Why the Knicks are Serious Title Contenders This Season

After a tough loss Monday, the Knicks played what I thought was their best game all season Wednesday against the Brooklyn Nets (box score). They made the extra pass, rotated with energy on defense, hustled, and conveyed to me they were not going to lose.

They committed seven turnovers, none in the third quarter.

Five superstars do not make winning basketball. You need a special concoction of pieces that flow together to make the tastiest mix drink. Assuming health, this 2012 Knicks team has all the ingredients:

The Star – Carmelo Anthony

With Carmelo, you always have a backup plan. If you’re out of sync, he can single-handedly bail you out. He leads the team offensively and will close out games in the fourth quarter.

The President – Jason Kidd

See my post that argues Jason Kidd is the most important player on the Knicks. Kidd’s veteran presence keeps the team in check and keeps Carmelo focused but grounded. He directs the offense and isn’t afraid to tell you when you’re doing something wrong.

The Enforcer – Tyson Chandler

A perennial leader in technical fouls, Chandler’s breadth, intimidation, and blue-collar play polish New York’s interior game. Chandler’s defense and size is the one clear-cut advantage over the Miami Heat, and unselfishness on the boards (slapping the ball out to the perimeter to reset the shot clock instead of trying to pad stats) keeps the Knicks in every game.

The Shooter – Steve Novak

Even when he’s off, he still spaces the floor for Carmelo & Co. Like my dog, you have to give last year’s three-point percentage leader perpetual attention. If you don’t, you’ll get a Wisconsinly cheesy Discount Double Check.

The Defenders/Dirty Workers – Ronnie Brewer, Iman Shumpert

Both have the potential to knock down shots, but their job is to defend, hustle, and rebound. Brewer doesn’t get the credit he should, and Shumpert’s great on-ball defense will both frustrate opponents and keep them out of rhythm.

The Sixth Man/Wild Card – J.R. Smith

He’s the Robin to Carmelo’s Batman. The first one off the bench, Smith keeps the fire burning with his unquestioned offensive ability. His biggest weakness has always been his intangibles (he did not attended practice when he played for China during the lockout last year), but this season evoked a new J.R., one that plays hard defense, hustles, and keeps his dribbling and shooting under control.

The Veteran Cast – Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas, Rasheed Wallace (and Jason Kidd)

While these guys can’t give you big minutes, their presence at practice and during the game is unquestioned. Their wisdom gives the Knicks a mental advantage over every other team in the league and will be the unsung heroes should the Knicks make a big playoff push.

Mike Woodson – Head Coach

The players respect Mike Woodson. I see the way they play defense for him compared to Mike D’Antoni. Woodson is relateable, smart, honest, experienced, and likeable, a succeeding mix in the eyes of New Yorkers.

Last year with D’Antoni as head coach, New York was second-to-last in turnovers with over 16 per game. With Woodson, this year they lead the league with their record-setting pace of 10.7 per.

The scary thing is the 19-6 Knicks are competing without two indelible pieces – Amar’e Stoudemire (to return within the week) and Iman Shumpert (January).

Iman Shumpert
Iman Shumpert

I’m more excited to get Shumpert back – a great defender who won’t complain if he isn’t shooting. Shumpert is a team player who adds charisma, character, and a beastly high fade to the Garden. His skills and role will cohesively complement New York’s abundance of shooting talent.

Stoudemire will play limited minutes and will undoubtedly make the Knicks a better team. This assumes he doesn’t retard the Knicks chemistry, potentially a serious problem. But with now Woodson as the Knicks head coach, I believe STAT will put his ego aside and concentrate on defense, rebounding, and his elbow jump shot.

The Knicks are playing team basketball. The players’ knows their role and it seems individual goals take a back seat to winning, refreshing for a franchise trying to end a decade of embarrassment.

With a bench stronger than nearly every team in the league (Clippers), this Knicks team feels like one with the “it” factor. If they can stay healthy and Amar’e understands his new role, that Heat-Knicks rivalry we saw in the 90s could make a comeback in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals.

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