"The Crossover" is a season preview series we're running here at Raptors HQ in which we'll talk to other SB Nation team sites in the Eastern Conference to give us an idea of what to expect from the competition, what their expectations are for both their own team and the Raptors.
1. What would constitute a successful season for the Knicks this season?
That's an interesting question, and one I've personally gone back and forth on this summer. As I'm sure your readers all know, the Knicks were an absolute mess for the majority of the 2013-14 season, seemingly unable to play any legitimate type of basketball. Fixing such a terribly flawed team wasn't doable in one offseason, especially considering New York's lack of both draft picks and cap space. Therefore, at the beginning of the offseason, I was pretty firmly in the "re-sign Carmelo Anthony, but trade anyone else who's worth anything, and tank the season for a top draft pick" camp, assuming that was actually ever a camp and not just my own weird idea. However, I was also seriously frustrated by last season; the prospect of another year of consistent losing didn't exactly have me jumping for joy. Luckily, Phil Jackson solved my mini-crisis by trading the kind-of out of favor Tyson Chandler and the seriously out of favor Raymond Felton for a package headlined by Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Shane Larkin, and two 2014 2nd round picks just prior to the NBA Draft. That was a pretty clear sign that the Knicks were uninterested in tanking the 2014-15 season, so I jumped on board with the idea that New York was aiming to make the playoffs.
That said, "aiming to make the playoffs" is different than "making the playoffs." The prevailing view of the Eastern Conference is that it's weak in comparison to the West, and while that's probably true, the bottom of the playoff picture in the East looks to be quite crowded: aside from the Knicks, the Nets, Hawks, Pistons, and Hornets should all be jockeying for the last few spots. As such, I think a successful Knicks season would have the team playing coherent, competent basketball and sneaking into the playoffs with a seed between 6 and 8.
2. Are you excited/concerned about the triangle offense and Derek Fisher as head coach?
If only because the triangle is an actual offense as opposed to the ridiculous, isolation-filled circle jerk (you can replace that with, like, "pile of crap" or something to that effect if you don't want "circle jerk" published on your site) of an "offense" that Mike Woodson ran last year, I'm very excited about it. The Knicks, surprisingly enough, ranked 11th in Offensive Efficiency last season even with an incompetent coach. I really look forward to seeing what New York can do while running a legitimate offense. Of course, there will be growing pains, but I think the ball movement inherent in the triangle will be a huge boon for the team in the long run.
As for Derek Fisher, I think he was the right choice. Most Knicks fans expected Phil Jackson to hire someone he knew well, and he didn't disappoint. His introductory press conference was impressive, and he's certainly well-versed in the triangle offense. His lack of experience might actually be helpful in this case because he won't have any problem leaning on Phil if necessary, and I'm sure Phil wanted a head coach he knew he could control to some extent. I was a bit upset when Steve Kerr turned down the Knicks job to join the Warriors, but in retrospect, I feel as though Fisher is a better fit.
3. Is there still hope for Iman Shumpert to develop into the player everyone hoped he'd become?
Absolutely. Shump was unfairly marginalized last year, which created the presumption that he didn't play well. However, a look at his on/off stats tell a different story. The Knicks were 3.3 points per 100 possessions better on offense and 9 points per 100 possessions better on defense with Shumpert on the floor in 2013-14; that defensive number, especially, is impressive. On the other hand, Shump shot only 33.3% from behind the arc last season as opposed to 40.2% in 2012-13, so he certainly has room to improve there. Because he seems like such an awesome dude, my hope for Shumpert has always been "BEST NBA PLAYER OF ALL TIME" but realistically, I see him as a 3-and-D guy. He certainly has the "D" part down; he's a tenacious defender, especially on the ball. There's no denying, though, that he needs to work on the "3" part. I think that the triangle offense will open up a lot of opportunities for Shump, and with the ball flowing better on offense, I could easily see him returning to his 3-point prowess of two seasons ago.
4. Give us the best case/worst case scenario for the Knicks this season.
Best case: 82-0 regular season, 16-0 playoffs, NBA Champions. Alright, fine, if you want a real answer, I guess I can give you one. I'd say the absolute best case for the Knicks involves them picking up the triangle offense immediately and boasting a top 5 offense, defending at a slightly below average rate, and squeaking by the Raptors and Nets to 50 wins and a division title, then winning one playoff series before falling to the Cavs or Bulls in round 2.
Worst case: Derek Fisher is a disaster and can't control his players, the team never truly gets the triangle offense, and Melo is forced to carry the team on his shoulders once again, leading to a 35-win season and a second straight with no playoffs. But hey, at least the Knicks have a 2015 first round pick.
5. In your mind, from an outsider's point of view, where do you think the Raptors will finish in the division and in the East?
Assuming Kyle Lowry continues to perform like a top point guard (and I think he will), I think the Raptors are about as close to a shoo-in for the division as it gets. The Raptors won 48 games last year and I see no reason why they can't do that again. The Knicks will probably win between 41 and 45 games, with the Nets slightly behind. Neither the Celtics nor the 76ers have any interest in winning games this year, so they won't be a threat. In the overall conference picture, I think only the Cavs and Bulls are demonstrably better than the Raptors. The Pacers will be worse without Paul George, and I don't feel comfortable saying the Wizards are better than Toronto.
If asked for a concrete prediction, I'd say the Raptors will win 48 games and finish as either the 3rd or 4th seed, depending on how the Wizards look.