"What is success for us as the New York Knicks? I think that's kind of the question that we have to ask ourselves as a whole organization. Not just winning another 15-16 games that we did this year, playing for the eighth seed. Is that success? Or being a top seed in the Eastern Conference, being a top team in the NBA ... is that success?
"I think we have to put things in kind of perspective and figure out what success means to this organization right now."
Those were Carmelo Anthony’s thoughts after he met with Knicks president Phil Jackson in mid-April, a meeting that turned out to be pivotal to the Knicks' future.
The sit-down with Jackson came shortly after the final game of another frustrating season for Anthony. The Knicks missed the playoffs for the third straight year and had lost 115 games over the last two seasons. The losing was eating at Anthony, and one concern he brought up during the meeting was the direction of the franchise. More specifically, he wanted to know if Jackson planned to build a team that would compete while Anthony was still in his prime.
"How do we take advantage of kind of this window that I have? I think that's the main question," Anthony said that day. "How can we take advantage of this window? How can we take advantage of this situation that we have that's in front of us?"
At the time, many around the league assumed that the Knicks would eschew Anthony's timeline and build around rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis (a strategy Jackson had discussed internally, according to sources).
Instead, Jackson built a team that's ready to win now, and it's clear that Anthony's voice was heard in that mid-April meeting.
Jackson said that his conversation with Anthony -- and the hiring of coach Jeff Hornacek -- played a role in the Knicks' acquisition of often-injured former MVP Derrick Rose. The club subsequently signed veterans Joakim Noah, Brandon Jennings and Courtney Lee, putting together a team that has the potential to make some noise in the playoffs.
There will be plenty of debate in New York over whether the Knicks should have built slowly around Porzingis. Instead, Jackson opted for a quicker route to relevancy, one that has burned previous Knicks regimes. But the club believes that it has also put Porzingis in the best position to develop, and Porzingis has no issue with their approach this offseason.
Only time will tell whether Jackson has made the right moves. But now that the contracts have been signed, it's worth taking a look at what may work -- and may not work -- given the Knicks' current roster. Below, we look at some potential pluses and minuses of New York's additions:
More penetration: The Knicks ranked last in the NBA in both drives per game (15.5) and points per game off of drives (10.4) last season. That was just one factor that contributed to their sub-par performance on offense. Can they improve on the offensive end this season? That's anyone's guess. Though it's reasonable to expect the penetration numbers to increase thanks to Rose, who averaged nearly nine drives per game and scored 6.9 points per game on drives last year.
In an ideal world for the Knicks, Rose's penetration leads to easier looks at the basket for both Anthony and Porzingis and also leads to more pick-and-rolls for New York, something Hornacek has discussed with Rose.
Quicker pace: Hornacek also wants to pick up the pace and, again, adding Rose should help in this area. The Chicago Bulls played a bit faster with Rose on the floor -- 99 possessions per 48 minutes with Rose on the court, 97 when he was off of it. Jennings could help here as well. The Orlando Magic averaged 101 possessions per 48 minutes when Jennings was on the floor last season, nearly six more than the Knicks averaged as a team per 48 minutes last season.
It obviously takes more than one player to transform a team's pace, but having Jennings and Rose in uniform should allow the Knicks to, at the very least, get into their halfcourt offense quicker.
Stronger pick-and-roll defense: The Knicks hope that Noah can help them contain the ball handler on pick-and-roll plays, an issue they struggled with last season. Noah, when healthy, is viewed around the league as a player mobile enough to switch onto perimeter players on pick-and-rolls if needed. In an injury-filled campaign last season, Noah ranked in the 37th percentile league-wide in defending the roll man, per Synergy Sports. That's an average mark for big men, one the Knicks probably hope will improve this season. Another reason to assume that the pick-and-roll defense will improve is the presence of Porzingis. The 7-foot-3 big man showed the mobility to defend the play well in his rookie season.
Touches for Porzingis: We're not breaking new ground when we say Anthony and Rose like to have the ball in their hands. Both players used more than 27 percent of their teams' possessions when on the floor last season. If both players maintain those rates, it would surely lead to fewer touches for Porzingis. The Knicks' long-term future hinges on Porzingis' development, so a diminished role for big man in Year 2 may not be the best long-term strategy. Nonetheless, it's worth pointing out here that Rose's usage last season (27.3) was the lowest since his second season in the league. Anthony's usage rate (29.7) was the lowest since his rookie season. If that trend continues, maybe Porzingis' opportunities with the ball will remain unchanged.
Inconsistent shooting: The Knicks didn't rely on the 3-point shot heavily last season, but that may change thanks to their new coach. Under Hornacek, the Phoenix Suns ranked 11th in 3-point rate -- the percentage of shots attempted from beyond the arc -- last season. New York ranked 22nd, while sporting the the 10th-worst overall shooting percentage in the league.
Based on recent history, it doesn't seem as if New York has the personnel to improve either percentage significantly in 2016-17.
Rose shot 28 and 29 percent from 3-point land in the last two seasons and Anthony shot 34 percent from behind the arc last season -- a six percent drop-off from the 2013-14 season. Porzingis hit 33 percent of his 3-point shots in his rookie season. This is one of the many areas where new shooting guard Lee, a career 38 percent 3-point shooter, can help.
Depth issues: A quick refresher on the recent injury history of some of the Knicks' new signees: Rose has played 39 percent of his games since 2012-13 due to multiple injuries, including major knee surgeries. Noah was limited to 29 games last season with left shoulder injuries, including season-ending surgery to repair a shoulder dislocation. Jennings suffered a torn left Achilles in January 2015 and missed nearly 12 months.
Given these injury concerns, the Knicks' depth may be tested. Outside of Jennings, Lance Thomas, Sasha Vujacic and Kyle O'Quinn, the New York bench doesn't have much experience. The club may have to rely on someone from the quintet of Mindaugas Kuzminskas, Marshall Plumlee, Willy Hernangomez and Maurice Ndour for regular minutes. None of those five have played regular NBA minutes in the past.