Heading into the 2010-11 NBA season, the New York Knicks team outlook was cloudy at best.
After bringing in Amar'e Stoudemire, failing to sign another marquee free agent, trading David Lee and basically retooling the majority of their roster, no one really knew what to expect from this club.
But now, after handily defeating the Toronto Raptors 116-99 on Sunday, December 5, the Knicks have finally completed the first quarter of their 2010-11 regular season.
With this last win, New York has won nine of its last 10 games, improving its record to 12-9—good for fifth best in the Eastern Conference and second in the Atlantic Division.
However, their standing is not as glamorous as it sounds, since, after all, they are only three games over .500, with 61 games remaining.
Furthermore, the Knicks have been extremely streaky thus far, as they have experienced both a six-game losing streak (including losses to some pretty awful teams) and their current 9-1 stretch.
Consequently, it's still difficult to predict what this team will be able do for the remainder of 2010-11.
Nevertheless, the following slides will describe what New York has done well, what they have done poorly, their first quarter grade and a projection for the remainder of the Knicks season.
First and foremost, the New York Knicks can put up points.
Currently, they are averaging 107.1 points per game—third only to the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers and the perennially high-scoring Phoenix Suns.
However, this was to be expected, as the New York offense has performed well (fourth in 2008-09, ninth in 2009-10) since head coach Mike D'Antoni took over two seasons ago.
Yet, although D'Antoni's past Knicks teams could score, they were often rather inefficient.
That has changed in 2010-11, as the Knicks are within the NBA's top five teams in free throw percentage (80.3), free throws made per game (22.1) and three pointers made per game (8.9), while they have also posted field goal percentage of 46.3 (11th in the NBA).
These substantial improvements can be primarily attributed to the Knicks' three successful offseason acquisitions.
Obviously, it all starts with the signing of Amar'e Stoudemire.
He has been huge for the Knicks thus far, leading the squad with averages of 24.9 points (on 52.2 percent shooting), 9.1 rebounds, 6.4 free throws made (at 76.7 percent) and 1.9 blocks.
Furthermore, Stoudemire has overcome his early season turnover woes, becoming an effective go-to guy for the team and creating on his own looks whenever the Knicks desperately need a bucket.
Stoudemire has also been instrumental to New York's success within the regular confines of the offense, as he is an outstanding finisher in pick-and-roll situations.
However, the success and efficiency of the Knicks' pick-and-roll offense can be equally attributed to the team's second most important newcomer, Raymond Felton.
Though 21 games, Felton is looking to have his best year ever, putting up career highs in nearly every statistical category.
He is averaging 18.1 points (47.1 percent shooting), 8.3 assists (team high), 4.0 rebounds, 2.0 steals (team high), 1.7 threes, shooting 89.9 percent from the line and, perhaps most importantly, providing the the Knicks with an all-around offensive threat from the lead guard position (as opposed to what they had with Chris Duhon).
But Felton, who many initially wrote off as only a temporary stop-gap at the point, still hasn't been New York's biggest surprise in 2010-11.
Instead, that honor goes to rookie Landry Fields, the No. 39 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.
Fields, who stepped in to fill the team's void at shooting guard, has surprised everyone by becoming one of the top producing rookies in the NBA and a solid contributor for the Knicks.
At this point in the season, he is scoring 10.8 points per game on 53.7 percent shooting and he's second on the team in rebounding at 7.4 per contest.
So with Stoudemire, Felton and Fields joining Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and Toney Douglas in the rotation, the offense can effectively put up points in any number of ways.
Stoudemire and Chandler can score as the roller in the pick and roll, while they can also create on their own against opposing big men by either attacking the basket or spotting up.
Felton and Douglas, on the other hand, can both serve as the facilitators of the offense, being able to slash, shoot and distribute the ball.
Furthermore, Chandler, Felton, Douglas, Fields, backups like Shawne Williams and Bill Walker, and especially Gallinari can knock down the three-ball at a reasonable clip, so the Knicks are often able to take advantage of any openings left in opposing defenses.
But when it comes to the Knicks' defense...
This was the season when the New York Knicks were finally supposed to step up their game defensively.
And sure, on paper it may appear that they have to some extent, since their team blocks per game is up to first in the league at 6.9, and their team steals per game is in the top-10 at 8.0.
The Knicks' points allowed per game is even down from the past couple of years, but giving up a whopping 105.7 points per, they are among the five-worst in the NBA.
This is largely due to the teams alarming lack of effectiveness in guarding opposing big men.
Quality bigs such as Blake Griffin (44 pts, 15 rbs, 7 asts) and Kevin Love (31pts, 31 rbs) experienced career nights against New York this year.
Additionally, over the past week and a half they gave up 22 points to Amir Johnson, 36 to Brook Lopez, 31 to Tayshaun Prince and 26 to Tyrus Thomas.
So clearly, bringing in Ronny Turiaf and Timofey Mozgov has not helped, and it's also evident that Amar'e Stoudemire is still not too interested in defense.
But the team's defensive woes have not been solely limited to the interior.
For instance, Rajon Rondo's 24-assist performance against the Knicks illustrated just how bad they can be as a whole.
Yet defense has not been the only thing the team has done poorly.
As mentioned earlier, New York's inconsistency has been alarming, and it is a problem which they must solve.
Nevertheless, the reason for this problem may stem from the squad's extreme reliance upon the three-point shot.
When their shots are falling, the Knicks can beat almost anyone.
However, when they are off, the Knicks are a lost cause.
For example, during the team's six-game skid, their primary deep shooter, Danilo Gallinari, shot a measly 8-35 (22.9 percent) from beyond the arc.
Since then, Galo has shot 24-54 (44.4 percent) from three, and the Knicks have gone 9-1.
Yet shooters are bound to have hot and cold stretches, so as long as the Knicks continue to attempt the most threes per game in the league (24.7), they can also expect their inconsistency to continue.
All things considered, it's hard to be too critical of what the New York Knicks have accomplished in the first quarter of the 2010-11 NBA season.
After all, they do have a winning record for a change, and consequently, they find themselves in the playoff picture.
So, at this point in the season, with all of their ups and downs, the Knicks have earned themselves a solid B+.
Now whether they can maintain, or even improve upon this grade remains to be seen.
However, taking into account New York's fantastic play of late, it's hard to imagine this team regressing to the form of their slow start.
In fact, one may even be justified in explaining away their early season struggles by claiming that the new-look team simply needed time to get acclimated with one another on the court.
But then again, who knows? It is the Knicks we're talking about.
Anyway, I expect them to continue the 2010-11 season with solid, but not spectacular play, grinding their way along to their first playoff birth since 2003-04 and their first winning season since 2000-01.
Let's say about 45 wins, a seventh seed in the playoffs, and a first-round exit.
Not great, but hey, it's a start.