To be fair to head coach Mike D'Antoni, after the New York Knicks made a blockbuster three-team trade on Feb. 21 to acquire Carmelo Anthony, he had only about 25 regular-season games to engineer a system with seven new players, some of whom were signed separately from the deal (in all: Melo, Chauncey Billups, Anthony Carter, Renaldo Balkman, Jared Jeffries, Shelden Williams and Derrick Brown). With that said, looking ahead long-term, the Knicks need some pieces to surround Anthony and Amare Stoudemire to be considered title contenders. Here are the four biggest ones:
1. A LEGIT SCORING STARTING CENTER
First of all, before you bash Jeffries -- something that nearly every Knicks fan has done since the season ended -- consider this: The numbers prove he was actually effective on the floor, especially while playing alongside Stoudemire, albeit in only about 250 minutes of action. On an individual basis, Jeffries was plus-87 points (in comparison, Ronny Turiaf was minus-11 and Williams was minus-29), and ranking the Knicks' 4-5 combos, Jeffries-Stoudemire was the best at plus-62. In comparison to Turiaf, who started most of the time at center, when Jeffries was on the court, the team played more efficiently and Stoudemire shot at a higher percentage. Take a look:
Player Team Offensive Rating Team Defensive Rating Net +/- Stoudemire FG%
Jeffries 122.2 108.2 14.0 50 %
Turiaf 108.4 107.1 1.3 44 %
But even with Jeffries' ability to space the floor, defend and take charges, the Knicks were missing something big: interior scoring. The Knicks ranked 18th in points in the paint and 20th in second-chance points this past season. This is not to say they need Howard to fix their problems, but they need at least a B-tier center who not only has some Jeffries in him but also can post up and go to work as well as rebound. The Knicks ranked 20th-worst in the league, averaging 40.5 boards.
Realistic available free-agent centers: Kwame Brown (unrestricted), Samuel Dalembert (unrestricted), Reggie Evans (unrestricted), Chuck Hayes (unrestricted), Ryan Hollins (unrestricted with a player option) and Chris Wilcox (unrestricted).
Scout's take: "They definitely could use a big, physical guy. Centers are not easy to get, though, so I'm not going to dwell on that. Look at Miami with Joel Anthony, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Erick Dampier and Jamaal Magloire. Unless there's cap space or something otherwise, that's not an easy thing to go get. Point guards and centers are the two toughest things to get, and that's why if you can get good ones, it's so much more valuable than a good 2 or a good 3. It's easier to put a serviceable 3 or 4 with Chris Paul or with Dwight Howard than it is to put a serviceable 5 or 1 with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Miami, though, has such a talented 2 and 3 that they make up for a lot of that obviously."
2. A TRUE BACKUP POINT GUARD
D'Antoni needs to stop forcing the issue: Toney Douglas is an undersized shooting guard like the Mavericks' Jason Terry. He is not a point guard. Case in point: After the All-Star break, Douglas led the league in 3-pointers made (68). When Douglas took over starting at the 1 in place of the injured Billups in the first round of the playoffs against the Celtics, his distributing flaws showed, and the Knicks' offense struggled to generate offense. When he brought the ball up the court in Game 3 for a total of 37 possessions, that led to seven turnovers, and the Knicks averaged just 0.65 points per play.
Knicks' Offense By Who Brought The Ball Up The Court In Game 3
Douglas All others
Points per play -- 0.65 0.96
Field goals -- 9-of-27 15-of-30
Field goal percentage -- 33.3 50.0
After the Knicks' 113-96 Game 3 blowout loss, D'Antoni said, "He has to run the team a little bit more. It would be nice if he can create more, and we're trying to show him on tape where people are open." But, Mike, you had a whole season to teach him that. It will help everyone if the Knicks can look for a cheap but serviceable backup point guard this summer in free agency (or in the draft), and that would allow Douglas to continue to flourish at the 2.
Realistic available free-agent backup point guards: Carlos Arroyo (unrestricted), J.J. Barea (unrestricted), Earl Boykins (unrestricted), Sebastian Telfair (unrestricted), Earl Watson (unrestricted) and Delonte West (unrestricted).
Scout's take: "Toney Douglas stepped up a little bit [after the trade], but the real key is, who's going to be their long-term solution at point guard? Now, I love Chauncey Billups. When the deal was made, Billups was the overlooked piece, looked at as a throw-in. He still can really make a difference both in terms of being able to score and to create for others. I just think that the window's closing a little bit with the veteran point guard in terms of the stage in his career. And as good as he is, he's just not quite Chris Paul. Barring hitting the Anthony addition has put them in the title contention category, I think it's put them in the perennial playoff category."