The New York Knicks may have suffered a slow start to the 2013-14 season, but there are still some positives to take from their early slate of games.
It's important to remember that they have plenty of time to turn things around. These pleasant surprises could end up contributing significantly to a return to form later on.
The big issue for the Knicks so far has been that key players—who have to perform in order for them to succeed—haven't shown up. Carmelo Anthony's shot has been off, J.R. Smith has been suspended, Raymond Felton is struggling to run the offense, and Amar'e Stoudemire just looks like a shell of himself.
With all that said, if these players can elevate their games, the following early surprises could have a much bigger impact on the season.
Tyson Chandler Was Looking Pretty Good Before His Injury
This will come as little consolation for Knicks fans, but Tyson Chandler was actually looking set for a comeback season before his injury. While it'll be four to six weeks before his campaign resumes, his play early on was a sign that he can give the team a big boost when he returns.
After Roy Hibbert showed him up in the playoffs—which followed a relatively subpar regular season for his standards—many thought Chandler was starting to decline.
His response was to come out of the gates all guns blazing. He averaged nine rebounds and 2.5 blocks to anchor a surprisingly good defense for the first four games. Offense still isn't a strong point, but he also displayed the occasional jump shot early on.
New York will miss him dearly while he's out, but if the team can play at around .500 until he returns, the situation won't look so bad. His return will improve the defense and give the offense another option in the pick-and-roll instead of relying primarily on jump shooters.
Andrea Bargnani Is Showing Signs of Life
After a horrible start to his Knicks career, Andrea Bargnani exploded for 25 points, eight rebounds and five blocks against the Charlotte Bobcats in a game that should boost his confidence.
The first few games of the season were not kind to him, as he started to hear boos at the Garden after averaging just 8.8 points through his first four games. After his big night, however, his numbers suddenly look a lot better, as he's now averaging 12.7 points on a career-high 47 percent shooting. That includes 35 percent shooting from downtown, his highest mark since the 2009-10 season.
Now that he's shown the Knicks what he can do, the key for Bargnani is to remain aggressive and confident. He has plenty of talent, but he'll need to make the most of it to survive in New York. That means attacking the rim when matched up with slower players and not being afraid to shoot when he has a good look.
Anthony enjoys playing with Bargnani, and if he's going to get out of this slump, he'll need the Italian to continue spacing the floor for him and taking the pressure off him on the offensive end. More importantly, though, both players will have to contribute a lot more on the defensive end with Chandler out.
Against the Bobcats, who admittedly were without Al Jefferson, Bargnani looked solid defensively. He blocked shots, fought for boards and played like a 7-footer. Still, it was the only game this season where he recorded a block and more than three rebounds, which is a sign that he isn't putting in enough effort to be at his best on a nightly basis.
Bargnani can be an effective role player in the NBA. We saw it early in his career with the Toronto Raptors, and we've started to see signs of it with the Knicks. But it's not going to happen if he doesn't bring it every night.
Metta World Peace Has Still Got It
While it's not necessarily surprising to see a player like Metta World Peace contributing off the bench, some critics thought he might be too old to help New York at this stage in his career.
What we've seen so far is that he's kept himself in great condition at age 33, which has allowed him to play tough, physical basketball on both ends of the floor.
Through six games, he is averaging 11.5 points and 1.7 steals off the bench, but more importantly, he has raised his field-goal percentage both inside and out. He's shooting 46 percent from the floor and 38 percent from outside, which are his highest since his days as a Houston Rocket.
In a season where New York has struggled primarily with effort and shot selection, World Peace has been one of their standout players. He has never shown signs of giving up on any game and is one of the few players who seem even remotely passionate about basketball.
It's not surprising when you consider that he is the only healthy player on the team with a ring, but if his mindset can start to rub off on the rest of the team, it won't be too difficult to turn the season around.
World Peace needs to step up as a leader for that to happen. He has to focus on being vocal in the locker room and taking control of games when no one else will.