As a team, the New York Knicks are full of surprises this season—bad ones mostly. Just take a look at the standings.
The Knicks weren’t expected to win it all necessarily, but they also weren’t expected to be one of the worst teams in the NBA out of the gate. It is ugly, and it might get uglier.
If you look closely, however—really, really closely—you’ll reveal a few early-season bright spots—some nice surprises hiding away on the roster, behind New York’s awful start.
Some things, though, never change.
Not So Surprising
J.R. Smith returned from offseason surgery and hasn’t missed a beat. He’s still getting suspended (having gone afoul of the NBA’s drug policy) and fined ($25,000 for “hostile” tweets directed at Brandon Jennings), and his poor shooting (an abominable 22.6 percent) has picked right up where it left off in the postseason.
Actually, he’s worse and went 3-of-18 (16.6 percent) in that embarrassing 20-point home loss to the Atlanta Hawks, so he isn’t exactly on the upswing, either.
Carmelo Anthony is doing it all, carrying the team on his back. He’s off his scoring-leader pace of last season but still popping 25.8 points a game and averaging 8.9 boards—the most in his career.
Anthony has been picking up the slack on the glass from game one, not just since Tyson Chandler went down. As usual, his shooting is on-off from game to game, rounding out to a low- to mid-40 percent accuracy overall.
We’re also seeing him call those pre/postgame team meetings—the continued development of his leadership that began in earnest last season. There’s only so much he can do with this roster, unfortunately.
It’s not surprising that Amar’e Stoudemire’s contributions have been minimal, but this may be more a result of his minutes and limitations than physical conditioning.
At first it didn’t seem that way. Stoudemire looked like he could only muster the Statue of Liberty play through his first few games, but he’s looked more mobile as the season has moved on.
Stoudemire has complained that his time and game restrictions are impacting his performance. He’s probably right, but the fact is, Stoudemire will not be a big contributor this year, as expected.
A Bit Surprising
You knew the Knicks were in trouble when it was announced that Chandler would be out a month or more—but this bad?
The Knicks would be better off if they just threw him in there with the broken leg.
What is (was) mildly surprising about Chandler was his instant return to form (whew) after an injury-plagued second half and poor postseason that left fans wondering if their big man was on the decline.
Nineteen rebounds against the Chicago Bulls later, the answer is nope. Chandler was off to a raging start, averaging the most assists, steals and blocks of his career on top of that.
That promised extra offense?
Tyson Chandler said he's worked on his mid-range jumper & jump hook extensively this summer. "I definitely want to get involved," he said.— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) September 30, 2013
Not there yet. No surprise there, but it would be nice to have come January.
Metta World Peace
Accounting for minutes (per 36 stats), Metta World Peace is having his best scoring season in five years, his most accurate from the floor in six and his most accurate from two-point range in nine.
World Peace has been effective, but quietly so. You wouldn’t know it, unless you scoped the numbers—any impact he’s had has been nullified by the Knicks’ overall play and losing record.
And he, himself, has been rather quiet.
His defense is off and his play unbalanced. There have been no key plays on his part, and his inflamed passions have been remarkably subdued. The Knicks could use some of that now, but it looks like a sore knee will delay any on-court and team-inspiring eruptions.
Finally, the real surprise players of the early season. There are three—two good and one bad.
When the Knicks acquired Andrea Bargnani, it was an educated gamble. The first pick of the 2006 draft (Toronto Raptors) out of the Euroleague, Bargnani came in second in the 2006-07 Rookie of the Year voting behind Brandon Roy.
He fits the prototypical European big-man shooter: high accuracy for his position from the perimeter and even beyond. The Knicks essentially traded away a defensive slot (Marcus Camby) and three-point specialist (Steve Novak) for an everyday, higher-scoring offensive player.
Bargnani’s utmost potential was flashed in 2010-11 when he finished with 21.4 points per game. He’s averaged 15 over his career, and looks fully capable of somewhere around 17-18 points, but has been hobbled for three seasons with various (wrist, elbow) injuries.
Defense, though, forget it.
The good news is, Bargnani is legitimately a contender for the Comeback Player of the Year—if he can stay healthy.
There’s still not much D (though a slight, forced improvement), but Bargnani’s actually made up for it on the offensive boards, at least giving the Knicks some extra chances to score.
He’s coming around now. After scoring 6, 9, 14 and 6 in his first four games, Bargnani busted out with 25 against the Charlotte Bobcats and followed that up with 16, 20, 24 and 16 in his next four games.
This is what the Knicks were aiming for when they acquired Bargnani. He is shaping up to be a very pleasant offensive surprise—if he keeps it up.
Tim Hardaway Jr.
Who thought Tim Hardaway Jr. was going to contribute so soon? He was the 24th pick in the draft and was out for practically all of the Summer League after hurting his wrist in the third game.
Hardaway has contributed straight from game one of the regular season, though, called in for extra minutes at shooting guard with Smith out on suspension—and he’s pretty good.
Hardaway immediately looks like he can handle the pros, wearing the NBA like a comfortable suit right from the start. The kid’s got poise. And he’s only turned the ball over five times.
He’s played in all nine games and is averaging about eight points on (ok) 41 percent shooting—but 50 percent from two. After chucking it from three in the first four games, he’s settled down to go 7-of-13 from behind the arc.
Hardaway is no Iman Shumpert-like defender and is one-dimensional this early on in his career, but the Knicks could definitely use the minutes (18.0 MPG), accuracy and long-distance game he brings to the court.
The jury’s still out if he’s a long-timer and can rival the Shumpert draft find or get anywhere near (or past) his dad’s record. For now, the Knicks have to be pleased with Junior on his own.
Iman Shumpert had offseason surgery. Surprise!
He’s started off on a down season, too, and is copping attitude to boot.
Now the Knicks are looking to ship him out of town before he looks any worse.
Shumpert has regressed on offense, a bit on defense and, it seems, care. The once future key or X-factor on the Knicks, or at least big (only?) trade chip, is sporting a little tarnish, as portrayed by the New York Post’s Marc Berman and John DeMarzo:
The Knicks are shopping Shumpert to see whether they can alleviate a shooting-guard glut and add frontcourt help. They are concerned more about Shumpert’s attitude at this point than his knee…he has fallen out of favor with Woodson. [He] has put up decent overall numbers, but isn’t scoring enough…averaging 8.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.4 steals per game.
Teams have balked at the idea of picking up Shumpert, a player Knicks fans were once loathe to trade. The Denver Nuggets declined to give up Kenneth Faried for Shumpert, and the Rajon Rondo rumors are laughable.
After his breakout postseason in 2012-13 and his apparent full recovery from an ACL tear, what a surprise it will be if Shumpert doesn’t finish 2013-14 in New York.