New additions have the Knicks flying high, but will they live up to expectations?
The New York Knicks certainly had the bubbly flowing on the home-bound flight following an impressive conquest in Sacramento to ring in the New Year.
Carmelo Anthony referred to the game against the Kings as a "must-win," and rightfully so considering the Knicks fell short of the Lakers and Warriors by considerable margins in their two previous contests.
In all honesty, the Knicks had performed pathetically since squeezing out a victory over the Celtics on Christmas Day in which they squandered a 17-point lead in the second half.
Last night, New York looked like the team we saw during the first half versus Boston; they distributed the ball, executed on offense and were active on defense as well.
After the surprise signing of Tyson Chandler and the subsequent addition of Baron Davis, many were quick to crown the Knicks as one of the movers and shakers in the Eastern Conference.
However, early struggles indicate this assessment may be a bit premature.
The holiday season has been a mixed bag for the Knicks, but they enter 2012 on a positive note with a .500 record. Here’s why New York will live up to the hype and strike fear into the hearts of opponents in the coming months.
There may not have been a lot of opportunity for him to put in work at team-sanctioned events during the offseason and preseason, but the lockout didn't put a damper on Carmelo Anthony's preparation for the 2011-2012 campaign.
No longer the new guy in town, the novelty act is over. After an unfulfilling postseason, Anthony is ready to rid his mouth of that bad taste that lingered throughout the summer and fall.
In 2012, fans will witness a player whose game has evolved. Anthony will still score at will, but you’ll notice a sense of dedication to defense and a newly established eagerness to involve his teammates.
Just four games in, the multidimensional version of Anthony has been on display.
We saw him put the team on his back and take it to Boston with a 37-point clinic that included four three-pointers and 15 attempts from the charity stripe—typical Anthony.
However, we've also seen his passive alter-ego helping to expand the role of his peers in the offensive game plan; Anthony has compiled five assists each of the last two games while scoring 20-plus points as expected.
When asked about not having the ball in his hands, he already seems comfortable with this unselfish approach.
Unbelievably, it's Anthony's ninth year in the league, and he's a veteran in his prime. He's honed his individual skill set for almost a decade, but sometimes that has come at the expense of his teammates.
As part of his maturation process, Anthony realizes that, to be the ultimate player, he needs to make those around him better in order to achieve the pinnacle of success as a team.
New York is where he always wanted to be, and this year, Anthony will prove that it's his time to shine as he takes another step closer to becoming the complete player on the biggest stage of them all.
It's no secret Amar’e Stoudemire is fragile and must be handled with care as he gets up in age. Last season was a less than ideal situation, as he was very heavily relied upon due to a depleted front line.
Knicks management understood the severity of the circumstances and acquired Josh Harrellson on draft night, re-signed Jared Jeffries, gave Jerome Jordan a roster spot and made a huge splash with the signing of Tyson Chandler.
While we knew Chandler and Jeffries would shore up the team's defense, Harrellson and Jordan were relatively unknown commodities. And whether any of these players would have any impact offensively was highly questionable—until New Year's Eve.
With Stoudemire out with an ankle sprain and the Knicks spiraling downward, someone had to compensate for the lack of scoring and presence in the paint.
Not one, but two players answered the call.
After playing a combined 29 minutes in the previous three games, Harrellson filled in for Stoudemire, and huffed and puffed his way to 14 points and 12 rebounds in 38 minutes. Although it didn't show up in the statistical column, Harrellson also played commendable defense and wasn't afraid to bang with former Kentucky teammate DeMarcus Cousins, holding him to just nine points on 2-of-10 from the field.
What's more, Harrellson erased any stigma that he is a big oaf without any scoring touch to speak of; he convinced the coaching staff that he is a trustworthy long-range threat, knocking down 4-of-8 from beyond the arc.
Chandler also had his breakout game as a Knick against the Kings with 22 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. Remarkably, he converted all 10 of his foul shots, which is atypical for a center.
It doesn't appear that Stoudemire's ankle injury is serious, but it's reassuring to know that there are big bodies who will step up in his absence. This also diminishes the need for Kenyon Martin.
The primary concern in the wake of the Carmelo Anthony trade was that, although New York had a formidable starting lineup, the bench had been depleted.
