7 Signs The Knicks Might Actually Be Turning Into A Good Basketball Team For Once
It's taken more than 30 games for the 2015-16 New York Knicks to figure out how to finish four quarters of basketball with more points than the guys they're playing against, but after a streak of seven solid outings against plus-.500 competition, it's beginning to look like Phil Jackson's vision is translating into something that vaguely resembles a real basketball team.
A few observations that suggest this isn't an illusion and that they're actually getting better, below...
7) They're responding to Derek Fisher.
After allowing 31 points and scoring just eight in the fourth quarter of their blowout loss to the Chicago Bulls on New Year's Day, Derek Fisher ripped his guys' poor defensive effort both in private and in the press. "Guys showed a lot of toughness and character to get back into the game (on Friday), and then politely packed it up and threw it back out the window in the fourth quarter," he said. "That won't get it done."
Fish: "We dont wanna be a team that, when it starts to rain a little bit, we give in. I thought we gave in a little bit in the 4th quarter."
— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) January 2, 2016
Since then, the Knicks have won four of their last five games, outscoring their opponents by an average of eight points and holding them to just 95 points. That's the kind of accountability the Knicks have lacked in the current millennium.
6) Carmelo Anthony now wears more hats than just leather fedoras.
It's awfully hard to argue that an offensive juggernaut stop shooting the ball as much, but when you've seen as little team success as Carmelo Anthony has, at some point logic takes over and you're forced to make changes. Perhaps sensing that his legacy as a stereotypical "me first" ball hog is solidifying, Carmelo Anthony has seemingly undertaken roles we had previously never seen him even attempt. An adept passer? A bruising rebounder? A floor-runner? Check, check and check. He's averaging a career-high average of 11.5 combined rebounds and assists this season, notching his third and fourth career triple-doubles this season.
Over the Knicks last 6 games, Carmelo Anthony has dished out 30 assists and committed just 7 turnovers.
— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) January 11, 2016
The general takeaway is that passing the ball more often keeps his teammates active and engaged for all four quarters, but there's also some truth to the notion that deferring on offense leaves Melo with more energy to play defense and rebound.
5) Kristaps Porzingis has thawed Carmelo Anthony's cold, cold heart.
At some point after the Las Vegas Summer League, Carmelo Anthony realized that the Knicks 2015 draft pick wasn't just some gangly softy who would cut into his shot attempts. Now it appears that halfway through the season, he's fully aboard the Godzingis bandwagon.
Melo, on whether KPs progression makes him excited for the future: "It makes me excited for Tuesday against Boston."
— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) January 11, 2016
How many times in Carmelo Anthony's career do you think he's been this openly excited about playing alongside someone else on his team? Once with Iverson? Maybe for a stretch there with J.R. Smith? This kind of enthusiasm and respect for his teammates goes a long way towards fostering a positive locker room atmosphere -- something the Knicks have struggled mightily with in the Carmelo Anthony-era.
4) Arron Afflalo has become a viable second scoring option.
There was some concern that offseason acquisition Arron Afflalo would be a shell of his former self, heading into his ninth season in the league off of major surgery. After all, the Knicks have been snakebitten by impact free agents with knee problems in the past (ahem, Antonio McDyess, ahem) and the guy is 30 years old, so the trepidation was understandable, but he's been the team's second best scorer this season. In fact, the Knicks are 8-0 when he and Melo score more that 15 points apiece, which is more likely to happen when the team plays within the triangle, which sets up the midrange jump shots Afflalo shoots with startling accuracy. He's .503 on the year between 10 feet and the three-point line, and considering the team's growing commitment to Phil Jackson's proprietary offensive system, Afflalo becomes more valuable as his teammates adopted a more disciplined approach to the triangle.
3) Jose Calderon's subtle, meaningful impact.
After struggling to find his shot early in the season and consistency getting burned by opposing point guards, Jose Calderon has found a way to mitigate his athletic shortcomings and impact games with his leadership. Yes, you read that correctly: Calderon has figured out how to steward this team like a starting point guard should. He finished Sunday's dominant victory in Milwaukee with a team-high plus/minus of +34, despite scoring only nine points. The reason? He's getting this Knicks roster -- which was designed specifically to play in the triangle offense -- to actually play in the triangle offense (and it's translating to wins).
2) Role players who actually play roles.
In the past, the Knicks bench has been a garbage smooth filled with unfulfilled talent, streaky scorers and over-the-hill veterans. Sure, on any given night the J.R. Smiths and Steve Novaks of the world could give you a 10-point lead in five minutes, but generally speaking, they make the offense rely too heavily on what amounts to a dice roll (and not their system). The Knicks' current bench has been the team's second biggest surprise of the 2015-16 season, typified by the consistent contributions of 27-year-old Duke-product Lance Thomas. He's playing with exceptional efficiency right now, taking what defenses give him and executing with startling proficiency. How much so? He's shooting .401 from behind the arc (while averaging just two attempts per game) and has made 65 of 72 free-throws through 39 games played.
Lance Thomas ranked 241st of 272 in O efficiency last season; ranks 10th of 212 this season. Like a different guy. pic.twitter.com/qoF4dWJxbb
— Synergy Sports Tech (@SynergySST) January 2, 2016
1) Kristaps Porzingis is getting better at a startling pace.
There's something to said about the impact of 20-year-old lottery pick who's an incredibly fast learner, beyond the obvious fact that it means he won't make the same mistakes very often. Whatever chemical imbalance Kristaps Porzingis possesses that allows him to take criticism and implement measures to improve his play, it seems to be infectious. As KP cuts back on his personal fouls -- which had been forcing him to prematurely come out of games, creating havoc in Derek Fisher's already chaotic rotation -- his teammates seem to respond with improvements of their own. Not only has Melo dropped the volume shooting act for the first time in his entire life, but Fisher himself has started to dial back his wacky substitution patterns that were receiving a ton of criticism from perplexed fans. When the kid who has all the reasons in the world to be a complete hotshot (in what could've been considered a throwaway season) puts his ego aside for the greater good, it sets a tone that results in, ya know, good stuff.
— Daren Willman (@darenw) December 24, 2015
Oh ya, and it also helps when he figures out how to pull off this kind of stuff, too (which he hadn't done since November after defenses began game planning to box him out more).
Porzingis' Putback from a few more angles. Being 7-3 certainly has its advantages pic.twitter.com/hkmXlvWwAH
— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) January 11, 2016
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