New York, New York: Carmelo and Nuggets bring toughness as much as scoring

“It’s not easy and it’s not going to get any easier for us now because the target is on our back. Teams are going to be eager to play against us.” — Knicks not-so-tough guy Amar’e Stoudemire (AP story).

Amar’e, every team in the league has looked forward to playing the Knicks this season, and last season and the season before when Mike D’Antoni took over as coach.  Opposing teams love D’Antoni’s no-defense-no-rebounding approach, as players are ever-eager to shoot unimpeded and pad their scoring stats against the run and gun New Yorkers.

When we last saw Amar’e Stoudemire in November …

The Bucks blew the Knicks out Nov. 9, 107-80, with Bogut sitting out half the game due to humiliation the Bucks were laying on the Knicks.  Afterward, Amar’e complained Bogut whacked him twice with elbows (only twice?) and questioned whether Bucks coach Scott Skiles might have instructed the Bucks to “play physical” in retaliation for the incident last March, when Amar’e shoved Bogut in the back (just a little) on a breakaway,  instigating Bogut’s horrific, season-ending arm injury.

“I wouldn’t say coach Skiles intentionally told him to play physical. But again, it’s a team effort so I’m going after the whole team.” — Full NY Daily News article.

“Playing physical” is something Andrew Bogut does every game, Mr. Stoudemire. It’s what tough, defensive-minded teams do.  It’s business as usual in Boston, Chicago, San Antonio, Miami, places where teams compete and win in the NBA. But then, Amar’e complained about that, too, after a loss to the Spurs earlier this season.

Enter Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, and three other guys from the Denver team affectionately known as “the Thuggets.”

Perhaps as much as his scoring, Carmelo Anthony brings to the Knicks some toughness they sorely lack.  No, Anthony’s no gritty defender, but then it’s never easy to judge whether a player from George Karl’s trapping zone system plays good individual D (in other words, Karl’s system doesn’t really work).

What Carmelo doesn’t do is back down from anybody while scoring his 25-30 points a game.  Some might even say he’s intimidating. At 6′-8″, 240, he’s able to go toe-to-toe in the post with the likes of Bogut, Elton Brand, Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins.  Al Horford.  Carlos Boozer and Josh Gibson. Lebron.

Billups may be slow on the quick these days, too slow for Jameer Nelson, Rajon Rondo and Lou Williams (or Brandon Jennings, Dru Holiday and Derrick Rose for that matter).  But Chauncey brings smarts, good shooting and his brand of physical point guard play to the Knicks.  He may slow the Knicks down but, with Anthony, can’t help but improve the Knicks in the half court, offensively and defensively.

The other players going to the Knicks in the deal — Anthony Carter, Shelden Williams and Renaldo Balkman — may be end of the bench players, but they bring some toughness of their own to New York.  Williams was a Celtic last season.  Balkman’s a rugged 6’8″.   Carter, at 35, is another smart, experienced point guard, the kind of player who’s good to have around in the playoffs.

It may be just coincidence but the Knicks going to Denver in this trade are hardly what anybody would call NBA tough guys, center Timofey Mosgov excused.  Good-shooting Danilo Gallinari still has some upside to fill, but Wilson Chandler is, by definition, soft.  No knock on Ray Felton, a diligent defender courtesy of Larry Brown’s Bobcats, but he’s no Chauncey Billups.

It’s probably less a coincidence that three of the players the Knicks held onto, Ronny Turiaf, rookie Landry Fields and Shawne Williams, happen to be the hardworking tough guys on the Knicks roster.

No, they still won’t be the Knicks of the Patrick Ewing era, but a trend seems to be emerging in New York, one that probably won’t make Amar’e’s practice life any easier.  Hopefully, it will serve to spare NBA fans any further complaints from New York about  “physical play.”

Knowing Amar’e and D’Antoni, that’s asking a lot.

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