Thursday, November 8, 2012

Knicks Left Standing as Last Undefeated Team
The Knicks are off to their best start since the 1999-2000 season and setting records in the process.  They are the first team in franchise history to win the first three games of the season by 15+ points and set an NBA record by knocking down 43 three points in those games.  The Knicks are also the last standing undefeated team in the NBA, as the Clippers beat the Spurs and the Bulls beat the Magic earlier in the week.

What makes this start so impressive, even though it is still early in the season, is that the Knicks are playing without three key rotation players in Amar’e Stoudemire, Iman Shumpert and Marcus Camby.  Camby is expected to make his season debut Friday night against the Mavericks, but Stoudemire and Shumpert are out for multiple weeks.
One reason for the great play is because the Knicks have three seasoned veterans at the point guard position that have the respect of their teammates and can run an offense.  Raymond Felton, on his second go-round with the Knicks, Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni have been getting everyone involved in the offense and offer a calming influence when on the court.  The three players have combined for 42 assists compared to 17 turnovers, seemingly to always put their teammates in the easier position to score.

Kidd has been forced into the starting lineup with the injury to Stoudemire and ran with the role.  He starts at the 2 for the Knicks and the offense clicks with him on the court.  It’s another player willing to make an extra pass on the court in the starting lineup and the savvy-ness of Kidd cannot be measured as he is capable of hitting anyone cutting to the basket.  For at least one week, these three have combined to make Knick fans finally realize losing Jeremy Lin was not as bad as many people made it out to be.

Another positive to the three guards is that they can all handle the ball well as the lead guard or play off the ball.  Kidd has become an exceptional spot up shooter and Felton demands attention at the three point line; this enables the Knicks to play any three of the point guards on the guard together because they can adapt to different roles, something that is a vast improvement over the team from last season.  Last season, the Knicks were unable to even get one consistent ball handler on the court, leading to a bevy of turnovers and no cohesion on the offensive side of the ball. 

Another factor in the great start to the season is the play of J.R. Smith.  Throughout his career, Smith has been looked at as an enigma, someone with all the potential in the world but never mature enough to harness his ability.  Smith admittedly has said he has never missed a shot he has disliked, is known for outbursts and chucking up bad shots whenever he pleases, driving coaches nuts; thus far through this season none of those negatives are showing.
Smith seems to have been harnessed by head coach Mike Woodson, as Woodson allows Smith to be himself but is very hard on him at the same time.  Smith respects Woodson and plays hard for him every night.  Smith is more under control this season and it has shown, as he is the second most efficient player on the Knicks with a Player Efficiency Rating, a metric used by ESPN’s John Hollinger to measure players efficiency on a per-minute basis, with a 20.3 behind only Carmelo Anthony’s 24.0.

Anthony is another player who has set the tone for the Knicks, as he finally looks comfortable in his role with the team.  Anthony has always been looked at as a one-dimensional player, only showing up on the offensive end of the court, but thus far this season that is not true.  He leads the Knicks in scoring, like he should, but he also leads the team in rebounding and blocks.  He has also shown an improved effort on defense, going toe-to-toe with Lebron James in the first game of the season and guarding Thaddeus Young both nights against Philadelphia.
Anthony also looks more comfortable as the whole burden of leading the team no longer falls upon only his shoulders as the veteran presence of Kidd, Camby, Rasheed Wallace and Kurt Thomas has really helped Anthony.  All of those players bring loads of experience and a wealth of knowledge for not only Anthony but the rest of the team to benefit from. 

The Knicks cannot get full of themselves though, as they are still only three games into the season with a long way to go. Felton put it in perspective saying, “We can’t be satisfied right now.  We’re not going to lay it down like ‘We’ve got everything figured out.’ We still got a long way to go.  We still got to get better on defense, we still got to execute better on offense.  We still got a lot of things we got to do.  We’ve got to rebound better.”

Felton is 100 percent right with what he said; the Knicks cannot get comfortable because they have had a successful first week.  They have a great opportunity to build on this early success though, as a banged up Mavericks squad visits Madison Square Garden Friday night and a game in Orlando against an inferior Magic team next Tuesday. No one will remember this start if the Knicks begin to struggle or they have another early exit in the playoffs, so it is imperative to just keep building off of this and make this into something special.

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