Jason Kidd has played an important part in the New York Knicks' 3-0 start to the 2012-13 NBA season—their best start since 1999-2000. But by no means is the 39-year-old point guard the only cog who deserves credit, nor even the most crucial.
To be sure, those who've jumped onto the Kidd bandwagon in droves since opening night aren't entirely misguided for doing so. His impact on the offensive end is unmistakeable, especially for those who've suffered through New York's stagnant offense and Mike Woodson's characteristic preference for isolation play.
Kidd's mere presence appears to have made the Knicks a more pass-happy bunch. They're already sharing the ball better, making quicker passes and swapping good shots for great ones more often than they have in recent memory. Even Carmelo Anthony, a noted "ball hog," has taken to drawing in the defense and kicking the ball out to wide-open shooters. As he told ESPN's Brian Windhorst of Kidd's impact after Sunday's win over the Philadelphia 76ers:
It forces me to mature out there. Having the veterans, those guys bringing me up under their wings. It's a learning process to have guys like Jason. I've never been on a team with veterans like we have. Everybody in the world knows I can score. For me to come out here and do something else, it makes us better.
The stats bear this out—so far, anyway. The Knicks ranked among the bottom third of the league in just about every assist-related category in 2011-12, but now find themselves in the top third, per Team Rankings.
Granted, a three-game sample size is small and far from decisive, though the numbers serve as some statistical confirmation of what can be seen on the court.
Kidd also gives New York another savvy experienced ball-handler who can read a defense from up top. With Kidd and Raymond Felton in the starting five, the Knicks boast two point guards who are capable of putting pressure on opposing defenses. That gives the offense more options for which those teams tangling with the Knicks must prepare.
And, like most everyone who calls Madison Square Garden home, Kidd is shooting lights-out from the floor (8-of-14), from three (6-of-11) and from the free-throw line (5-of-5). It's no secret that Kidd can actually shoot—he's third all-time in three-point makes. What's surprising, rather, is that he's still knockin' 'em down in his 19th NBA season and that the threat of him doing so is spreading the floor for the rest of the Knicks scorers.
Kidd's impact has been felt just as strongly (if not more so) on the defensive end. Kidd may no longer be the bouncy, lockdown defender of yore, but the guy can still lend a helping hand and anticipate passes as well as just about anyone in basketball.
The defensive metrics are even more startling when comparing how the Knicks fare with and without Kidd on the floor via NBA.com's stats tool. As far as the aforementioned steals are concerned, the Knicks force 3.6 more such turnovers per 48 minutes with Kidd in the game than they do when he's on the bench. They've also rebounded 17.7 percent more of their opponents' misses (and ripped down 10.7 percent more of the available rebounds overall) with Kidd, a rebounding guard of great repute, than they have without him this season.
Overall, New York has surrendered 23.7 fewer points per 100 possessions in Kidd time (81.1) compared to non-Kidd time (104.8).
Clearly, Kidd has helped the Knicks tremendously on both ends of the floor. But to single out Kidd and anoint him as some sort of geriatric savior is to overlook the greater context of the Knicks' successes so far.
As far as personnel are concerned, Kidd isn't the only new Knickerbocker who's making hay on the defensive end. For instance, Ronnie Brewer, who's started all three games at small forward with 'Melo at the "four" (and Amar'e Stoudemire out with injury) has been nearly as big a boon to the Knicks defensive efforts as has Kidd. Per NBA.com, the Knicks allow 24.7 fewer points per 100 possessions with Brewer on the floor than they do without him and come up with far more steals and blocks.
Not that assigning the credit for New York's defensive dominance is an either-or endeavor, but rather that it must be shared between Kidd and his teammates.
Including Tyson Chandler. The Knicks went from a mediocre defensive squad to a good one last season once Chandler, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, got his bearings about him in the Big Apple.
They made yet another leap, from good to great, once Mike Woodson took over for Mike D'Antoni midseason in 2011-12. According to Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com, the Knicks allowed five points per game fewer in 24 regular-season games under Woodson than they did during the final 42 of D'Antoni's ill-fated sideline stint at MSG.
