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Despite Flaws, NY Knicks Still More Lovable Than Last Season

Sara Peters@3FromThe7Featured ColumnistNovember 18, 2014

Even the Knicks players with a rep for being selfish are showing a team spirit.
Even the Knicks players with a rep for being selfish are showing a team spirit.Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Okay, so the record is 3-9, the scoring is low, the fouls are high, the third quarters are nightmarish and the perimeter defense is atrocious.

Nevertheless, this season's New York Knicks are easier for fans to love than last season's team, because the Knicks themselves seem to love, root for and believe in one another.

At practice on Nov. 11, Carmelo Anthony told reporters:

As long as we know inside these walls, inside our locker room and our team, that we believe that it's gonna turn around, that it's gonna take some time, we just gotta stay patient. 

The team spirit is alive. With occasional exceptions, the Knickerbockers have shown commitment to the new system and are averaging 353.5 passes per game, second only to the Utah Jazz.

Although you couldn't tell by the record, the Knicks also have fight in them. As sophomore point guard Tim Hardaway Jr. said during his postgame interview Nov. 10, per ESPNNewYork.com's Ian Begley: "We’re out there trying. It’s not like last year. This year, we’re actually out there trying to give it our all."

Hardaway apologized to Knicks fans for those remarks in a tweet the next day:

Apology accepted, Timmy, but entirely unnecessary.

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Hardaway is a good example of how players are thinking more about the name on the front of their jerseys than the ones on the back.

Hardaway did not play at all in the first half of Thursday's 97-95 loss to the Orlando Magic, but as head coach Derek Fisher told reporters: "Tim was up supporting his teammates the whole first half, kept himself ready. Even though he didn't knock down some shots, his energy still gave us a pop there after we got to a slow start in the third quarter, and helped us get back into this game."

Amar'e Stoudemire has been far more dominant at the rim this fall than last year.
Amar'e Stoudemire has been far more dominant at the rim this fall than last year.Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

The boys in blue and orange are playing unselfishly, as a team. As individuals, the Knicks are also taking away the ammunition of their biggest critics.

Amar'e Stoudemire's 10.7 points and 7.7 rebounds per game are quieting complaints about his gargantuan, uninsured contract. His powerful slams and smooth Olajuwan-esque rolls to the bucket are getting fans and teammates leaping out of their seats.

J.R. Smith is burying those nagging ball-hogging accusations by becoming a frequent, adept passer, leading the team with 3.7 assists per game. He hasn't even complained about coming off the bench. In his one start, filling in for the injured Iman Shumpert on Sunday, J.R. scored 28 points on the Denver Nuggets.

Iman Shumpert is sometimes smiling at referees' questionable calls instead of just pouting about them. Shump's also holding himself accountable. He took responsibility for allowing Deron Williams to run rampant during the Nov. 7 loss to the Brooklyn Nets. Per Begley:

"I'm gonna take this one. Deron Williams got to do whatever he wanted out there,' said Shumpert, who was matched up against the Nets point guard Friday.

"I got to get better with controlling the ball after him coming off the ball screen. I didn't do a good job of that tonight."

The young players are coming off the bench poised and ready to play. Undrafted rookie forward Travis Wear, the last man to make the roster, defended LeBron James like it was no big deal. Rookie forward Cleanthony Early gave the Knicks some life in the frustrating game against Brooklyn, scoring 12 points in 15 minutes.

Sophomore point guard Shane Larkin really stepped up when Jose Calderon went down.
Sophomore point guard Shane Larkin really stepped up when Jose Calderon went down.Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Then there's 22-year-old, 5'11" sophomore Shane Larkin, who has been the Knicks' starting point guard 10 of 11 games after only playing 52 games as a third-string point guard for the Dallas Mavericks last season.

Larkin gracefully stepped into Jose Calderon's shoes, confidently directing the team's triangle, keeping them honest and on task. He broke Derrick Rose's ankles, frustrated Kyrie Irving and corralled John Wall. Most importantly, he's caused me to exclaim "I love this kid!" at least once every game (and groan "please put Shane back in" more than once).

And when Larkin turned the ball over at a key moment in the Knicks' big comeback almost-win against the Detroit Pistons, Carmelo Anthony was immediately at his side, comforting him. Melo has been stepping into his leadership role this season, supporting his teammates with assists on and off the court.

New York fans also must love listening to straight-talking Phil "Action" Jackson defend the team (even when it isn't really necessary). Jackson took umbrage with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver's comments on Nov. 5, per Begley:

Silver jokingly said it 'clearly' looked as though the Knicks were 'still learning' the triangle after their loss to the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday [Nov. 5].

Jackson on Monday [Nov. 10] addressed the commissioner's comments.

'I wasn't so humored by the commissioner actually jumping in on top of that, too,' he said. 'He doesn't need to get in on that. ... I see growth in this team, and I'm optimistic,' Jackson said. 'It's not always the final score; it's sometimes how you play. I think we're playing the game much better and we're getting some activity that we like to see.'

A 3-9 record may challenge the affections of New York fans. Yet those whose love survived the lonely misery of last year's endless disappointments can feel the difference now.

The 2014-15 squad might end up breaking your heart too, but the tears will be bittersweet, not just plain bitter.

All stats are from NBA.com/stats and accurate as of 11/17/14. Follow Sara Peters on Twitter @3FromThe7.