For the New York Knicks, the 2010-11 NBA season has been a rather up-and-down campaign.
Initially, after a rather successful offseason highlighted by the signings of Amar'e Stoudmire and Raymond Felton, expectations were very high.
However, the team stumbled out of the gate, earning a dismal 3-8 record through their first 11 games.
Nevertheless, New York managed to right the ship, proceeding to torch their opponents throughout the course of a 13-1 run, which set their record at 16-9.
But then their schedule began to toughen up, as they were soon to face Eastern Conference powerhouses like the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat and Orlando Magic, followed by a matchup against the league-leading San Antonio Spurs and a Western Conference road trip which included a game at the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.
And while they lost to many of their more-highly-touted opponents, the Knicks still managed to go 6-6 during this stretch, putting their record at 22-15.
Yet with their January 19 loss to the Houston Rockets, New York is currently in the doldrums of a four-game losing streak, with a record of 22-19 at the halfway point of the 2010-11 season.
And with upcoming matchups against playoff teams like the Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Heat, Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks over the next two weeks, the Knicks' schedule doesn't look to get much easier.
Still though, the franchise is currently sitting in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, and it is a full five games above the next team.
So despite their less-than-desirable play of late, there's still hope for the Knicks.
However, in order to grade New York's midseason performance and project how they will perform for the remainder of the season, we must take a close look at their play thus far.
Consequently, the following three slides will describe what the Knicks have done well, what they have done poorly and a midseason grade and projection for the remainder of 2010-11.
At this point, no one can deny that the New York Knicks can score with the best of them, since they are currently putting up 107.1 points per game, good for second in the league.
Nevertheless, some detractors have claimed New York's high scoring total is solely due to head coach Mike D'Antoni's fast-paced offense.
However, that appears not to be the case, as the team is within the top-12 in field goal percentage and three-point percentage, while also ranking sixth in the league in offensive efficiency.
And the Knicks' efficiency on offense is due in large part to their two crucial offseason signings—Amar'e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton.
Stoudemire's play thus far has been so impressive that it even has him currently in the running for the NBA's MVP award.
He's scoring 26.4 points per contest, putting him at second in the league behind Kevin Durant, while shooting over 50 percent from the field.
Furthermore, the 28-year-old power forward has shown a diverse offensive arsenal, with an ability to knock down mid-range jumpers, attack the rim off the dribble, score in the post like a traditional big man and even occasionally even knock down a three.
Moreover, Stoudemire has become an effective go-to guy for the team, creating on his own whenever the Knicks desperately need a bucket.
And along with Felton, Amar'e has helped to create one of the most formidable pick-and-roll combinations in the league.
For his part, Felton has been dishing out 8.8 assists per game (sixth in the NBA), thereby demonstrating that he can be a top-tier point guard—an essential factor to the Knicks' offense which has been lacking for the past few years.
Additionally, by putting up an average of 17.6 points, the 26-year-old point guard has produced as an all-around player on offense, showing a solid three-point shot, a nice floater and fearlessness when slashing to the basket.
And while Felton and Stoudemire have likely been the two most important players to the team's offense, New York would would be much worse off if not for the contributions of a few others.
The most notable of these others is Wilson Chandler, who is having a career year.
In about 35 minutes per game, Chandler has averaged 17.4 points per game, contributing to the offense with his outside shooting and slashing ability—a rather imposing skill set for a 6'8", 225-pound forward.
Furthermore, his impressive play has caught the eye of Knicks' president Donnie Walsh, prompting him to declare that he will resign Chandler following the season.
Another player who New York will look to hang onto for a while is rookie shooting guard Landry Fields, the 39th pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.
The 6'7" 22 year old has contributed to the team in a number of ways, shooting nearly 52 percent from the field, grabbing rebounds at a rate only surpassed by Stoudemire and knocking down the three ball at a decent clip.
And the last part is particularly important, as the three pointer has become and essential component to the Knicks' offense.
Besides Felton, Chandler and Fields, others like Toney Douglas, Shawne Williams, Bill Walker and especially Danilo Gallinari have proficiently hit shots from beyond the arc, opening up the inside for Stoudemire and ocassionally Chandler, and powering this highly efficient offense.
And while New York's defense is often mocked, it is, without a doubt, much-improved since last season.
Behind the strides made by Amar'e and Chandler, along with the additions of Felton and Ronny Turiaf, the Knicks currently rank first overall in blocked shots (6.6 per game) and 10th in steals (7.6).
Furthermore, the team's defensive efficiency is a full 3.1 points better than in it was in 2009-10.
However, just because their D has improved, it does not mean that it is a strength.
Despite significantly improving their play on defense, the New York Knicks are still one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA.