It stands to reason, then, that the Knicks would've taken one more step, from great to elite, with a full complement of training-camp practices under a Woodson regime. Kidd's certainly been an active participant in this endeavor, but can hardly be considered a culture-changer in this regard.
Keep in mind too that New York's last two wins came against a Philadelphia 76ers squad that was offensively inept last season (22nd in offensive efficiency, per Team Rankings) and opened the 2012-13 schedule with a win over the Denver Nuggets in an 84-75 slugfest. Furthermore, the Sixers have yet to see star center Andrew Bynum in uniform and lost Jason Richardson to an ankle injury during Sunday's meeting.
It's tougher to nail down statistically what exactly propelled the Knicks to such a stunning stomping of the defending-champion Miami Heat. However, it seems reasonable to suggest that the 20-point victory was something of an anomaly, the byproduct of an intense emotional reaction to the devastation wrought by Superstorm Sandy on the tri-state area.
Kidd and the Knicks won't likely ride that sort of emotional wave through the rest of the season. Nor can they expect to set the nets (not necessarily the Brooklynite ones) ablaze quite so phenomenally as they have in the early going, Kidd or no Kidd.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau (via Mark Simon of ESPNNewYork.com), the Knicks' 43 three-pointers so far are the most ever accumulated by a team through the first three games of a season in NBA history. All told, New York has connected on an astounding 45.3 percent of its three-point attempts—a number that's bound to come back to Earth before long, regardless of Kidd's best efforts.
And it's not as though the Kidd-led offense has been perfect, either. The Knicks shot a woeful 35.4 percent on two-point attempts against the Heat but were saved by their 52.8-percent rate on threes (19-of-36). As Simon points out:
The Knicks are only the fourth team since the 1999-2000 season to make at least 15 3-pointers, shoot at least 50 percent on their 3-pointers, and shoot 36 percent or worse on their 2s in a regular-season game.
Which is to say, New York would be lucky to continue to win games this way, with the likes of 'Melo, JR Smith and even Brewer bombing away from beyond the arc.
As for the intangibles, Kidd's veteran presence has probably helped to bring greater cohesion to the Knicks when compared to last year's oft-fractured locker room.
Then again, Kidd isn't the only elder statesman who's brought leadership to the Garden. With Kurt Thomas (40), Rasheed Wallace and Marcus Camby (both 38) coming aboard via free agency, the Knicks now sport a consortium of sage voices who've been there and done that (and then some). As Tyson Chandler told Sean Deveney of Sporting News:
Last year, a lot of the time, my voice was the only voice out there. But now, there’s so many voices, we got so many defensive veterans. A lot of times, (Wallace) is screaming, I might be focused on something on the left side of the floor and I can hear his voice from the bench, that alerts me.
This isn't all to suggest that Kidd's effect on the team need be ignored. He's been a solid buy for them so far, as the results suggest.
Rather, it's important to keep Kidd in proper contact. He's but one of many cogs—along with 'Melo's improved play on both ends, the team's blindingly-brilliant three-point shooting, a deeper bench and an overall smothering defensive effort (among others)—that have propelled the Knicks to their best start of this century, even amidst Amar'e Stoudemire's absence.
As well as Kidd has played, the Knicks can only hope that he'll be able to keep it up over an 82-game grind and perhaps a deep playoff run. Kidd's been durable for most of his 30s (if not the bulk of his career), but missed 18 games last season due to sporadic bouts with injury.
That may not be such a pressing concern so long as Woodson continues to limit Kidd's minutes. Nonetheless, it's well within the realm of possibility that Kidd, at his age and with his mileage, will tire out as the season progresses.
In the meantime, though, the Knicks are forcing more turnovers, taking better care of the ball, scoring more points and giving up fewer than they have in quite some time. Jason Kidd may not be entirely responsible for that turnaround, but at the very least, he's making the Knicks look smart for granting a three-year, $9 million deal to a future Hall-of-Famer who's due to turn 40 in March.