As their 18-5 record would lead you to believe, the New York Knicks are serious about bringing a championship to Manhattan in 2013. General manager Glen Grunwald made a series of widely criticized moves last summer that catapulted the roster's mean age from 26.9 in 2011-12 to 32.1 in just one offseason.
While retaining the core of Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, the Knicks shed plenty of young talent in favor of aging but experienced veterans, carrying out a decidedly "win-now" strategy. Out were Jeremy Lin, Landry Fields and Josh Harrellson; enter Ray Felton, Jason Kidd and Rasheed Wallace.
The team has smoked the majority of the Eastern Conference, including two 20-point thrashings of the Miami Heat. Led by incredible ball movement, Mike Woodson's offense just barely trumps that of the Heat in points per game for the East lead. New York scores at a rate of 103.2 per contest, compared to Miami's 103.1.
The defense hasn't been as effective early on, as the team is 13th league-wide in defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions). But with only five losses on the board, it's not exactly a cause for concern just yet.
With great success, however, comes great expectations. Through the season's first quarter, there's been no shortage of NBA analysts who are convinced that New York is finally for real.
Let's run through some of the names that are responsible for hyping the Knicks through the ceiling (with good reason) early on.
1. ESPN's Chris Palmer
This ESPN NBA Insider seemed pretty sold on this year's Knicks squad following their demolition of Miami without star Carmelo Anthony. He went off with praise of the 'Bockers following that win, and hasn't let up since:
The Knicks could win the NBA title. As much a stretch as Dallas winning in 2011.— chris palmer (@ESPNChrisPalmer) December 7, 2012
Got the Knicks as NBA champs. I'm all in.— chris palmer (@ESPNChrisPalmer) December 7, 2012
Not knee jerk. Not bandwagon. I've had an epiphany. Knicks are the next champs.— chris palmer (@ESPNChrisPalmer) December 7, 2012
How about a Clippers/Knicks Finals?— chris palmer (@ESPNChrisPalmer) December 12, 2012
Been accused of knee-jerk reactions. Cool. Sticking with the Knicks for the title, though.— chris palmer (@ESPNChrisPalmer) December 13, 2012
2. ESPN's Magic Johnson
It didn't take long for Earvin to declare the Knicks championship-ready, either. As early as a week into December, Johnson was ready to crown New York a legit contender. He hopped on with ESPN Radio's "Mike and Mike in the Morning," delivering the following quotes:
This is the team that's going to give the Heat the most trouble because they have the perimeter players. They're the best defensive team in basketball right now; they have become the best passing team in basketball and they're playing with great confidence. This Knicks team is playing together.
3. NBA.com's Sekou Smith, David Aldridge and Ira Winderman
In an installment of "The Beat," the round of NBA insiders all agreed that this particular Knicks group has what it takes to compete with the Miami Heat for the East's top seed. Aldridge noted some similarities between this Knicks team and the 2011 champion Dallas Mavericks.
You can watch the conversation below (or here) and see for yourself.
4. ESPN's John Hollinger
Before accepting a front-office position with the Memphis Grizzlies, writer John Hollinger managed to squeeze in one last piece regarding the Knicks, though in a much more positive tone than Mr. Insider is used to.
Notorious for his pessimism when it comes to the Knickerbockers (he predicted they would finish fourth in the division this season), Hollinger's latest Knicks write-up contradicts most of his prior columns, glorifying New York's run.
He took to his keyboard to go on a 1,000-word rant revering Mike Woodson's club. At the conclusion, the new Grizzlies VP of Basketball Operations went on to say this about the new-look Knicks:
So dare to dream, rest of the NBA, because a magical season is erupting from the most unlikely of places. No, the Knicks may not keep up some of these individual numbers all season, but take a step back and the big picture is very much for real. This is a legitimate threat to the Heat in the Eastern Conference, thanks to a beautiful, floor-spacing offensive attack that somehow, some way, has sprung from all the insanity (with no L) at MSG.
5. YES Network's Greg Anthony
This former Knick currently covers the color analyst duties for the crosstown rival Brooklyn Nets, so Anthony can surely understand both sides of this young rivalry. When a fan asked him how "real" the Knicks are this season, he put it very simply (or not):
Bluebirds are in fact blue, so we'll jot this one down as an endorsement from the Brooklyn analyst. Though, "Yes," would've been a sufficient answer too.
You can follow me on Twitter at @JSDorn6.
Stats are current as of games played through Dec. 16.