Mike Woodson's success is one of the biggest stories of this NBA season.
The New York Knicks' rise from offseason unknown to legitimate title contender has been a true team effort.
Coming off a first-round playoff exit, the Knicks entered the offseason with more questions than answers.
The team improved under Mike Woodson, but would that carry over to 2012-13? Would he find a way to make Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire coexist on the court? Would James Dolan and company rue the decision to let Jeremy Lin go to the Houston Rockets?
As of Dec. 28, two months into the season, the Knicks have a 21-8 record and are among the most dominant teams in the league. It's no surprise that Melo is scoring like mad, but recent injuries to Anthony and Raymond Felton have showcased the less likely reasons behind the strong start.
The Knicks' three-point prowess is a product of their great ball movement.
The way Knicks offense has controlled the game is simply astounding.
Last season, with a reckless yet effective Jeremy Lin running the offense, the Knicks turned the ball over 16.0 times per game, the second-worst mark in the league.
Now Lin is gone, and the tandem of Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni has done a historic job of protecting the ball. Their Knicks lead the league with just 10.4 turnovers per game.
As a point of comparison, the 2002-03 Dallas Mavericks hold the record for fewest turnover per game with 11.6, more than one more New York has allowed this year.
Not only are the Knicks losing possession less, they're whipping the ball around the perimeter more. This team is great at identifying the open man and getting the ball to him. This style of play has led to tons of open threes, and it is infectious. It's not just the guards who are moving the ball; Carmelo Anthony has passed more this season than he ever has.
Over the summer, it seemed like the Knicks were gearing up to run an isolation-heavy attack with Melo and Amar'e. What they've done instead has worked wonders, and it's a breath of fresh air for Knicks fans who haven't seen this kind of ball movement in ages.
Kidd has been a stabilizing force in New York.
Felton may be the starting point guard, but Jason Kidd's impact cannot be overstated.
With his heady play at both ends of the floor, Kidd has made everyone around him better, expertly finding holes in the defense and holding his own against scorers nearly half his age.
The Knicks need a spark on offense, and Kidd delivered an efficient 23 points to go along with eight assists and six rebounds. Late in the game, with the score tied at 97, he broke up a pass to a wide open Marcin Gortat, then found J.R. Smith with a perfect inbound pass to set up the buzzer beater.
Even in the twilight of his career, Kidd is still the smartest man on the court in just about every situation. His intelligence puts the rest of the Knicks in positions to play to the best of their abilities. It's been years since New York had a player this brilliant.
The athletic Smith has emerged as a dangerous weapon this season.
Of course, Kidd's pass in the Suns game would have been for naught if not for the incredible athlete receiving it.
J.R. Smith has stepped up as the second scoring option the Knicks desperately needed.
Carmelo Anthony is obviously the primary scorer, but with Amar'e out and Felton struggling mightily, New York had no one else to shoulder the load on offense. Luckily, the Knicks are getting a career-high 15.7 points per game out of their sixth man, and Smith has the explosiveness to score much more.
Let's look again at that Phoenix game. Now the go-to option without Melo, Smith shot a mediocre 11-of-27 from the field, but it's impressive that he put up 27 points when he was the only Knick on the floor who could create his own shot.
Smith isn't just an athletic freak; he's also of the best in the league at making bad shots. Perhaps that's why he takes so many ill-advised attempts, but in a pressure situation, it's great to know that Smith can knock down prayers like his game-winning and game-tying buckets.
In the past, Smith shown flashes of greatness while mostly being a headache. This year, he's at his most effective on offense and his most inspired on defense, and the Knicks are thankful for it.
Copeland has been a nice surprise off the bench this season.
Back in the preseason, it wasn't certain Chris Copeland would even make the team.
No one knew what the Knicks had at that point; all they saw was a small forward who was undrafted out of Colorado and who went on to play six years in Europe. When he finally made it to New York, he was a 28-year-old rookie, offering little to get excited about.
Then Copeland started scoring, exploding for 34 points in 37 minutes against the Celtics in preseason play. When he finally got some run in a game that counted, he dropped 29 in 28 minutes in a loss to the Rockets.
Suddenly, the Knicks have a backup small forward who can replace some of Anthony's scoring. Sure, he's a sieve defensively, but he can produce at the offensive end to make up for it.
As talented and as flawed as Copeland is, at least he finally has carved out a niche in the NBA.
Two Knicks elder statesmen, circa 2000.
This photo of Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas was taken on Mar. 29, 2000, during their first stints with the Knicks. It is also evidence of why New York's deep frontcourt is so vital.
After last season, the Knicks made moves to bolster their post play, bringing back Camby and Thomas and luring Rasheed Wallace out of retirement.
These are all physical, veteran defenders who bring decades of experience to the Knicks locker room. Here's the thing, though: they are a combined 118-years old.
Considering Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire have both missed significant time in the past (and Amar'e is missing significant time in the present), it's essential that Woodson have a surplus of post players at his disposal.
In addition to the Anthony, Felton and Stoudemire injuries, Wallace is currently out with a stress reaction in his left foot. That's the way of the world for an aged team like the Knicks. But with Chandler, Camby and Thomas still around, the team gets by just fine.
Chandler's defense has been even more vital this season.
Even with defenders like Kidd and Ronnie Brewer in town, Tyson Chandler's presence has been more important than ever this season.
Last year, Chandler was the anchor of a defense that allowed just 98.4 points per 100 possessions, good for fifth in the NBA. That figure has risen to 102.3 per 100 this season, and New York has dropped to 15th in defensive efficiency.
Though the Knicks have improved in defending the perimeter this season, they've been highly susceptible to dribble penetration. When opposing guards get into the lane, Chandler has been the only answer New York has.
It's no surprise that the reigning Defensive Player of the Year has been a defensive force this season. With the Knicks' penetration issues this season, however, Chandler has become even more valuable.
Woodson has been a beautiful orchestrator for this Knicks team.
All of the Knicks' success comes back to Mike Woodson.
Even though his vaunted defense has not totally materialized this season, he has displayed flexibility to adjust. Suddenly, a hard-nosed, defense-first coach is orchestrating a fluid, active offense that ranks third in the league with 109.2 points per 100 possessions.
When so many bit players make significant impact, the coach has to get credit. J.R. Smith is playing the best, most complete basketball of his career. Rasheed Wallace was an active and enthusiastic participant at both ends of the floor before he got hurt. Chris Copeland went from European journeyman to productive NBA bench scorer.
We've gotten used to it by now, but the Knicks' start is one of the biggest surprises of the NBA season. To manage a team like this, you need to be a steadying influence who can react on the fly. New York couldn't ask for much better than Woodson in that regard.