5 Reasons NY Knicks Are Legit Title Contenders in 2012-13

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 5, 2012

5 Reasons NY Knicks Are Legit Title Contenders in 2012-13

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    It's been nearly 40 years since Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe, Bill Bradley and Dave DeBusschere brought home a the last NBA championship to the Mecca of Basketball.

    The predictably ravenous NY fans have starved to see the return of a championship product to Madison Square Garden. Their antagonizing wait may finally be relieved in only a matter of months.

    The 2012-13 Knicks have used their first 16 games (12-4) to cross off line items on the checklist of champions. They have won games with both their offense and defense. They have been willed to victories by their superstar, Carmelo Anthony, and found enough contributions from their supporting cast when Anthony's not enough.

    As with any professional sports franchise in the Big Apple, it's another "championship or bust" season for the blue and orange. This team has already shown plenty of reasons to think this year will finish as anything but a bust.

     

    All statistics used in this article are accurate as of 12/4/2012.

1. They Can Overwhelm the Opposition in Every Facet of the Game

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    There's no good way for opposing coaches to game plan against this Knicks team.

    If they try to speed up the tempo, N.Y. has too many gazelles for opponents to keep up. The Knicks have the NBA's fourth-most potent offense (102.9 points per game). Their ability to score points in bunches (highlighted by their 104-100 win over the San Antonio Spurs, in which they were down 12 points with seven minutes remaining) leaves the opposition gasping for air.

    But slowing down the tempo hasn't fared well either. With Tyson Chandler anchoring the defensive interior and Ronnie Brewer and Jason Kidd handling the backcourt, the Knicks have enough defenders to bother guards and bigs alike. Their roster may look like an offensive group, but N.Y. has held opponents to just 94.7 points per game (eighth best in the NBA).

    Great three-point shooting teams like the Knicks (41.6 percent, second best in the league) typically don't employ the kind of athletic specimens that this team has. J.R. Smith, James White and Brewer all have elite athleticism. In other words, teams can't outshoot or outmuscle them.

    They also take care of the basketball (11.2 turnovers per game, fewest in the league) and force their opponents to play recklessly (16.5 turnovers forced per game, fourth best in the NBA). They know how to value each offensive position and turn defensive trips into fast-break opportunities.

2. Every Player Has Bought in to the Team's Common Goal

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    The first step in changing the culture in an organization (something the Knicks had to do, given their 12-year run without a playoff-series victory) is getting all of the players on the same page.

    Such an attitude often demands players to sacrifice minutes and production in pursuit of this shared goal.

    Woodson has asked his players to step out of their comfort zone, and his team has been more than willing to accommodate.

    Despite a wildly successful career as a perimeter threat, Anthony has embraced the role of post scorer. Smith has corralled his ill-advised shot attempts and found his offensive opportunities within the natural flow of the game. Raymond Felton has been a distributor when needed or a scorer when the team's desperately needed points.

    But it's taken more than just fundamental changes at the top.

    Kidd has embraced his playmaking role and has nearly as many assists per game (3.4) as field-goal attempts (4.7). Steve Novak and Brewer have patiently waited for their playing time before unleashing a barrage of threes. Rasheed Wallace has returned from a two-year hiatus, playing the role of Chandler-lite on the second unit.

3. They Have Veteran Voices in the Locker Room and on the Sideline

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    What's made the transition to a contender easier for the Knicks than it has been for other teams, is the fact that there are strong veteran voices leading this charge.

    Wallace, Kidd, Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby all migrated to New York over the summer. They may have made this team the NBA's oldest in the process, but they also brought championship experience to a core group of players short on successful playoff pasts.

    But credit coach Woodson for his role in this transformation.

    After helping the Atlanta Hawks increase their win total in each of his six seasons at the helm, Woodson was brought in as an assistant to former Knicks (and current Los Angeles Lakers) coach Mike D'Antoni. When D'Antoni resigned in the middle of the 2011-12 season, Woodson was handed the typically undesirable title of interim coach.

    But that interim tag was lifted barely two months after it was put in place. Since that time, the coach has guided his team to their best home start (7-0) in 20 years.

    The roster improvements may have sped up this transformation, but Woodson may have made this whole thing possible.

4. Their Superstar Has Gotten Even Better

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    There wasn't a lot of room for growth in Anthony. After all, this was a player who had posted nine consecutive seasons with 20-plus points per game since entering the league.

    But even those gaudy numbers weren't enough for his detractors. They said Anthony couldn't be a franchise player on a championship team. They thought his isolation looks brought his team more harm than good.

    With his move to the offensive post, Anthony has evolved into the efficient offensive machine (his player efficiency rating of 24.4 is a new career best) that the haters said he could never be. His toughness and rapid first step devastated opponents off the dribble, but they have taken on a new life closer to the basket.

    Help defenders can't cheat toward Anthony on the block, because the Knicks shooters will make them pay from the perimeter. So they helplessly watch as Anthony systematically destroys their teammates with turnaround jumpers or quick moves toward the basket.

5. The Best Is Yet to Come

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    As if this current Knicks team wasn't talented enough, they'll return a former All-Star (Amar'e Stoudemire) and a possible future All-Star (Iman Shumpert) before season's end.

    No matter the perceived difficulties that a Stoudemire return can bring, the fact is that this talented offense hasn't yet unleashed the career 21.6 points per game scorer. Woodson's challenge to reintegrate Stoudemire into this Knicks offense may be unlike anything he's ever experienced.

    But there are a myriad of coaches who would love to have this "problem".

    As for Shumpert, the second-year guard will bring a new element to this Knicks rotation. He's explosive off the dribble with the size (6'5", 212 pounds) and strength to finish his drives at the basket.

    But his defensive ability may be his biggest contribution.

    Shumpert uses his quickness to stay in front of smaller guards and his strength to keep bigger ones from establishing favorable position. The defensive prowess of Shumpert and Brewer can (at the very least) frustrate or (at best) shutdown any backcourt in the NBA.