality, Anthony’s production was still quite good. He averaged 24.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists per contest. His three-point shooting percentage dipped to 34.1%, which was his lowest mark since 2009-10 when he was still in Denver. However, that can be attributed to the fact that Anthony was nursing a knee injury all season and eventually opted to have surgery in February—limiting his season to 40 games.

Though he played on a hobbled leg for an unproven coach and with an uninspired supporting cast, Melo’s offensive acumen still shined through. He finished sixth in points per game among all NBA players despite a multitude of factors working against him.

There’s still a lot of pressure on Anthony’s shoulders to perform, especially with four years remaining on a five-year, $124 million deal he signed two summers ago. But thanks to a savvy, under-the-radar off-season put together by president of basketball operations Phil Jackson, New York's alpha dog now has an intriguing supporting cast.

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Revamping the roster began on draft night. The Knicks went big (literally) with the No. 4 pick in the draft, selecting 7-footer Kristaps Porzingis. The 20-year-old has displayed flashes of his vast potential in the NBA Summer League and in the preseason, but could be a year or two away from making significant contributions with the Knicks. To make a more immediate impact, the Zen Master shipped Tim Hardaway Jr. to the Hawks in exchange for the No. 19 overall pick, which wound up being Notre Dame point guard Jerian Grant.

The stocky point guard wasn’t much of a three-point threat in college, but he converted 48.6% of his field goals and was fourth in the nation among senior guards in assists per game. Grant will create a solid three-man PG rotation with veteran floor general Jose Calderon, who can’t be relied upon much as a defensive sieve, and second-year guard Langston Galloway.

In addition to trading a promising youngster for an incoming rookie, the front office also added a trio of potential free-agent bargains.

Arron Afflalo (two years, $16 million), Kyle O’Quinn (four years, $16 million) and former No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams (two years, $9.5 million) are all low-risk options for the money. Relative to other deals getting inked throughout the summer, these signings looked comparatively modest, which will certainly help NY lure more talents in the future when the cap spikes.

Afflalo had a rough season split between Denver and Portland, but he’s just one year removed from the best campaign of his professional career—when he averaged 18.2 points per game on 45.9% shooting from the field and 42.7% from beyond the arc with Orlando.

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O’Quinn, a native of Queens, reflects very favorably on an advanced stats basis. As the guys of Hardwood Knocks pointed out via Twitter, he’s one of just two players (who played a minimum of 2,500 minutes from 2012-13 forward) to average at least 18.5 points, 15 rebounds, three assists and three blocks per 100 possessions. The other guy is Tim Duncan.

D-Will, meanwhile, is already gaining favor within the organization. Viewed as a tweener without a set position, the former University of Arizona star hasn’t been able to carve a niche at the professional level. With the Knicks, he’s scored more than 20 points in consecutive preseason games—something that might be tied to Phil Jackson’s belief in the 24-year-old.

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“When I met with Phil that’s all I needed,” Williams said, per the New York Post. “Just that one meeting with him. He told me he wanted me on his team. That gives me a lot of confidence right there when you have a team that really wants you and not necessarily just picks you.”

All three of those role players have a chance to make a profound impact around Anthony in the city that never sleeps. But the biggest off-season acquisition, literally and figuratively, is Robin Lopez.

In 59 games (all starts) for the Trail Blazers last season, Lopez snatched nearly half of his total rebounds on the offensive end of the court. He was a huge reason why Portland ranked above league average in second-chance points a season ago. New York, on the other hand, finished No. 22 in that category. Lopez doesn’t exactly stuff the stat sheet, but he does a lot of the intangible things well. That makes him a more than viable starting option at center.

If Lopez can continue to make an impact on the offensive glass while knocking down his signature mid-range shots, the Knicks should be vastly improved from a season ago even if Melo isn’t 100% healthy.

Jackson wasn’t able to court a big name like LaMarcus Aldridge or Jimmy Butler in free agency, but the moves he did make—though complementary—could propel New York back into the playoff picture.

More from Ben Leibowitz:

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