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.

Can New York City Own All Four Championships in 2012?

Probably not, but they have a solid chance to own 75% of them.

No United States city has won a championship in all four major sports in even the same decade. Granted, this is a tough task because only 12 cities house all four major sports. Can you name them?

– Oakland in the 1970s – the Raiders, Athletics, and Warriors won championships but the Golden Seals did not.
– Los Angeles in the 1980s – the Raiders, Dodgers, and Lakers won championships but the Kings did not.
– New York in the 1990s – the Rangers, Yankees, and Giants won championships but the Knicks did not.
– Boston in the 2000s – the Patriots, Red Sox, and Celtics won championships but the Bruins did not.

Boston nearly owned all four championships in a 365 day period from 2007-08. The Red Sox won in October 2007 and the Celtics in June 2008, but the Patriots were denied a perfect season by the New York Giants and the Bruins lost in the first round of the 2008 playoffs. Boston did walk away with a hockey championship in ’08 however – Boston College won the National Championship.

The New York Giants won 2012’s Super Bowl after dropping to 7-7 following a horrid loss to the Washington Redskins. Las Vegas odds said the Giants were 100:1 to win the Super Bowl after that loss according to my father. The Knicks are currently 25:1, but more on them later.

The Yankees always have a chance – just like Boston, Philly, or any team coached by Mike Scioscia, I’ll put the Yankees’ odds at 8:1. I strongly believe the Yankees will be one of the final eight playoff teams, so from there it’s anybody’s call.

Let’s say the Yankees stay healthy, click, and get a little bit of luck. They certainly can win the World Series.

The New York Rangers shocked the hockey world this season and established themselves as the best team in the east, arguably in the NHL. Vegas odds has them at 11:2.

8:1 x 11:2 = 44:1 odds (2.3%) New York owns at least three championships in 2012, which includes the Super Bowl Champion Giants.

The Knicks have been New York’s weakest link for the last ten years, but this year they almost have a chance to win it all. Unlike football, basketball is a seven game series and is arguably the most predictable of the four major sports. For the record, I don’t see them beating Chicago or Miami, but remember – the eighth seeded Knicks beat the first-seeded Heat in the first round in 1999. Advantage ’99 Knicks though because they beat the Heat in a then-best of five series.

Passing and playing aggressive defense has given me this slim glimmer of hope with a lot of luck the Knicks can go for a title. Mike Woodson coaches a winning system that emphasizes rebounding and defense rather than D’Antoni’s double shot of offense.

Carmelo Anthony needs to score and Amar’e Stoudemire needs to buy in to Mike Woodson’s system.

Carmelo vs. Durant in game six at The Garden? Nah probably not, but if the Rangers play like they have all year and the Yankees find a way to take home #28 in November, New York will breed a surplus of haters by the Mayan Apocalypse.

…the more the merrier.

Jeremy Lin is For Real – Because He’s Smart


Jeremy Lin
is the mortar to Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire’s bricks.

Look at Lin’s obese point total the last four games – 25, 28, 23, 38. He’s shooting 58% from the field, and the Knicks have won all four of those games.

However, his physical game doesn’t impress me as much as mental game. As his shot efficiency indicates, Jeremy Lin makes smart decisions. He plays defense, he takes the open shot, he finds the open teammate, he gets to the free throw line.

Compare those numbers to Carmelo Anthony’s his last four full games:

Points – 25, 26, 26, 11
FG% – 44%
Knicks win/loss – (2-2)

(Yes, those two losses came against Boston and Chicago, but Lin’s dominance against the Lakers allows the juxtaposition.)

In today’s sports world, teams buy this false notion:
The more star players, The more wins, The more Championships

Dear New York Yankees, New York Knicks, Miami Heat, & Philadelphia Eagles,
It doesn’t work like that.

Jeremy Lin is a special player. Midway through the fourth quarter yesterday, Lin hit a long two right in (I think) Pau Gasol’s face, then two possessions later hit an open three from the corner. The crowd was nuts.

The next play is a Jeremy Lin fast break. He goes up strong, and when everyone expects a hard foul and two Lin free throws, he hands it off to Billy Walker for the uncontested layup.

Without any proof, Carmelo Anthony, Toney Douglas, Iman Shumpert, Billy Walker, and almost everyone else on the Knicks (and league for that matter) would go up strong that next play – maybe get the And1, and get the crowd even MORE into it.

But that pass did it for me. It proved will always make the smart play, unaffected by outside forces. With Lin calling the shots, the team will stay focused and won’t get lost in the heat of the moment, which has been a huge hole in the Knicks game since they acquired Anthony.

