Pop Quiz: Will Knicks guards allow Anthony, Stoudemire to be great?

By Zach Harper | NBA writer
New York's guards need to be taken seriously if Anthony and Stoudemire are to thrive. (Getty Images)

The New York Knicks are only as good as J.R. Smith takes them.

Wait, that doesn't sound right.

The New York Knicks are only as good as Jason Kidd takes them.

That also sounds like a mistake. I mean, this team has Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire on the roster. Surely, they have to be more important than those other two guys.

The New York Knicks will be only as good as Raymond Felton takes them.

OK, I'm not even a Knicks fan and this process is making me a little nauseous.

I want to look at this Knicks roster and think Stoudemire and Anthony will finally play together in a way that brings us a bunch of warm and fuzzy feelings. It's not that I don't believe in them as a duo. I do think it can work on some positive level. The reason it doesn't really look like it will work has nothing to do with them as players, though.

Say what you want about those two superstars, but I still think if Stoudemire is in much better shape than he was last season (which could be hard with his current injury) then we'll see much better results. However, the reason I don't see this working has nothing to do with them and everything to do with the guards surrounding them.

There's the thought/hope that this Knicks backcourt can just get through the 82-game season through veteran leadership and Three-Card Monte parlor tricks. But looking at the way Kidd is moving and Felton is sweating and Smith's shot-selection history -- it's hard for me to buy into this.

The reason the Knicks need this backcourt to succeed to allow Anthony and Stoudemire to succeed, is you have to give these guys the space to operate in the half court, especially on the low block. Stoudemire went to big-man camp this summer, and Anthony can be devastating in the post. But is anybody scared of leaving Kidd, Pablo Prigioni or Felton to go double away?

And while you don't want to be the team to let Smith catch fire, is anybody worried about that happening on a consistent basis? Wouldn't that have happened by now if it were going to happen?

If Kidd and Prigioni give you much of anything, that's probably just icing on the cake. What the Knicks need consistently in their backcourt is Smith making good decisions and Felton being a pick-and-roll threat. When Felton is in shape, he is a pretty good point guard. He isn't a world beater by any means, but he is good enough to help you win games.

Felton has to be a threat coming around the screen on pick-and-rolls, and that's mainly contingent on his conditioning. When he's in shape, he's crisp in the way that he comes around screens, leaving no space between his teammate screening and his own hips. When he's out of shape like we've seen the past year, he's lumbering to spots and getting very little lift on his jumper.

He has never been much of a finisher in the restricted area (roughly 50 percent the last two seasons). But if Felton can develop a deadly pull-up jumper, especially from the spot that he loves at the top of the key and just to the right of that, then it's going to leave Anthony and Stoudemire room to get the ball in open space.

As for Smith, he's essentially Charlie Day from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. He's the wild card of this team. There are times in which he's killing rats in the basement of the pub and cleaning the bathroom. He's contributing to the overall establishment during these times.

There are also times in which he's wearing a cowboy hat, screaming that he cut the brake lines to the van you're driving, and then he jumps out the back of the moving vehicle.

You want him doing the little things to contribute, like cleaning things up and making everything within the attack tidy. When he gets the ball on a kickout, you want him shooting. When he gets the ball cutting to the basket, you want him attacking. What you don't want is him taking the responsibility to create plays on his own.

When he's playing within himself, you can run a nice perimeter attack with Felton, Smith and Steve Novak flanking Tyson Chandler and either Stoudemire or Anthony. Otherwise, he's a schematic distraction.

Until Iman Shumpert comes back to calm the rotation down (yes, I seriously mean that), the Knicks are going to have to piece together good backcourt efforts from a variety of underwhelming options.

These options are going to have to force defenses to hesitate taking away Stoudemire and Anthony. If that happens, it'll be easier to buy into the Knicks.

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