By John Schmeelk
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We’ve talked a lot about many different things that have allowed the Knicks to get off to such a fast start. From the play of their superstar, to the wisdom of the team’s veterans and finally the team wide dedication to defense, the Knicks are playing complete basketball. Even their offense, something most assumed would be a weakness this year, has been a strength.
Coming into the season, everyone assumed the Knicks would be a stagnant mess. Those thoughts were somewhat understandable considering how the offense looked in the final month and playoffs of the 2012 season. It was little more than “give the ball to Carmelo Anthony, stand in one place, and hope he scores.” Mike Woodson appeared to abandon the Mike D’Antoni spread the floor, high pick and roll, and find the open man offense.
Going back further, Mike Woodson didn’t exactly run a dynamic offense when he was the head coach of the Hawks. Often times it devolved into an “Iso-Joe Johnson” disaster, looking a lot like the Knicks offense at the end of last year. Everyone assumed this was Mike Woodson’s style and his offensive preference. Most forget he was an assistant coach for one of the best ball movement teams in recent memory, the 2003-2004 NBA champion Detroit Pistons.
What people failed to realize was that as both Head Coach of the Knicks and Hawks, Mike Woodson had no play-making point guard. In Atlanta he was stuck with Mike Bibby, who was past his prime and little more than a spot up shooter. Once Jeremy Lin hurt his knee at the end of the season, he had an even older Zombie Bibby and a one legged Baron Davis with no back. Even if he wanted to run a system with great ball movement, he didn’t have the right personnel to do it.
This year, Mike Woodson has personnel in spades. Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni are all point guards that know how to move the ball and get their teammates involved. With one or two of the point guards always on the floor, everyone knows they will get the ball when they are open. This motivates players to move without the ball. Seeing how many baskets Ronnie Brewer gets cutting to the basket in the first four games this season has been a pleasure. The number of sets with movement and screens away from the ball have been a joy to watch.
The presence of those point guards also makes other players willing to share the ball since they know they will get it back. Unselfish play is contagious, and right now the entire team has been affected in the best way possible. It’s the reason the Knicks are the second most efficient offensive team in the league to only the Heat. The Knicks are shooting nearly 44% from behind the arc because so many of the shots are wide open and in rhythm. That doesn’t happen without great point guard play.
All three players also have distinct skill sets. Felton is excellent at the penetration and dish, pick and roll, and getting to the basket. Kidd throws some of the best outlet passes in the league, rebounds, plays defense and hits the open three. Prigioni passes to a fault, has proven tenacious on defense, and runs the pick and roll extremely well. Both Kidd and Felton can defend bigger guards, and complement each other when in the backcourt together.
The Knicks greatest weaknesses coming into the year was supposed to be the offense. Even more so than the play of Carmelo Anthony, the point guards have pointed the team in the right direction. If this type of ball movement, player movement and unselfish play continues throughout the season, the Knicks will be a force to be reckoned with. Perhaps most important, it should allow Amar’e Stoudemire to re-assert himself with very limited pain. I’ll touch on that more tomorrow.
Knicks fans shouldn’t waste their time worrying about that now. They should just sit back, and enjoy the beautiful basketball being played in front of them. It’s only four games, and this season can still go a million different ways, but the early feeling is a special one. That special feeling begins with the point guards.
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