We wondered aloud this time last week if the Knicks were playing their most cohesive, best ball of the season. That’s no longer debatable. The Orange and Blue are winners of five of their last six games, but there remains a ways to go to fully surface from the canyon created by the early-season struggles. New York remains 4.5 games out of first place in the Atlantic Division, and are still a half-game behind Brooklyn for the 8th and final playoff spot. But there’s still time left, and finally there’s a little something to latch on to for hope that’s real.
1. Carmelo Anthony (Last: 1) – Anthony played one of his best games of the season on Thursday against Miami, matching LeBron James as much as one could hope to with a 25-8-5 line with efficient 50% shooting. The victory over Philadelphia on Saturday was the only game of the week that saw Anthony shoot sub-40% from the field, but he still impacted the game in a positive way by grabbing 9 rebounds and dishing out 7 assists. The dishing is what probably stands out the most; over the past five games, Anthony is averaging over 4 (it’s the perfect combination of Anthony being a little more unselfish and making the right passes, and of course his teammates hitting their shots). Here’s hoping Anthony can take his overall game from the past few weeks or so and bottle it up.
2. Kenyon Martin (Last: 4) – I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Knicks won their last four games, each with some conviction, and the fact that Kenyon Martin has been able to give them almost 30 effective minutes in each of them. By almost every metric the Knicks are a far superior team when Martin plays versus when he doesn’t. He makes a world of difference defensively for both Andrea Bargnani and Amare Stoudemire. And he’s simply produced, too; in those 27.5 minutes per over the past four games, he’s averaged 8.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and even 2.8 assists.
3. Andrea Bargnani (Last: 6) – Injuries have presented an opportunity for some to shoot up in the rankings, and we’ll give Bargnani a deserved bump. He’s been in double figures in scoring in the past four games and is shooting 49% from the field over the past five. While his 3-point shooting remains at a career-worst rate, he’s averaging nearly 7 rebounds a game over the last five, so it’s good to see him chipping in in other areas of the game. Against Miami he was spectacular; the fanbase likes to pile on Bargnani when things are bad, but let’s be fair and point out when he plays well, too. Right now, he is.
4. Tyson Chandler (Last: 2) – He hasn’t played in the last four games, all of which have been Knicks wins. A similar thing happened late last year, which is…odd. Because the Knicks are clearly better with Chandler than without him. Right? RIGHT?!
5. Iman Shumpert (Last: 7) – The steady and overdue rise for Shumpert continues. While he’s come down a bit from the searing shooting display a week ago in Texas, he’s consistently impacting the proceedings in a way we’d all envisioned he would before the season started. After an 0-4 from deep against Detroit, Shumpert rebounded by making 6-of-13 against Miami and Philadelphia. He’s rebounding, swiping and dishing better than he has all year. This is the Iman Shumpert we all want to see consistently. And when this version of him shows up, the Knicks are infinitely more dangerous.
6. Beno Udrih (Last: 3) – Played just 8 minutes against Detriot, and sat out the victories over Miami and Philadelphia. But prior to his injury, he was playing some of his best ball of the year.
7. Amar’e Stoudemire (Last: 9) – Amar’e is due a little love in the rankings. He’s scored in double figures in three of the past four games, and turned in a couple of near-vintage performances against Miami and Philadelphia. Perhaps all that supposed work with Hakeem Olajuwon is paying off, as Stoudemire has become increasingly more comfortable and dangerous with his back to the basket, as well as at the rim with the ball in general. And while he’s still in the downside of his career in terms of rebounding (and he was never a great rebounder anyway), he’s at least gobbling up some in recent play (averaging 7 in the past five games).
8. Tim Hardaway, Jr. (Last: 5) – He may be hitting the rookie wall a bit, but even if Hardaway’s production and shooting numbers have dipped, he remains the Knicks’ best player in transition and seems to make one eye-opening, impact play a night. He just provides a spark when he comes in, much like Toure Murry. His one handed, put-back dunk against Miami was one of the highlights of the season.
9. Toure Murry (Last: 10) – Murry has proven to be capable at this level. His greatest impact comes on defense, as he’s the Knicks’ best hope against quick point guards because of his athleticism and length. Offensively, he’s best at scoring – he’s a bit miscast as a point guard but it’s early days still. Even when the Knicks get healthy (Udrih, Pablo Prigioni), Mike Woodson still needs to find some time situations for Murry.
10. Pablo Prigioni (Last: 8) – Methinks Pablo will fit seamlessly when he returns, provided the Knicks keep on moving the ball as they have recently.
11. Raymond Felton (Last: 13) – Felton had his best game of the season by a country mile against Miami, producing a double-double by racking up an obscene (for him) 14 assists to go along with 11 points. He can shoot better, and as he gets more comfortable and hopefully stays healthy, it’s reasonable to think he’ll approach his career shooting averages. Much like Shumpert, the Knicks are a totally different team when Ray plays at or near the top of his ability.
12. J.R. Smith (Last: 11) – That was an eventful week for our old friend Earl Smith, Jr., folks. He went from being one of the first players, to my knowledge, to be suspended for PRETENDING TO DO SOMETHING. Then he was benched against Miami, resulting in the Knicks’ best and most complete performance of the year. After the game he said some weird stuff and questioned his long term future in New York (which was music to most Knicks’ fans ears). We all wondered how long he’d be benched, but it turned out to be not for long as Woodson went back to him in Philadelphia. Of course, he’d respond by chucking a lot of bad shots and moping around the court, right? No? Seriously? You mean Smith actually looked inspired by the benching and played perhaps the best game he has all season? I’m done trying to figure this out.
13. Metta World Peace (Last: 12)
14. Jeremy Tyler (Last: 14)
15. Cole Aldrich (Last: 15)