The game of basketball is beautiful. It includes a mental test every time players step out onto the court. The game is so fast paced that players must always be thinking about their roles on the court and what to do: where the ball is, where the defender is, what do to off of a ball screen, and the list goes on forever. The biggest test in basketball is dealing with streaks; how does a player deal with a 12-0, a 16-2 run, or even a 3-14 run? Teams that are able to find their rhythm on the court for short two to three minute bursts are able to turn a six-point deficit into a seven-point lead and change the momentum and the story line for the rest of the game.
Such is the life of the 2011-2021 New York Knicks. As any Big Apple team, they came into the season with expectations from an over-zealous fan base and media hub. The additions of Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler over the last 20 months have rejuvenated a franchise that has seen their bad days over the last five seasons. There were high expectations, but the team faltered out of the gate. Through the team’s first quarter of the season, they had a 6-10 record and were in the midst of a 2-11 run. New York was disappointed, but their breath to see how the team would play for the remaining three quarters, hoping for a run to put them back on the map.
The run came, and the Knicks are back in the game. Much of the run was dependent on PG Jeremy Lin, a player who was endanger of being cut two weeks ago but is now part of the Rising Starts Game during All-Star Weekend. Lin has critics raving over his play and basketball enthusiasts cheering for him. His shot takes too long. He can’t cover the faster point guards in the league. He turns the ball over too much. He can’t play help defense. Sure, some of the criticism is valid. However, Lin is the perfect example of a player who found one thing he is much better at compared to everyone else, and he has been exploiting it: driving to the basket. Lin has the quick first step to get even with his defender to get level with his defender if not getting past him. With that advantage, he can finish with his superb body control and soft hands or dish to get easy buckets for his teammates. “Linsanity” can’t last forever, but New York has made its run. The question is where do the 17-18 Knicks go from here?
In terms of games played, New York reached its season’s midpoint after Monday’s game against the Nets. The Knicks headed into half time having overcome a horrendous stretch with an equally impressive run to effectively reach .500. The real test is yet to come. Once everyone is healthy, Coach Mike D’Antoni will start Lin, Landry Fields, Anthony, Stoudemire, and Chandler and have Iman Shumpert, Toney Douglass, the newly-signed J.R. Smith, and Jared Jeffries come off of the bench. Not a shabby team. Yet the big question remains: can they play together?
D’Antoni’s system fits guys like Lin, Douglass, Fields, Stoudemire, and Smith, players who thrive with the ball in their hands. But other players like Chandler and Shumpert are “defensive-first” players and can get lost in his system. And then there is Carmelo, who seems to dominate the court no matter what the system is. They have the parts of a championship team: a star player, an established secondary scorer, a young and exciting starter, a few defensive specialists at different positions, and volume players off of the bench. Looking at the big picture, there is not much of one: the Knicks are lacking an identity. An identity is so crucial for a championship run (lately, the 2008-2009 Denver Nuggets gained a defensive presence with Chauncey Billups, the post-2008 Boston Celtics with Kevin Garnett, and the 2010-2011 Dallas Mavericks with Tyson Chandler). The Knicks are heading into the locker room with all of the momentum they could ask for, and they may have just found their identity with the slash-and-dash system headed by Jeremy Lin. Carmelo (Billups), Chandler (Nowitzki), and Stoudemire (Nash) have all taken a backseat in terms of leadership when the time calls for it, so the Knicks have the ability to close in on an identity fast. But only time will tell how well they gel.