6 Biggest Takeaways from NY Knicks' 1st Half of the Season
For the New York Knicks, the first half of the season has been surprising, erratic and ultimately disheartening as a follow-up to their 54-win campaign just a year ago.
Matching their success from last season is all but mathematically impossible at this point, which let's you know just how bad the first half has gone in New York.
All hope is not lost to save the season—at least in terms of making the playoffs—but the Knicks will have to act quickly and learn from their mistakes if anything positive is to come from the second half.
Let's take a look at the six biggest takeaways from the Knicks' first-half schedule.
Melo Is Still Playing at an Elite Level
It's easy to dismiss Carmelo Anthony as an elite player on the strength of his team's woeful record, but that would be a mistake. In reality, he's playing some of the best basketball of his career, and it's a huge shame that it's going to waste.
His highlight performance was his 62-point night against the Charlotte Bobcats, but don't make the mistake of thinking that's the only stretch of quality basketball he's played this season. He's been scoring above his career average all season, shooting 45 percent from the floor and a career-high 42 percent from downtown.
As much as we like to criticize other areas of his game, he's having the best rebounding season of his career and has been a willing passer, even if the assist numbers don't bear that out. When playing at power forward, he's also impressed with his physicality on the defensive end.
He plays 39 minutes per night, so there is a major concern that Knicks will burn him out if they don't provide help for him soon. He can't do it all on his own, and if he's forced to try and dig this team out of this hole by himself in the second half, it's hard to see the season ending well.
The Veterans Have Been Missed
The Knicks were right to try and get younger this season, considering the role that injuries played in their downfall in 2012-13, but the veteran leaders who were let go have been sorely missed.
It was easy to let go of Jason Kidd after his ice-cold playoff shooting performance, but his real contribution to the team was never in the scoring department. It was an added bonus that he was able to spread the floor; his importance stemmed from his leadership and passing.
New York has struggled to move the ball this season, and the main reason is not having experienced players to ensure the team sticks to the game plan when things break down instead of deferring to isolation as soon as things start to get tough.
It would also help if the youth movement had actually worked, but the injury situation has instead been just as bad as it was last season. Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni, Tyson Chandler, Andrea Bargnani, Amar'e Stoudemire, Metta World Peace and Kenyon Martin have all missed significant time, which has cancelled out any advantage that getting younger could have given the team.
Even if it was just as an assistant, keeping Kidd, Rasheed Wallace or Kurt Thomas could have been enough to keep the Knicks on track, but instead they're going to have to find a way to rally around each other.
An Upgrade Is Needed at Point Guard
Raymond Felton is a mediocre starting point guard and has been for the majority of his career, save the first half of the 2010-11 and 2012-13 seasons.
Unfortunately for the Knicks, point guard is their most important position on the court, and they can't afford to have inconsistency.
They thrived last year on Felton's penetration, but that's gone missing this year besides a couple of standout performances. Couple that with his terrible defense and worst shooting in six years, and you have yourself a recipe for disaster.
If you look at the Knicks in the Carmelo Anthony era, their high points have coincided with quality play at the point, and that's no coincidence. New York was at its best last year when Felton was playing at a high level, and in 2011-12, the season was only saved when Jeremy Lin came in and stole the show.
Finding an upgrade without giving up even more future draft picks is going to be near impossible, so it will be interesting to see how the Knicks deal with the situation. If nothing else, they need to put pressure on Felton and let him know his job isn't safe if he doesn't perform.
Tim Hardaway Jr. Was the Steal of the Draft
The 2013 draft class has so far turned out to be one of the worst in recent memory, but No. 24 pick Tim Hardaway Jr. has been one of the few bright spots.
Outside of Michael Carter-Williams, Victor Oladipo and former Michigan teammate Trey Burke, Hardaway Jr. has been the league's most impressive rookie this year, despite concerns that New York only drafted him because he was a familiar name.
He is averaging 16 points per 36 minutes and shooting 46 percent from the floor and 41 percent from downtown—impressive numbers for a rookie on a sub-par team.
Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how the Knicks handle the shooting guard rotation. They've been happy to give J.R. Smith the benefit of the doubt despite his struggles, but it won't be long before Hardaway Jr. forces himself into a featured role.
Mike Woodson Is a Significant Part of the Problem
Head coach Mike Woodson isn't entirely at fault for the Knicks' disastrous first half, but for him to avoid any of the blame is ridiculous.
While this is hardly the best roster in the NBA, this is the most talented team in the East outside of the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers and Brooklyn Nets, so there's no excuse for New York not to be in the playoffs in such a weak conference.
Having an owner like James Dolan and headaches like J.R. Smith can't be easy for Woodson, but his rotations and game plan (on both ends of the floor) continue to make little sense.
Smith is still playing more than 10 minutes per game more than Tim Hardaway Jr., and there's no excuse for that. Hardaway has been the better player, and it doesn't make sense to keep his minutes down just because he's a rookie, especially when he's displayed more maturity than Smith.
On top of that, instances of Carmelo Anthony at power forward had been rare until Andrea Bargnani's injury, despite a half-season of evidence that Bargnani wouldn't work by shooting a career low from downtown.
Defensively, for a man in Woodson who has built a career on that end of the floor, the Knicks' play has been unacceptable. They switch on just about every play (that's no exaggeration) and regularly miss rotations, among making other mental mistakes.
Despite Their Struggles, Knicks Remain Favourites to Re-Sign Melo
The first half of the season has been as bad as anyone could have predicted, but most signs still point to the Knicks retaining Carmelo Anthony when the offseason rolls around.
He will explore his options in the summer—he said as much back in October, per CBS Sports' Zach Harper—but the chances of him finding another big market that can legitimately offer him a better shot at a title are slim.
People continue to bring up the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls as potential landing spots, but either team would have to do a lot of work to convince Anthony to take less money when there's so much uncertainty surrounding Kobe Bryant and Derrick Rose, respectively.
New York is anything but perfect for Melo right now, but the one thing it can offer him is more money, something he went out of his way to get in 2011 by forcing a trade so that the Knicks could acquire his Bird rights.
This is all speculation of course, but there are also more tangible signs pointing to Melo sticking around. His wife La La recently said she "definitely" expects him to stay with the Knicks on Bravo TV's Watch What Happens Live (h/t Yahoo! Sports), and you'd be hard-pressed to find a better source than that.
Also worth noting is Anthony's deal with 50 Cent's SMS Audio—the New York rapper's headphone company. The pair will be releasing a set of sports headphones in the coming months, and it's a partnership that would make little sense if Melo wasn't a popular figure in New York culture.
There's still plenty of time for him to make his decision, and based on what we've seen so far, his focus right now is squarely on the court. If the Knicks can start to win some games and at least make the playoffs, they still have a solid shot at retaining Anthony at the end of the year.