Fans are obsessed with points, home runs, touchdowns… but not equally important aspects like assists, base hits, and blocking. Even if Lin doesn’t average twenty points per game this season (he won’t), his game translates into winning basketball. It seems to me Lin would be okay with averaging five points and eleven assists per game. Contrarily, point guards like Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury would not, and it’s why they never won an NBA Championship.

Jeremy Lin is not the most athletic player on the Knicks. He doesn’t have the best shot, he’s not the strongest, and he turns the ball over. But sports teams need to learn championships require the perfect mix drink of talent, not five shots of Tequila.

The Jason Kidds, the David Freases, the Derek Jeters. It’s the player that brings something different to the table and doesn’t look for attention. You can argue the Knicks are a better team without their two best players. Right now they are, but Carmelo and Stoudemire will make the Knicks better…

….so long as they play Jeremy Lin’s game.

It’s Time to Fire Mike D’Antoni – Here’s Why

The Knicks are playing .500 basketball since Carmelo Anthony came to the Knicks last February and .500 basketball since acquiring the most prized free agent, Tyson Chandler, this offseason.

That’s unacceptable. Here’s three reasons why the New York Knicks need a new head coach.

1) Defense Wins Championships

Of the last ten NBA champions, nine have finished in the top ten in defense during the regular season. Five have finished in the top three. Mike D’Antoni is notorious for his “All Offense, No Defense” coaching system. D’Antoni’s Suns lead the league in scoring from 2004-2007, but never made it further than the Western Conference Finals. While “the best defense is a good offense” is a popular aphorism, it doesn’t work in the NBA.

In the nine full seasons Mike D’Antoni has been a head coach, he has finished in the bottom three in defense six times. His teams have never allowed fewer than 102.8 points per game, yet no NBA champion since the 1995 Rockets has allowed more than 97.2 points per game.

2) Too much indecision

In a less objective argument, the Knicks have no fluidity right now. In their embarrassing loss two nights ago to (ironically) the Phoenix Suns, I saw a lot of stuttering instead of playing, watching instead of moving, and thinking instead of reacting. The Knicks are playing like they have too many superstars – a 60 minute game of roullete, “OK lets give it to Amar’e in the post, then Carmelo on the wing, then Amar’e for an elbow jumper…”

Before Carmelo came to the Knicks, there was more motion. The Knicks let the game come to them instead of trying to force the action. They need to get back to those fundamentals, and I think D’Antoni is too lost to do so.

3) Amar’e and Carmelo do not fit into the “seven seconds or less offense”

D’Antoni preaches shooting the ball – every shot is a good shot. It works when Steve Nash is your orchestrator, but not with the Knicks’ inexperienced backcourt. Telling Carmelo Anthony to shoot! shoot! shoot! is like letting a bull loose in a china shop. D’Antoni’s system fails to regulate Anthony’s shot selection – hence we see Carmelo pulling up for contested 18 foot jumpers instead of working off the ball for the better shot.

Carmelo is shooting 41% from the field this year, his worst output since his rookie season.

Comparably, Amar’e is best off the dribble or when he’s open for an elbow J. For either one of those things to happen, you need to let plays develop – you need to settle into the half court offense, which the Knicks rarely do.

Lastly, Amar’e’s knees will give out. I don’t know when, but he won’t be playing basketball at 35 (in 2019). Amar’e Stoudemire is a beast of a man, yet injury prone. He wears goggles every game because of a retina injury he suffered in Phoenix, his knees are weak and his lower back is a time bomb. In a system that requires constant running, a more relaxed offense would mean more minutes for Amar’e and more effective play from the Knicks’ superstars. In this condensed season, this point is magnified.

Hopefully the Knicks will be getting Baron Davis back soon. His experience at point guard and ability to shoot the three are just what the Knicks need, but I’m not convinced he’s the savior of the franchise. The Knicks will win more games with Baron Davis than without him, but they won’t be a better team – they’ll be a less worse team. As mentioned earlier, Mike D’Antoni does not have a winning system. Even if Baron Davis stays healthy (he won’t), the Knicks are destined at best for the four seed in the Eastern Conference, and if they’re lucky a second round exit.

Why not promote defensive specialist Mike Woodson to the head coaching position? Anthony and Stoudemire are elite on the offensive side – it’s their defense that needs work. If Woodson can round off their game on the defensive side, then you have a realistic chance to compete for an NBA title.