New York Knicks: Are the Knicks Eastern Conference Favorites?

Michael BurkeContributor IIIFebruary 20, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 19:  Jeremy Lin #17 of the New York Knicks looks on during the game against the Dallas Mavericks at Madison Square Garden on February 19, 2012 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

It seems absurd to say that a team who had a record of 8-15 just two weeks ago can be considered a contender, let alone a favorite, in the NBA.

However, such is the case for the New York Knicks.

Since the emergence of Jeremy Lin, the Knicks have ripped off eight victories in nine games, and have gone from one of the league’s most disappointing teams to one of the best.

To me, the question isn't whether or not this team is a contender, but instead whether or not they are the Eastern Conference favorites. Once again, it may sound absurd, but think about it. Where do the Knicks really have a weakness?

They have a true point guard and leader in Jeremy Lin, who is quickly becoming an elite player at the position.

They have a superstar that they can rely on to make the big shots and close games in Carmelo Anthony.

They have a superstar to round out a "Big Three" of their own in Amar’e Stoudemire.

The depth that occupies the rest of the Knicks' roster is incomparable. Rounding out the starting five is an excellent defensive and rebounding center in Tyson Chandler, and a very solid 2-guard to complement Lin in the backcourt, Landry Fields. 

On the bench are a couple of pure shooters in J.R. Smith and Steve Novak, something that is vitally necessary in a Mike D’Antoni offense.

The Knicks also have guys who can come off the bench and play great defense in Jarred Jeffries and Iman Shumpert.

They have veteran leadership in Baron Davis and Mike Bibby, the latter of the two making a trip to the NBA Finals last season.

Nevertheless, critics are still going to question the Knicks and their defensive capabilities. To that, I have an answer.

Statistically, the Knicks are an above-average 12th in the league defensively, much better than the critics likely realize. And, by the time the postseason comes around, good defensive players like Jarred Jeffries and Iman Shumpert will likely get inflated minutes. And this is not even mentioning the fact that Tyson Chandler is a top of the line defender in the NBA--something that will play a huge factor in the playoffs.

To those who say that Carmelo Anthony’s return to the Knicks will provide anything but a huge uplift to the team, I cannot stress how absurd that is.

The Knicks were never bad because of Carmelo Anthony this year. They were bad because their coach is Mike D’Antoni and he did not have a point guard, simply put. His offensive systems, as good as they can be most of the time, are next to nothing without a true point guard to run it.

Now that Jeremy Lin is in the picture, the offense has flowed as well as any offense in the league, and that will not change when Carmelo returns.

Let us not forget, Carmelo Anthony is still a top 10-15 player in this league, and he will be the one to step up and make the big shots for this team in the postseason. The Knicks need Carmelo Anthony to contend, as he will provide yet another offensive option for Jeremy Lin on the court.

This team has no weakness. They are, top to bottom, arguably the best team in the league. That does not mean they should be the favorites though; the Heat, while not as deep or complete a team as the Knicks, still have two of the top five players in the league in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, and for now, that gives them the edge.

It will be very interesting to see how these two teams match up together when they meet next Thursday. If the Knicks can win that game in the same fashion that they've been doing in the last few weeks, in no way will it be a stretch to say they are the Eastern Conference’s best team.

It has been a long time coming, but the New York Knicks are back.