The New York Knicks continue to roll through their winning streak and one of the best regular seasons in franchise history, playing a highly entertaining brand of basketball that has brought long dormant electricity back to Madison Square Garden. This isn’t the one month Lin-Sanity gimmick from last year, this is a high quality basketball team who is going to finish comfortably over 50 wins and is contender for a NBA Championship.
Yes, don’t be shy to say it. When you are the 2nd most likely team in your Conference to reach the NBA Finals before the playoffs start, you are a legitimate title contender. How did this seemingly mismatched, constantly banged up group of mostly veterans get themselves into this position?
It always starts at the top. When the Knicks get this version of Carmelo Anthony, the Bernard King 2.0 version, they are always going to be competitive. Anthony has been lethally efficient while working primarily from the power forward position and doing a better job than he has in the past of passing out of double teams to find open shooters. Has he transformed his game? That is an overstatement. His defense still leaves something to be desired and he is still a pure scorer above everything else but what the Knicks are getting is the best possible version of Anthony and that is pretty damn good…good enough to win the NBA scoring title on a Division Winning team.
Anthony is now supported by a consistent number two scorer in JR Smith. We have been used to seeing alternating nights of “Good JR” and “Bad JR” but the stretch run of this season has thankfully taken place with “Bad JR” nowhere to be found. Smith is attacking the basket, consistently getting to the free throw line and grabbing more rebounds than he ever has in his career. He has went for over 30 points in six games this year and has been over 20 points in twenty-four games. He has also been consistently clutch for the Knicks, giving them another viable offensive option in the final minutes of close games.
Obviously, the Knicks don’t get to 51-26 with just Anthony and Smith alternating jump shots from the wing. Tyson Chandler has anchored the defense for the second year in a row and been able to effectively operate in the Knicks pick and roll. Raymond Felton’s play has been a general indicator of when the Knicks are going to win games. If Felton is protecting the basketball and knocking down his shots, the Knicks are going to be tough to beat. In the team’s wins this season Felton is shooting 44% from the field and 38% from three with 2.0 turnovers and 5.9 assists per game, in losses he is at 38% from the field, 26% from three with 2.9 turnovers and 4.8 assists per game.
Outside of those four, the team’s role players have successfully done what is required of them…fill their roles. Beyond a cold stretch in the middle of the season, Jason Kidd has hit his open threes, provided an endless amount of floor leadership, timely steals, rebounds and assists. Pablo Prigioni has been Jason Kidd lite and the team hasn’t lost since he joined the starting line-up. Steve Novak has spaced the floor with three-point shooting. Chris Copeland has provided a pleasant surprise with the offense he brings and now Iman Shumpert is rounding back into form by flashing his athleticism and ability to knock down open three point shots.
Not enough credit is given to Mike Woodson for how he has managed the Knicks roster throughout the season. They have juggled their share of injuries, including having Amare Stoudemire come back for a stretch in the middle of the season as an effective bench scorer, before succumbing to yet another injury. Carmelo Anthony has missed 13 games. Raymond Felton has missed 12. Tyson Chandler has missed 11 games and counting. The rotation has forced to be in constant flux, including having Kenyon Martin go from 10 day contract to key rotational player, to starting and now to out with injury. The Knicks have had 12 different players start games for them due to various injuries and transactions but have still managed the second best record in the East. Woodson has also got career years out of Anthony and Smith, his two leading scorers.
The varying parts have clicked and turned the Knicks into a high octane offensive basketball team built around an elite lead scorer, an elite complimentary scorer, a dominant defensive center and a collection of knock down three point shooters. It isn’t the formula for the best team in the NBA but it is a formula that can beat any team in a 7 game series.