ESPN's NBA cast just unveiled their playoff predictions and the Knicks' Eastern Conference seed average is a 7.5 and their Atlantic Division seed average is a 2.5. While most of them agree that Amare Stoudemire is no LeBron James, they believe he's a good enough superstar to lead the Knicks to their first postseason appearance since the 2003-04, when they lost in the first round. But because of the team's lack of defense and a superstar sidekick -- ahem Carmelo Anthony -- the writers feel they are going to be stuck in mediocrity once again, hence the low playoff seed consensus. I think as the season progresses, the Knicks will improve upon their 111.6 defensive rating from last season -- fourth worst in the league -- for two main reasons: one, they have quicker guards (Raymond Felton has a career 1.4 steals per game average and Toney Douglas will only get better on and off the ball; in fact, this preseason he's averaging 2.1 spg, a 1.3 bump up from last season); and two, the team has added more height, length and athleticism in Stoudemire, Timofey Mozgov and Anthony Randolph. If Mozgov, especially, can stay out of foul trouble, he'll be a real asset on both ends of the floor with his 7'1", 250-pound size. For further evidence on defense, if you look at the Knicks' steals and blocks averages from last season to this preseason, they're showing a 2.5 and 1.6 jump, respectively.
The bigger issue is who will generate offense consistently besides Stoudemire. Even though Douglas has been that guy lately, let's face it: he won't be that productive on a night in and night out basis. So far this preseason, Stoudemire has been the only Knick with a knack for getting to the line (he has 55 attempts in only five games). Randolph is a close second on the team with 41 attempts in seven games, but after him there is a big drop-off in charity stripe appearances. The Knicks shouldn't have a problem competing for three quarters, but who will the wingman player who can take over the game and even take the last shot if necessary? Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari are iffy's, especially because of their inconsistent footwork in halfcourt sets, and that's where the urgency to get Anthony comes into play. With Stoudemire, the Knicks will have the option of letting him go to work late in games. But when you're the last line of defense for your team, you're more likely to be the first in line to get subbed out. Therefore, Stoudemire could likely be plagued with foul trouble and watching from the sidelines when the team needs him the most. When you're a big man, you're more prone to getting whistled than a guard or forward because you're routinely involved in physical encounters down low. So that notion alone provides even more clarity on the Knicks' need to find an upgrade on the wing to complement Stoudemire whether he's playing or sitting.
For more on Anthony possibly going to the Knicks, check out my discussion today with TheKnicksBlog.com's Tommy Dee and Andrew Smith on SNY.tv.
You can follow Jared Zwerling on Twitter.