Coming into the season, this was still the case given the limited number of role-players the Knicks added during the brief free-agency period.
Iman Shumpert, along with Toney Douglas, was projected to spark the second unit—considerable expectations to be placed upon a rookie.
The Georgia Tech product didn't disappoint.
After a couple of standout preseason games, Shumpert's hot start carried into the season-opener against the Celtics, but was abruptly extinguished. After pouring in 11 points and grabbing four rebounds in just 22 minutes of action, he was assisted off the court with a knee injury.
Fortunately, Shumpert is expected to return in a few weeks, but other players have to rise to the occasion with him sidelined.
As I mentioned in the preceding slide, Josh Harrellson demonstrated his worth when it counted.
But he is not the only reserve validating himself.
He's technically the sixth man, but until Baron Davis is activated, Douglas will continue to be the starting point guard. Having only started 25 games since entering the NBA in 2009, the combo guard is facing steep demands, but so far he has responded admirably.
Douglas justified his starter status in a major way with a 19-point, three-steal showing in the win over Boston, and capped off the West Coast road trip with a 17-point, eight-assist line in Sacramento.
While these exceptional performances were sandwiched around two mediocre ones, Douglas will only become more confident and consistent as his big-game exposure increases.
Bill Walker can occasionally be erratic, but he's come up with two double-digit scoring outbursts in the early going and has been active on the defensive side of the ball.
Mike Bibby may not score like he used to, but he can still run an offense, and sets a good example for the younger players.
Sharpshooter Steve Novak has made his minutes count as a dependable three-point threat off the pine.
Once Jared Jeffries recovers from a left calf strain, he'll offer some size and aggressive defense.
Even the laughable Renaldo Balkman has contributed due to the grind of the shortened season's grueling schedule.
A 10-man rotation is virtually unheard of, especially in New York, but it could very well be a mainstay with so many back-to-back games.
When the Knicks brought Tyson Chandler on board, he made it clear he came to New York to do one thing and one thing only: motivate his teammates to play better defense by setting the example.
We haven't seen enough games to determine the level of his impact, but Chandler justified his label as a game-changer right off the bat with six blocks against Boston.
Stats don't always tell the whole story, but through four contests, Chandler is averaging 2.8 rejections and almost a steal per game. The Knicks haven't seen that kind of defensive production out of the 5-spot since some guy named Ewing.
The most noticeable difference since Chandler's arrival is the on-court communication.
Chandler is similar to a middle linebacker in that he sees the entire floor from his perspective and alerts teammates when they're out of position. Based on the brief time they've spent together, the amount of chatting on the hardwood between the Knicks is remarkable. And it's actually audible over the course of the television broadcast—something that definitely hasn't been a common theme under Mike D'Antoni’s watch.
They say defense wins championships, and Chandler left his mark in Dallas after just a single season. Knicks brass is hoping Chandler’s lucrative contract pays off and lightning strikes a second time in New York.
As I discussed in my last article, Baron Davis is not that far removed from dominating games. He's hit a rough patch with aches and pains as of late, but the Knicks got a steal when they signed him for the veteran's minimum off the open market.
Davis has as much time as he needs to recover from a herniated disc, and when he works himself into game shape, he will replace Toney Douglas as the starting floor general.
Throughout his 12-year career, Davis has never had the caliber of talent that will surround him in New York. In fact, on most of his teams, Davis has been the No. 1 scoring option, whereas he'll be the third on the Knicks.
Similar to Derrick Rose, Davis' passing ability has always been underrated because it's overshadowed by his scoring. However, he averages a very respectable 7.3 dimes per game for his career.
On the Knicks, Davis will have the chance to exhibit his skill as a facilitator with two of the most dominant scorers in the league flanking him in Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire.
The beauty of it all is that even when Anthony and Stoudemire have an off-night—as they did when they shot a combined 8-of-27 for 29 points Wednesday at Golden State—Davis will be there to pick up the slack and show exactly why he rose to stardom as a member of the Warriors.
The importance of Tyson Chandler cannot be understated, but if Davis debuts at 100 percent, he is the piece of the puzzle that can launch New York into serious title contention.
And that's not an understatement.