They are giving up a whopping 106.6 points per game to opposing teams—third-worst in the league—while allowing them to shoot a solid 46.6 percent from the field, which is among the league's 10 worst.
Furthermore, New York's gaudy blocks and steals per-game averages are beefed up by their tempo of play, illustrated by their defensive efficiency being in the bottom 10 in the NBA.
Moreover, the most glaring weakness of the team is undoubtedly their interior defense, as the Knicks have allowed 48 points-in-the-paint per game, the second-highest total in the NBA.
Opposing big men have made a habit of having career games against New York, highlighted by Blake Griffin's 44 point, 15 rebound, seven assist dunkfest and Kevin Love's historical 31 point, 31 rebound outing.
And, barring a trade, this will not look to change, as the team does not use a true center in its rotation, instead often going with small lineups and relying on forwards to guard traditional post players.
However, defense has not been the Knicks' only weakness.
The team's streaky nature is certainly another problem, especially since the Knicks have only really experienced one hot streak and are currently in the midst of a slump.
Furthermore, it seems likely that the biggest reasons for New York's inconsistency problems have been its extreme reliance on three-point shooting and lack of depth.
At the midway point, the Knicks have hoisted up the second-highest number of three-pointers in the league.
And while this can work in their favor, seeing as though the Knicks can reasonably beat anyone when their deep shots are falling, a reliance on treys can be a fatal flaw.
In their 22 wins, the Knicks are hitting 42.7 percent from three, but in their 19 losses that number drops off drastically, as they are only making a pathetic 31.5 percent.
So given that shooters are bound to go through some cold stretches, the Knicks will continue to be inconsistent as long as they continue to jack up so many threes.
But how can they fix this problem, since their reliance on threes is largely tied to the personnel?
Well, there is only really one answer—they need to make a trade, dealing a shooter or bench player for a player with a versatile offense.
A trade would also help New York solve their other big problem: their lack of depth.
In 2010-11 Raymond Felton is in the top 10 in minutes per game, Amar'e Stoudemire is in the top 20 and Wilson Chandler is in the top 40.
And when players routinely play that much, they wear down, their level of play diminishes and they become more susceptible to injury—all things that the Knicks definitely cannot afford.
Consequently, New York should seek to trade players who have not managed to crack the rotation, but still have value—such as Anthony Randolph or Eddy Curry—in return for someone who could actually contribute to the team.
The 2010-11 New York Knicks are definitely a better team than they were during the past few seasons.
They have even shown flashes of brilliance this season, with their 13-1 run and victories over top-tier teams.
However, as well as they have played at times, they have performed just as badly at others, and consequently, their inconsistency has made it hard to be too impressed by what they have accomplished thus far.
Nevertheless, the team has managed to maintain a winning record and they appear to be holding tightly to a playoff spot.
So, while there is certainly a ton of room for improvement, I think the Knicks have earned themselves a respectable B.
Now as for the team's 2010-11 projection, the outlook is rather cloudy.
With the New Jersey Nets recently dropping out of the running for Carmelo Anthony, it looks like the Knicks have become the favorites to acquire his services.
So if they do trade for Melo, and give up a reasonable package containing something like Eddy Curry, Anthony Randolph (probably traded for a first round draft pick), and a combination of two of either Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari or Landry Fields, the Knicks would definitely improve for the long run (although their depth would suffer).
And even if they don't trade for Anthony, Donnie Walsh will likely make some other move, as it certainly seems like he intends to unload Curry and Randolph.
Therefore, by the end of 2010-11, the current New York team will probably not be intact.
Consequently, I'll make two projections for the rest of the Knicks' 2010-11 campaign—one for a team with Melo and another without him.
I expect that a Melo-led Knicks team would be able to finish just shy of 50 wins, so let's say a record of 48-34, which would mean that they would have to go 25-16 for the remainder of the season.
In doing so, they would probably hold onto the sixth playoff spot, bringing on a series with either the Orlando Magic, Atlanta Hawks or Chicago Bulls.
Now how they do depends heavily upon who they match up against, as I think the Magic would be too much inside, while the Knicks could take down the Hawks or Bulls.
Regardless, I think that the best-case scenario would be a second-round loss, followed by an offseason to become better acquainted with how best to play with one another, and resulting in a team which would seriously contend in 2011-12.
Now a Knicks team without Anthony would likely finish around 45-37, with a second-half record of 23-18, one game better than their first half.
Therefore, the team would also earn a sixth seed. However, they would look to have trouble against most other team which they would face, spelling a first-round exit.
Still though, either one of these outcomes could be viewed as a success for the New York Knicks, since they would be experiencing their first playoff berth since 2003-04 and their first winning season since 2000-01.