If you are a New York Knicks fan right now, there is plenty to smile about.
The Knicks have started the season 9-4 and sit tied with the Brooklyn Nets atop the loaded Atlantic Division. It all started with an opening night massacre of the Miami Heat. Then, a gritty victory over the San Antonio Spurs. The best start in 19 seasons. Knicks fans are getting louder and there are plenty more emerging from the woodwork to hop on the bandwagon.
For those who bleed orange and blue, such a fast start to the season conjures big hopes. After two straight seasons of being bounced out of the first round, a deep playoff run would be satisfying enough. But with every win, it's looking as if the Knicks might have a legitimate chance to reach their first Finals since 1999.
At this point, your annoying friend who hates the Knicks will give you a rundown of reasons why they won't win a title in 2012. He'll say things like, "They can't beat the Heat in a seven game series." Or, "Amare is going to screw everything up."
"They can't beat the Nets," is one you might hear today. Let's be honest though, if Raymond Felton did not miss 16 of his 19 shots and Jason Kidd didn't have back spasms, the outcome would have been very different.
But I digress. Here are five reasons why the Knicks are for real this season.
Let's forget about the four losses this year and pretend the Knicks are 9-0. What is their average margin of victory in those nine wins?
15.2 points per game
When they win, the Knicks are absolutely killing their opposition, highlighted by a 20-point victory over the Heat, a 22-point win over the Philadelphia 76ers, and more recently 22 and 21-point blowouts over the New Orleans Hornets and Detroit Pistons, respectively.
It is one thing to rack up nine victories this early in the season. It is another to accomplish this by obliterating opponents in the process.
Long term, this bodes well for the Knicks, one of the oldest teams in the NBA. They have five players who are 35 or older. If the Knicks want to have any energy left in the tank for a long playoff run, they have to manage their veterans' minutes.
Jumping out to quick leads will enable Mike Woodson to rest his starters and preserve the rickety bones of the team's elder statesmen. I'm looking at you, Kurt Thomas.
One of the most underrated offseason NBA moves was Jason Kidd signing with the Knicks. Kidd quietly signed a 3 year, $9 million deal and no one really cared.
I mean come on, he's 39 years old. Athletically, his best days have been long gone for years. Knicks fans collectively rolled their eyes when Kidd smashed his car into a telephone poll partying in the Hamptons. There wasn't much to look forward to.
But sure enough, the veteran has excelled this season, in a starting role mind you. As a second point guard option next to Raymond Felton, Kidd is able to facilitate the offense and chime in by hitting open jumpers every now and then. Who can forget the three 3-pointers he hit to close out an epic comeback aginst the Spurs? Kidd even leads the league with an assist to turnover ratio of 5.13. Oh, and he turns 40 next March.
Kidd's impact on the Knicks organization could be more significant than originally thought. Brian Scalabrine (aka "White Mamba") knows the type of leader Kidd is, recently telling Bill Simmons in a Grantland video that, "Jason Kidd is a culture changer in the NBA." Starting at 1:49, Scalabrine—who played with Kidd on the Nets—goes on to explain exactly how Kidd has an impact on teams he plays for, saying:
"He's not even in the building, but his hand is touching everything, The weight room is ran differently. The practice floor is ran differently. The individual workouts are ran differently. Practices, games, before the game, after the game. His influence and ideas about what basketball should be are right there even if he's not there."
This could explain why the Knicks look so focused this year. Kidd is making his presence felt and everyone from management to the coaching staff to the players seem to be following suit.
During "Linsanity" last year, a Knicks offense orchestrated by Jeremy Lin was successfully running Mike D'Antoni's "Seven Seconds or Less" (SSOL) system with crisp passing and ball movement. It was a sight to watch.
We all remember what happened next. Carmelo Anthony returned from a leg injury and the Knicks offense stagnated. Carmelo was hammered in the press for not being able to co-exist with Lin. When Mike Woodson took over as head coach, the Knicks began to run more one-on-one sets for Anthony. You couldn't blame the Knicks for the simple fact that Anthony is a brilliant isolation scorer.
As the Knicks struggled, Carmelo began to be known as a "ball stopper," prompting a "selfish" label that followed him for months. He took major flak for his poor defense as well.
This year, we have seen a new, slimmer Carmelo Anthony who is a willing passer and a fully engaged defender. Anthony has even preached his commitment to defense and buying into Coach Woodson's system.
Carmelo Anthony looks like he is maturing into a more complete player. He will have to keep this going if the Knicks want any shot at getting out of the East.
The Knicks have addressed almost every one of their weaknesses on the court with great trades and free agent signings during the offseason.
One of the Knicks' glaring issues at the end of last season was point guard play. Baron Davis blew up his knee during the playoffs last year—tearing his ACL and MCL—effectively ending his career. After the Knicks passed on Jeremy Lin in the summer, they responded by picking up Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, and Pablo Prigioni.
We already know what Kidd has done this season, but Raymond Felton has held his own by surprising everyone with his quality play. After a dismal season last year with the Portland Trail Blazers, Felton has lost a bunch of weight with the help of a personal chef, and looks like he is in the best shape of his life. He is playing with an obvious chip on his shoulder after being traded by New York in 2011.
Let's not forget, Pablo Prigioni has been very productive off the bench as well. He is very good running the pick and roll and is not a bad spot-up shooter. Yeah, the Knicks are pretty solid at point guard.
Outside of Tyson Chandler and Iman Shumpert, the Knicks defended terribly last season but have made some key moves to fix that. They added Ronnie Brewer, a shut-down defender who can guard all five positions. Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace were also added to bolster the Knicks front line. Wallace even gives you some scoring with his jump shooting and solid post game.
We haven't forgotten about Steve Novak, who signed a multi-year deal with the Knicks in the offseason. Novak is off to a great shooting start and is a key piece who allows their offense to stretch the floor.
J.R. Smith has been an enigma since his days as a rookie on the Hornets. He is the type of player that makes you shake your head in disbelief when he dunks on someone's face or hits an impossible fade away jumper in traffic.
He's also the same guy that makes you shake your head when he takes terrible, forced shots or when he fights people and gets suspended. Smith has always been an impressive yet unpredictable talent.
This season, Smith returned to the Knicks with a new attitude and has come back more focused. He has taken smarter shots and is even averaging a career-high clip of 2.8 assists per game. Smith has publicly committed to cutting back on his partying, saying:
"I can’t let myself slip as well as my teammates slip. In order for me to hold them accountable, I have to hold myself accountable. I go out here and there. I definitely have to choose my spots. Definitely not before games. I’ve been smart about it."
We're glad J.R. has decided not to party before games. If he can manage to stay out of trouble and play smart basketball, he may be the X-factor that will propel the Knicks to a legitimate shot at the NBA title.