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Stampler's NBA Predictions Part 2: The Knicks and Raptors

Part 2 of a 583-part series.

Neilson Barnard

In case you missed it, here's Part 1.

To recap: I rank each team from 1-10 on their projected starters, bench, coach and watchability, using a 1-10 scale, and rate them overall based on a (starters x 5) + (bench x 2) + (coaching x 2) + watchability to give them an overall score. Why does watchability matter? Because we're not robots here, that's why.

I also included a best-case scenario, a worst-case scenario, a realistic scenario and their franchise's all-time best player's degrees to Manu Ginobili, using this tool, because of course I did.

I'm breaking down these previews into small, bite-size chunks to make them more palatable to read, around 1,000-1,500 words each, obviously spending more time on the contenders than the minnows. Enjoy and leave me all kinds of comments about why I'm terribly wrong.

New York Knicks: 65.5

Projected Starters (7.5): C Tyson Chandler, PF Andrea Bargnani, SF Carmelo Anthony, SG Iman Shumpert, PG Raymond Felton

I sort of get the plan of putting Bargnani in the starting five, reversing the traditional roles of the three-man and the power-forward, where Anthony will be the one posting up and Bargnani will be the one hanging by the three-point line, but I don't think he's nearly good enough of a shooter to make it work. Plus, opponents won't necessarily devote their opposing four into covering him out there.

I also don't think Chandler, with his age and injury history and stork-like legs, can cover for those two as well as he used to. There will be a ton of pressure on Shumpert to improve because he's their only guy with any upside at all.

Projected Bench (4.5): C-PF Amar'e Stoudemire, PF Kenyon Martin, SF Metta World Peace, SG J.R. Smith, PG Pablo Prigioni, SG Tim Hardaway Jr., PG Beno Udrih

Stoudemire is a sunk cost, Martin and Artest are just about done themselves, and the backup point is a battle between a 36-year-old and The Bean Burrito. I don't see much salvation here. Smith will be the heroic fireman who rescues a few games for them, but his hose will be filled with gasoline for a whole bunch more. (There I go talking about his hose again.)

Coaching (5.5): Mike Woodson doesn't have the most talented roster in the world, but he can cobble together all sorts of lineups for just about any situation. Big? Chandler-Stoudemire-Anthony-Shumpert-Felton. Small? Stoudemire/Chandler-Anthony-Smith-Shumpert-Felton. Three-point-shooting? Bargnani-Anthony-Smith-Felton-Udrih. Defense? Chandler-Martin-World Peace-Shumpert-Prigioni. Does he have the chops to mix and match as needed to take advantage of his roster versatility? Will he rely on micro splits and advanced stats? Of course not.

Watchability (8): This grade may surprise you, but the Knicks have a lot going for them, including an eclectic, fantasy team type of roster, a strong announcing crew, and an entertaining style of play where both teams will be ensured of chucking loads of open threes and any game could bring a 30-point win or loss. Sure, they get iso-heavy and their pace grounds to a halt in the playoffs once opponents start actually trying, but for the most part regular season Knicks games are shooting-fests for both sides. The rating slides to "10" if STAT and Bargnani are ever on the court together.

Best-Case Scenario: They win their derby with the Nets in the first round, grind past the heavily-favored Bulls in round two and jump the overconfident Heat in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, priming them for a series upset behind their raucous, celebrity-enhanced crowd (they'll all be there since the Lakers will be long done). Even then, Miami will take them down in seven.

Worst-Case Scenario: Injuries, age, shooting slumps and abysmal defense all conspire against them, they plummet to a seventh seed and are summarily bullied out of the playoffs in five games against Miami, with Anthony declaring that he won't be re-signing soon after that.

Realistic Scenario: A fifth-seed, a tight, entertaining seven-game first-round series against the Nets, but a first-round exit, with Anthony eventually agreeing to re-sign for the max because it's not like he's going to pass up all that extra dough.

Degrees of Best All-Time Player to Manu Ginobili: 2 (Patrick Ewing with Charlie Ward on the 1995-96 Knicks and with the 2003-04 Spurs.)

Toronto Raptors: 51.5

Projected Starters (6.5) : C Jonas Valancuinas, PF Amir Johnson, SF Rudy Gay, SG DeMar DeRozan, PG Kyle Lowry

The Raps have two of the more promising young frontcourt talents in the league in Johnson (who's already something of a proven commodity by now) and Valancuinas. To me, these guys deserve the hype that Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond have been getting with the Pistons. The problem is that the rest of the starting lineup, which boasts some legit players, is extremely volatile. Both Gay and DeRozan are heavily rumored to be on the trading block, to the extent that it would be a major surprise if at least one of them didn't go by the deadline, especially since the organ-eye-zation lured away former Nugs GM Masai Ujiri, one of the more progressive personnel men in the league, and there's no doubt he's the type of fellow who quickly grasped, as John Hollinger did with the Grizzles, that Gay is ridiculously overpaid.

I will say though, that it wouldn't shock me at all if Toronto plays much better than most pundits project through the first 30, 40 games of the season, primarily because their starting five showed last season that they could be a Diet Coke version of the Grizzlies on defense. For all of Gay's faults on the other end, he's one of the better wings in the league, and Lowry fits a similar bill at point guard, as opposed to the sieve-like Jose Calderon.

If the Raptors can cobble together a respectable inside-out offense, relying on their bigs to get Gay and DeRozan wide open looks (a big "if" on whether those guys can pass, by the way) then maybe they can grind out a series of 90-85 wins in a soft Eastern Conference. Even then you're counting on Lowry to stay healthy and mentally stable (no safe bet on either count) and for those wings to hit enough of those open looks.

Still, there's certainly potential here for these guys to stick around the .500 mark, which would put some casual fan pressure on Ujiri to keep the team together. It's probably best for everyone involved that they stink.

Projected Bench (3): C Aaron Gray, PF Tyler Hansbrough, SF Steve Novak, SG Terrence Ross, PG D.J. Augustin, SG Landry Fields, SF Austin Daye

Fortunately for Ujiri, he's got an abomination for a bench. The Pacers' atrocious reserves arguably cost them a trip to the Finals last season, and the Raptors somehow thought it'd be a great idea to bring aboard two of the fellas most responsible for their loss to Miami in "Psycho T" and Augustin. Last season's Blazers think these guys have a terrible bench. There's no way you can convince me that Ujiri didn't do this on purpose, just to make sure these guys don't accidentally win too many games and that he can still ship out Gay without controversy and land in decent lottery position. Their only hope here is Ross, but it's a long shot.

Coaching (5.5): Dwane (yes, it's spelled like that) Casey gets his guys to play hard and their defense seems mostly organized, but I get the sense that he's not long for this job, again by Ujiri's design. He might want to starting warming up the stat guys upstairs, if he knows what's good for him.

Watchability (2): It's the Grizzlies, minus their two most interesting players -- sign me up! I will be watching exactly two Raptors games this season, unless superiors at SBN, in an act of sadism, demand more.

Best-Case Scenario: They find some dumb GM to take Gay off their hands for a first-round pick and some young roster-filler who blossoms in a Raptors jersey. Unfortunately Isiah Thomas is no longer in the league.

Worst-Case Scenario: Valancuinas' development plateaus, they can't find any takers for Gay and wind up with the eighth pick in a draft with seven stars or whatever.

Realistic Scenario: The same as the worst-case scenario, but without the Valancuinas part.

Degrees of Best All-Time Player to Manu Ginobili: 2 (Vince Carter with Richard Jefferson on the 2006-07 Nets and Jefferson with Ginobili on the 2010-11 Spurs.)

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