I know many Knicks fans out there (including myself) have had a whirlwind season thus far including highs, lows, and ofcourse....LINSANITY! The Knicks have turned around a season that looked doomed a couple weeks back and things are starting to look bright again. Along with the emergence of Jeremy Lin, the Knicks have many things to look forward to. The team will have a healthy Carmelo Anthony back soon. Baron Davis should also make a return and help give Lin more rest during games while also providing a reliable veteran with good skills on the floor. The Knicks have also just signed J.R Smith who can provide help on the perimeter which they desperately need. The Knicks' defense has been great of late with Chandler, Shumpert and Jeffries all creating havoc with their efforts. Most importantly they are gaining confidence which they lacked early in the year and are starting to create a culture of winning. Here is my take on how these factors could help the Knicks make a nice run in the second half of this season.
Jeremy Lin, aka LINsanity, LINcredible, LINning etc etc etc, has been a fantastic story this season. We all root for underdog stories and this is truly a magical one thus far. Along with the fact he has soared to popularity and solidified his place in the NBA, he has also brought the Knicks exactly what they needed: a point guard who can make plays. There is no doubt that many of the Knicks' early struggles could be attributed to the fact that they were struggling at the point guard position. D'Antoni's system relies on having a capable point guard and the Knicks did not have one. Lin has come in and played great and has helped improve the chemistry of this team and more importantly has helped them LIN, I mean win (sorry I had to do it at least once). The Knicks were 8-15 just a short time ago and seemed to be sinking in the standings. The team was forced to play without their superstars for a stretch and it seemed as if they would fall out of contention in a hurry. However, Lin stepped in and most of the entire world knows what happened next. They went on to win 7 straight games before a disappointing home loss to the Hornets last night and are now in good control of the 8th playoff spot with a few teams ahead within striking distance in the standings. The good thing about all of this is Lin is continuing to work hard and stay focused amidst all of the media attention he is getting. Lin has a bright future ahead and I hope he can help take the Knicks to new heights.
Now, let me address the notion that Carmelo's return may hurt the Knicks' current chemistry. I have been very critical of Carmelo's game this season, especially all of the isolation plays he was commanding early on. I thought he was taking the team out of any type of flow and was trying to do way too much. With that being said, I do not think he really had a choice, the Knicks were lacking talent, chemistry, a point guard, and overall depth and they were actually relying on Anthony to do everything. I do not think it was possible for him to be successful given those circumstances and on top of that maybe we should start to believe the fact that his multiple injuries were having an effect on him. I think the rest he has been able to get along with the play of Lin and the team overall will be the best thing for him. I think he now sees that he will not be required do to everything and can focus on what he does best, which is to score and put pressure on opposing defenses. I think he is excited to get back and play with Lin as they can work together to make each others' jobs easier which will hopefully help them dominate and be a force down the stretch. Another thing to mention, is the fact that it was Carmelo who actually suggested to Mike D'Antoni to give Lin an opportunity so let's forget all the talk of him being selfish. I think he is excited by the fact that Lin has emerged and many are creating these obstacles. Overall, I am not concerned with Carmelo not fitting in with Lin, in fact I believe that with less pressure on him, Carmelo is going to come back strong and improve in all areas.
Baron Davis, in a way may have saved the Knicks season without even playing. I say this because had he returned by now, the Knicks would have probably cut Lin. Thankfully, the Knicks gave Lin a chance and the rest is history. With that being the case, where does Baron Davis stand in all of this? He has essentially lost the starting point guard job which was destined to be his. So what will his role be and how can he help? That answer is easy. Lin emerging may be the best thing for him as well as he will now be able to transition himself back onto the court without being relied on to play heavy minutes right away and without having so much pressure on him to be the "savior" for the team. This will allow him to be more relaxed and also give him adequate time to get healthy. Once he returns, he will be a solid contributor off the bench and he will help the Knicks contain Lin's minutes while also being a mentor to him. There is no doubt in my mind that Davis will still serve a valuable role on the team down the stretch without disturbing the success of Lin.
J.R Smith could prove to be a valuable addition to the Knicks. I have never been a fan of him because of all the negative aspects of his presence. His poor discipline on the court, attitude, and antics on the court have always made him a player that I never was a fan of. However, the Knicks have forced my hand once again and as a devoted fan of the team, I will embrace his addition. With that being said, Smith's weaknesses are more recognized than his strengths. He is an outstanding three point shooter and an overall great scorer. Those attributes will both help the Knicks drastically as they have struggled from three point range this year and have also struggled with their scoring off the bench. Smith could immediately address both of those needs and being that he has been playing in China, he should be in game shape and ready to contribute right off the bat. If he can get his game under control and play within the system, he may even earn himself an extended job with the Knicks that goes beyond this season because there is no doubt that his skills cater to the system. He also brings some athleticism to the team which they have also been lacking this season. I will be curious to see how D'Antoni divides the minutes between Lin, Davis, Shumpert, Fields, and Smith once they are all in the lineup but I think it will be easy to get them all involved as many of them could play multiple positions. The important thing with Smith will be to prove he has matured and show more discipline on the court with his shot selection and I think he will be successful and really help the Knicks.
The Knicks' defense has been extremely underrated thus far this season and has looked great as of late. This is definitely the best defensive team that D'Antoni has ever showcased in his coaching career. To me, Tyson Chandler, has been outstanding and may even be the team's MVP. He plays hard every night, defends well, is scoring at a pretty high level relative to his career stats, and most of all he has been a great leader. He has done exactly what he was brought in to do and that is to anchor this defense. To me, Chandler has exceeded expectations and might even be the Knicks' most consistent player. Iman Shumpert and Jared Jeffries have also played valuable roles in the team's improvement on defense. Shumpert is amongst the league leaders in steals and his on the ball defense has been great in the backcourt. Jeffries is having a record season in regards to how many charges he is drawing and he is doing all the little things to help the team win. I was never a big fan of Jeffries because of his offensive limitations but the guy truly hustles and makes winning plays on a consistent basis. These factors have helped the team allow nearly 10 less points a game and become a decent defensive team. This will really help the Knicks come playoff time.
Another side note to mention for the Knicks will be the return of rookie Josh Harrelson, who was having a great rookie season prior to getting injured. His toughness, defense, and outside shooting will also help the team going forward. He will probably battle Steve Novak for minutes as Novak has also emerged as a good contributor for the Knicks.
All of these factors are helping the Knicks build a "winning culture" and gain confidence, which is so important in sports. The Knicks are now playing to win instead of playing not to lose. Most sports fans know that there is a huge distinction between the two. Hopefully, all of the chips will fall into place for the Knicks and they can continue to play spirited basketball and build a strong winning culture. I think the next step for the team is to become a more dominant team at home. It bothers me that the Knicks cannot protect their home court on regular basis playing in the "Mecca" so that will be something for them to work on going forward. But overall, I think the Knicks will be an exciting team in the second half of the season and I think they will continue to rise in the standings and who knows what the end result will be. With the way they are playing and all of the additions to their lineup with the signing of Smith and the return of key injured players they are capable of beating anyone. I am very excited and delighted (forgive me for rhyming I've been listening to Clyde too much) to see their season turned around and I hope they can build upon this and contend for a championship.