SB Nation New York will be running a five-part season preview of the 2011-12 New York Knicks, culminating right before the start of the season on Christmas Day.
Part IV: The X Factor
In the first two parts of our 2011-12 Knicks Season Preview, we broke down the Knicks' roster into two factions: The Stars and the Non-Stars. Those who belong to the first group are Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and the newly acquired center Tyson Chandler. I made the distinction because its clear who the most important players on the Knicks are, but also because we know what we're getting with The Stars. Carmelo and Amare will score, a lot, and won't play tons of defense. Chandler will do the opposite. You know what you're getting from them, and if they don't play well, the Knicks are doomed. We're going to sort of assume that they'll be themselves.
That leaves us with the rest of the roster. On any winning NBA team, the ancillary players make a huge difference. When you get to the finals and late playoff rounds, every team has stars. Often the better and bigger stars prevail, but there hasn't been a championship team that didn't get major contributions from its role players. Last year the Dallas Mavericks rode Dirk Nowitzki to a title, but they don't get there without the play of JJ Barea, Jason Terry and Chandler, now a Knick. The team they defeated, the Miami Heat? Sure, LeBron James wasn't as great as everyone would expect of him, but they were giving huge minutes to the likes of Joel Anthony and Eddie House.
For this Knicks team, there are a few candidates for the team's X Factor, the guy who could help the team immensely with good play and slog them down with poor play. There's Baron Davis, who is a huge unknown at this point. How healthy will he be when he finally comes back? Will he be in shape? Will he be motivated? There's Landry Fields, who was an All-Rookie selection last season but only based on his play pre-Carmelo Anthony trade. If Fields can find his form from the beginning of last season -- knocking down open threes, playing sold defense, getting out in transition -- he's the type of role player that many successful teams have. Does iman Shumpert improve on his shot selection and become a better offensive player?
And that brings us to Toney Douglas, who I choose as the X Factor for this Knicks squad. Douglas will begin the year as the starting point guard, but will he end it there? Douglas will have to get off to a fast start to keep his job, with Davis entering the fray in a few weeks. The way Mike D'Antoni seems to have shaped the offense will help Douglas, as it calls for Anthony to handle the ball the most and play as a point forward. With that being the case, Douglas will be relied upon to provide secondary scoring by hitting perimeter shots. Douglas hit 37% of his three pointers last year, down from 39% in his rookie year (he did attempt many more as he played more minutes). He's going to get a lot of open looks from deep. If he can hit nearly 40% as he did as a rookie, the Knicks will put up a ton of points.
Defensively, Douglas is one of the Knicks' more aggressive players. Aggressiveness doesn't always lead to being a good defensive player, but Douglas does cause a lot of turnovers with his speed and relentlessness. It will be interesting to see the effect assistant coach Mike Woodson has on the whole team, and specifically Douglas. Woodson likes to pressure the ball right as it crosses half court, and Douglas will often be the guy given that task. If Douglas can turn into a very good defender he'll get a lot of minutes, and the Knicks will be better for it.
The season begins soon, and all eyes will be on the Anthony, Stoudemire and Chandler. But if the Knicks want to be playing deep into June, the others on the team will play a big role -- perhaps none bigger than Douglas.