By John Schmeelk
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Before the season started, the common refrain was that the Knicks were too old to compete.
Reporters and columnists said it was the one huge factor that would keep the Knicks from contending this year. It was their Achilles’ heel, and New York’s front office was misguided in bringing together so many older players.
The change in headlines over the past week has been startling and hilarious at the same time. Now, every writer in town is glowing over how experienced the Knicks’ roster is and how that has been the key to the team’s fast start. Every time I see another story about Jason Kidd or Rasheed Wallace and how they are teaching the young players some facet of the game I laugh, considering what those same people were writing only two weeks ago.
I’m just happy I wasn’t writing those same things.
The truth of the matter is, the Knicks front office knew what they were doing all along. It’s important to note that none of the oldest veterans (Camby, Kidd, Wallace, Thomas) will be expected to play thirty minutes per game. Kidd will probably play around 25 at most, Camby around 20, and the others will be closer to fifteen.
Also, those players are at positions where there is already substantial depth — so if an injury does occur, the Knicks can survive.
Putting that aside, the decision-makers knew this team already had very talented players. Carmelo Anthony can do anything he wants on the basketball court — if he wants to. The only thing holding him back from being a true superstar? His own choices and habits. J.R. Smith has the physical talent to be an All-Star-caliber shooting guard if he could learn to play smart basketball and was more willing to share the rock. The rehabbing Iman Shumpert has all the talent in the world, but is still young and is learning how to be as good of an offensive player as he is a defensive player.
The biggest difference can be seen in Smith. Sure, he still wants to score and will jack up some ill-advised shots, but look at the other stuff he’s doing. He’s one of the best perimeter defenders on the team and is fighting over screens and rotating like Ronnie Brewer would. Right now he’s averaging more than six rebounds, more than four assists, and more than 1.5 steals in 34 minutes per game. You put those numbers with his 16 PPG and 44 percent shooting and you’re looking at a very efficient player. That’s a word never that nobody ever thought would be associated with Smith — not in a million years.
It got to the point that Mike Woodson actually had to tell him to shoot MORE. That’s like telling Stan Van Gundy he needs to be more outspoken.
You’re seeing the same type of effort from Anthony. He’s playing harder than I’ve ever seen him on defense and on the boards. It looks like every possession is important to him. Veterans like Kidd and Prigioni are getting Melo the ball at the right time, and where he can be most efficient. Anthony is a far more willing passer when he’s confident he will get the ball. The veterans around Anthony have helped him turn into a true superstar and leader. He listens to guys like Kidd and buys into what they are saying.
Defense is the final area where you are really seeing the veterans make their mark. Being able to guard your man one-on-one is only half the battle in the NBA. Team defense and rotations have to be there as well, and guys like Thomas, Wallace and Kidd have added their voices to the teachings of Tyson Chandler, who was like a one-man army on ‘D’ last year. When there are three or four guys on the floor talking and making defense a priority it helps engage everyone else on that side of the court. The Knicks didn’t just add veterans, they added the right veterans — guys who all know how to win in this league.
The Knicks are just playing smart basketball, something you haven’t been able to say for a long time. They are doing all the little things a winning team needs from their veteran roleplayers, and it’s clear that it is rubbing off on Anthony and Smith.
Anthony might be the engine of the Knicks, but the veterans around him are the GPS. They are pointing him in the right direction, and together they are charging down the road.
You can follow me on Twitter for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York sports @Schmeelk.
Will the “old guys” keep it up? Be heard on the Knicks in the comments section!