So the first official post of the return of TWG is about the New York…..Knicks?
That’s right people, for the first time in almost a decade, this team has given us something to be excited about. An 8 game win streak? Winning 13 of 14 games? Being road warriors? These are not phrases which have recently been assosciated with our basketball team. Last night’s win has restored some of the momentum which had been lost with 3-straight losses, as beating at talented West team like the Thunder (however tired they were) was not likely in year’s past. The litmus test will come on Christmas day, when the Knicks face the revamped Chicago Bulls in a marquee matchup. Yes, its not Lakers-Heat, but fans can still remember how much NY-CHI games used to mean.
So what has changed? Obviously, the addition of Amar’e Stoudamire is the biggest reason for this turnaround. 26.4 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 2.1 bpg, while shooting 52% from the field and nearly 80% from the line. There were those who claimed “Stat” was a star being paid like a superstar, but his performance thus far flies in the face of those accusations. He’s not just putting up numbers, he is dominating games. Look at the difference between him and David Lee, who could be considered the Knicks best player in previous years. Lee had about 11 rpg at his peak, but averaged only 20 points a game at his peak. A 30 point game was rarified air for Lee, while Stoudamire just broke a Knicks record for consecutive 30 point games, with a few 39 point games for good measure.
Lee excited fans with 27 point-20 rebound games, but they often came when he was working harder than everyone else, and sometimes in a loss. When Stoudamire is dominating a game, it frequently accompanies a win. He has a jumpshot which I must admit I didn’t know was as accurate as it is. If you give him room, he will nail the 15-18 footer. If you play up on him, he can drive the lane. Collapse on him, and he will find a shooter. Leave his man one-on-one and often its look out below. Stoudamire can finish with the best of them, either with soft touch or rim-rocking slams. I was struggling to describe what its like having someone like him on the team, but its really like a super-sized version of that 8th grader who is better than everyone else. When Stat has it going, he becomes a force of nature. He’s second only to Kevin Durant in scoring league-wide. Its not like having a guard or forward get his jumper working from all angles. He attacks the rim, but also has the touch to pull up and shoot, or drop a floater over a bulkier center.
So while Stoudamire has been paying dividends, he certainly owes some of his success to the supporting cast around him. You can stick one stud with a crap team and he won’t do much but go for his own numbers. The Knicks are certainly not a crap team, and one of the main reasons for them functioning as cohesively as they have been is the addition of Raymond Felton.
I was briefly horror-stricken when I saw a rumor online that the Knicks were considering bringing back Chris Duhon. I have no personal beef with Duhon, but he was definitively not a good point guard. Ray Felton is a good point guard.
In his 6th year, Felton is looking like the #5 pick he was in the 2005 draft. When he came out from North Carolina, Felton looked like a potential star, and a hometown favorite while playing with the Bobcats. With averages of approximately 13 ppg, and 6 apg, he seemed to be a solid, serviceable NBA PG. Fast forward to this season…Felton is averaging 18.2 ppr, 9.1 apg, and nearly 2 spg. I contend that this team really found its stride when Felton began truly running the show. He found confidence in his shot, and his 18 ppg average contains huge games of 26, 28 and 35 points. He is getting all of his teammates involved, and will often have a 13-15 assist game to go along with his scoring. Superstars Rondo, Nash, Paul and Deron Williams are the only PG with more assists per game. Hes also 4th in scoring among PG. Pretty exclusive company, no?
Felton is also fortunate to be running point with a guy like Stoudamire, and for a coach like D’Antoni. The Bobcats had played more of a half-court system, with scorers who worked off the dribble. Felton is now unleashed, and he is responsible for getting his team running and gunning. More on the system later, but suffice it to say that Felton’s new coach may be much more suited to him than Larry Brown (who coincidentally just steped down after the Bobcats struggled out of the gate).
So there have been obvious upgrades at two key positions, but it takes more than that to make a team. So who else is getting it done?
Wilson Chandler– 17.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.62 bpg. Chandler was coming off the bench to start games, but is now firmly planted in the starting SF spot. Its easy to forget that Chandler is only 23 and only in his third pro year. He seems to finally be coming into his own, and frequently switches with Felton as the team’s second leading scorer in any given game. His three-point shooting has improved, and when that shot is falling he becomes an extremely dangerous weapon for the team. As a third option, Chandler seems to be an emerging star.
Landry Fields– You can mark me down as pleased but skeptical on Fields. Much has been made of this rookie out of Stanford, and his 7 rpg and occasional flashes (21 and 17, 16 and 11) have raised some eyebrows among those who didnt think much of this 2nd round draftee. I still believe he is playing these minutes for his hustle, and to raise his trade stock for a potential Carmelo deal. Still, for someone who almost nothing was expected of, Fields has been a nice surprise.
Danillo Gallinari– Ahh, the enigma. Still just 22, Gallo could be placed in the same category as Chandler. He is extremely talented, but also extremely raw. He can go 3-14 from the field, 1-10 from 3-point range and give you just 7 points, as he did in a recent loss to Cleveland. Or, he can explode for 31 points, go 4-6 from three and 13-13 from the line, as he did in a big win against the Clippers. Gallo may also be trade bait for Carmello, but the flashes of brilliance from a 22 year old 6’10” guard makes me want to keep him if possible.
Ronny Turiaf – Sometimes you can’t measure the contributions of a player in terms of numbers. Turiaf is muscle, toughness, shot blocking, NCAA tournament level bench cheerleading. He has been injured, but his presence as the only true size backup (not yet Timofey Mozgov) is immeasurable. Turiaf seems to be this team’s heart, and I think he will continue to be valuable.
The rest of the team has been OK, serviceable, decent. Toney Douglas is improving, but still needs work. Shawne Williams has shown promise, but needs to knock off rust. Bill Walker is more like the old Knicks teams, individual talent which may or may not show up. The aforementioned Mozgov is a project, and a kid, and will need much more experience.
So, 1200 words on the Knicks. Welcome back indeed.