Will the Knicks cohere?
With just six games left in the regular season, it’s time to look back on the NBA’s regular season. Among all the storylines that have come up in this shortened season, the New York Knicks’ journey stands out as one of the most tumultuous seasons in recent memory. From Tyson Chandler to Jeremy Lin to Mike Woodson, it certainly has been a rollercoaster ride. Yet, through all of this, the team is somehow still in position to make the playoffs.
What has made the Knicks so fun to follow over the last few seasons, and yet so difficult to root for, has been the constant roster turnover. That lack of a consistent roster throughout his tenure with the Knicks played a key role in the difficulties Coach Mike D’Antoni faced.
The Knicks followed the same pattern early on this season by signing center Tyson Chandler, much to the surprise of the basketball world. Many thought that the Knicks would attempt to sign either Chris Paul or Deron Williams during the 2012 offseason, but the Knicks decided to mix things up a year early. The much-less publicized roster move of picking up Jeremy Lin off of the waiver wire would prove to be just as huge of a change when Linsanity began on February 4. However, the changes were far from over—D’Antoni resigned on March 14.
Since then, Woodson has coached the Knicks to a 12-5 record through an extremely tough schedule that has included doubleheaders with the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers and a matchup with the Miami Heat. The only drawback to this turnaround (from 19-24 to 31-29) is that Jeremy Lin and Amar’e Stoudemire have both been injured for most of the games. Stoudemire is set to return against Boston on Tuesday, while Lin will only be able to return if the Knicks make the second round of the playoffs.
New York’s resurrection has been due in large part to the resurrection of Carmelo Anthony. Not only has the perennial headache been averaging 30 points over the last 11 games, but his shot selection has drastically changed. Caught in a 39-percent shooting slump, fans had watched Melo back away from his normally reliable jumper and drive almost every time he got the ball. As his two huge three-pointers against Chicago showed, Carmelo is longer afraid to shoot and is carrying his swagger of old.
However, the question on the minds of many observers has been whether this can continue when Stoudemire returns. In Stoudemire’s absence, Melo has been playing power forward (the former’s usual position) and exploiting the bulkier and slower defenders. While he certainly has demonstrated his capacity to succeed as a small forward throughout the last seven seasons, the recent change of positions, and subsequent success, is undeniable. However, Stoudemire has demonstrated a willingness to give up shots, and the two are more likely to mesh than not. The possible return of Lin can have nothing but a positive effect since Baron Davis’ sore back has been begging for relief.
The question is not whether or not the Knicks have enough talent; on paper, they have one of the best frontcourts in the league, an outstanding bench including J.R. Smith and Steve Novak, a superb defensive rookie guard in Iman Shumpert and plenty of skill at the point guard position. The question is whether this team can play as a team. Mike Woodson and Carmelo Anthony have certainly breathed new life into the Knicks with an obvious increase in defensive tenacity and overall effort, but can it continue? If it does when Stoudemire returns, the Knicks will be an extremely difficult out in the playoffs, regardless of who they play.