Jason Kidd and Mike Woodson discussing
The New York Knicks have started the 2012-13 NBA season at 18-6, which is good enough for first in the Eastern Conference. After New York ended a tumultuous 2011-12 season with the seventh seed in the East, this comes as a bit of a surprise.
When a team outperforms expectations like that, there is obviously improvement in specific players as well as in the system. Players can be better utilized than expected or simply improve in certain departments during the offseason.
Of course, the NBA is also a league of streaks and momentum, so there will always be players not quite living up to expectations either. This season, New York has experienced both of these scenarios.
When the Knicks signed Jason Kidd in the offseason, the move was met with a bit of skepticism. Some felt that Kidd's age would be too much of detriment to compensate for the positive aspects he would bring such as experience.
Thus far this season though, there isn't really a thing to complain about in Kidd's performance. Where he has specifically improved the most is in shooting. Traditionally known as a passing point guard and not a particularly good shooter, Kidd has experienced a rebirth with his shot this season.
Through the first 24 games, Kidd has hit .483 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc, easily a career-high. He is also hitting .926 percent of his free throw attempts, another career-high.
As if these numbers weren't enough, Kidd has also been penetrating very well in order to either get an easy shot or to kick the ball back out to a shooter. His clutch shooting, big defensive plays and veteran experience have put him as one of the big factors in New York's success.
It seems difficult to vastly improve when you're already one of the elite scorers and offensive players in the NBA, but that is exactly what Carmelo Anthony has done this season.
Criticized in the past, Melo has seemingly brought it all together to be an MVP favorite through the first quarter of the season. Offensively, he continues to shine with 27.9 points per game (second in the league) and .455 shooting from behind the arc (a career-high).
However, it is mainly on defense that Anthony has had his impact. His leadership is now unquestioned as he is consistently seen diving after loose balls and increasing his own defensive intensity. In the process, he lifts all of his teammates to new heights.
Melo has gotten it all done this season, and if that continues to be the case, New York will continue to be very dangerous.
Steve Novak is a very interesting case in terms of improvement since he is mainly expected to be and is used as a one-dimensional player. He is on the court to hit three-pointers and that is exactly what he does.
Since that is the case, how much improvement in other areas can be expected? The answer, in short, is that Novak will be doing what he is paid to do as long as he makes efforts to constantly improve in that role. His job is to make threes, and that includes creating the shot.
Novak is still hitting a superb .438 percent from downtown, but his off-ball movement still leaves something to be desired. At this point, man coverage can sometimes neutralize him. If Novak can start creating his own shot as well as finishing it though, he will be a very scary tool for the Knicks.
Pablo Prigioni, despite being 35 years old, is an NBA rookie coming from abroad, so it is difficult to compare him in terms of improvement or regression.
However, what can be done is to analyze his performance as opposed to expectations that were formed throughout his preseason performances. In that regards, a bit more was expected from the Argentine point guard.
His distribution has been good enough, and his capacity to come up with steals is quickly being recognized. However, he needs to take more shots when they are available to him and he needs to direct the flow of the offense more consistently in terms of alternating between guard and frontcourt play.