Studs and Duds from the New York Knicks' First Slate of Games
A week into the 2012-13 NBA season, the New York Knicks look essentially flawless. Mike Woodson's defense has proven to be as advertised. The offense, more surprisingly, looks to be among the league's best.
The Knicks have been led by a group of core players that have contributed vastly more than expected. At the same time, there are players who have disappointed slightly during the team's 3-0 run.
It's important not to overreact one way or another this early in the season, but New York has shown a dramatic improvement from last year's team. The team's studs are far more studly than the duds have been, well, dudly. Nevertheless, there are still points where the 'Bockers will need to improve as the season trudges forward.
Let's break down who has done the most for the Knicks' early run, and who has done the most to take away from it.
Stud: Carmelo Anthony
It's plain and simple: This is the Carmelo Anthony the New York Knicks traded for.
Anthony has played tremendous basketball in three games this season. He's displayed outstanding effort on both ends of the floor—something New York has rarely seen from their star.
He has been committing hard fouls on defense, blocking shots and even getting dirty for loose balls. Carmelo showed up to camp in tip-top shape this offseason after taking home a gold medal in London, and it has paid immediate dividends.
In three games, Anthony's playing at the highest efficiency level of his career. His PER is over 24 heading into this weekend's game against Dallas. Last year, 'Melo's mark was less-than-stellar 21.15.
Anthony has moved the ball especially well this year—better than he ever has as a Knick. Unlike much of last season, New York possessions aren't ending in forced shots or prolonged periods of stagnancy.
When doubled in the post, Carmelo is quick to pass back out, initiating a series of razor-sharp passes that usually ends in an open look.
Anthony vowed last summer (via ESPN) to carry his Olympic mentality of trust and accountability onto the Madison Square Garden hardwood this season, and he has kept his promise.
Carmelo has led the Knicks by example thus far, and New York will be the team to beat in the Atlantic if No. 7 stays committed.
Dud: Marcus Camby
With most of the Knicks firing on all cylinders early on, it's easy to point to Marcus Camby—the only Knick yet to play this season.
Over a month ago, it was reported by Newsday's Al Iannazzone that Camby suffered a strained left calf. The prognosis was a little over a week. As a week passed, then two weeks, then three, it became clear that Camby's age would be a detriment this year.
Much was made of the aging Knicks roster heading into the season, and Camby has been providing satisfaction to the team's critics. In each of the team's first three games, all 12 Knicks that aren't recovering from a surgery, besides Camby, have touched the court.
Fortunately for the Knicks and Camby, however, the 38-year-old center looks ready to return Friday against the Dallas Mavericks. According to the New York Post, Camby expects to log his first minutes against the Mavs at the Garden this weekend.
It'll be interesting to see how Camby plays in the aftermath of the injury to his leg.
Stud: J.R. Smith
Knicks fans inexplicably predicted big things from the unpredictable J.R. Smith this season. In a turn of events that even the most optimistic fan didn't see coming, Smith has delivered in a big way.
The 27-year-old has bought into Mike Woodson's offensive scheme, which emphasizes ball movement above all else this year. (When J.R. Smith is buying into passing the ball, you know Woodson has control of the locker room.)
He's playing efficiently on offense—his PER over 20 is more than two points higher than any he has posted in his career—by making shots. He's 8-for-13 from three-point range this season, or 62 percent.
Smith is still coming off the bench for Woodson, but he is playing starter minutes. His 34.3 minutes per game are second only to Carmelo Anthony's 36. This is largely due to the fact that Woodson hasn't needed to pull Smith from games due to shooting slumps or mental lapses.
Smith's decision-making seems exceptionally improved from years past. Rarely has Smith taken a bad shot. He's averaging nearly 14 attempts per contest, but that number is acceptable when most of the looks are high-percentage shots.
Smith has excited the Garden crowd with six threes on nine attempts at home in two games. Smith also preformed an early candidate for dunk of the year, when he threw down against the Philadelphia 76ers off a Pablo Prigioni steal.
If Smith continues down this new, mature path, expect a Sixth Man of the Year trophy in his arms next spring.
Dud: Kurt Thomas
The oldest player in the NBA certainly looks the part in three games this season.
40-year-old Kurt Thomas has gotten minutes in the Knicks' frontcourt this season due to Amar'e Stoudemire's knee injury. He has shot 25 percent on eight attempts.
His mid-range jumper that has carried him through a solid 18-year career seems flat, worsening his offensive game that has always been extremely limited.
Not much was expected out of Thomas, so his struggles aren't season-changing by any stretch of the imagination. Some could argue that Thomas is playing to expectations thus far.
Thomas has torn down some rebounds and played sturdy defense in his minutes this year, which is all Knicks fans should expect from him the rest of the way.
With Rasheed Wallace playing above expectations, it's conceivable that Thomas may be axed from the rotation in the coming weeks. If Thomas makes it until December as a rotation mainstay, expect him to take a seat when Stoudemire returns from injury around then.
Stud: Jason Kidd
The impact Jason Kidd has on the Knicks game plan was dramatically understated by the majority of experts and fans alike.
Believed to act primarily as a mentor or player-coach, Kidd has logged excellent minutes, highlighted by his astounding assist-to-turnover ratio of 11-to-1.
He's shot the lights out from beyond the arc. He's shooting 55 percent from three-point range, which isn't far off his 57 percent pace from the field.
His true shooting percentage (which takes into account two-point shots, three-point shots and free throws) is at an unbelievable 83 percent.
Mainly out of the off-guard position, Kidd has provided a sense of stability to the Knicks offense. Mike Woodson's slowed pace fits Kidd perfectly. The team's undefeated record has reaped the benefits.
When Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni have faltered at points this season, Kidd is quick to right the wrongs on offense.
On defense, Kidd is contributing two steals per game.
Overall, the Jason Kidd addition has paid huge dividends for Mike Woodson's crew. Kidd is as responsible as anybody for the team's undefeated start.
Dud: Pablo Prigioni
Rookies are still rookies, no matter what figures appear on their birth certificate.
35-year-old Knicks rookie Pablo Prigioni brought every bit of his imported basketball IQ to the Knicks this preseason. In the regular season opener, however, the Miami Heat reminded the Argentinean guard that he is still on the low end of the totem pole in the NBA.
In his first NBA game against the defending champs, Prigioni appeared out of sorts. He tossed uncharacteristically telegraphed and misguided passes into the arms of Heat defenders. He seemed terrified at the notion of making a mistake—he didn't attempt a shot from the field.
After the opener, coach Mike Woodson was on Prigioni's case about finding his own shot. This was never a facet of Prigioni's game that he stressed overseas. However, it seemed as if he was deliberately avoiding shots by tossing away wide-open looks in the lane and from beyond the arc.
Prigioni has turned the ball over less as of late, and recently scored 11 points against the 76ers on 3-of-5 shooting to go with six assists. The guard made the highlight reel with a steal leading to his assist on a thunderous J.R. Smith slam.
It would be unwise to expect Prigioni's struggles to extend beyond the next few games. The matured maestro simply has too much experience under his belt to accept rookie status much longer.
Follow John Dorn on Twitter at @JSDorn6 in time for the Knicks' next game against Dallas, Friday night at 7:30 ET.