By Steve Kallas
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The New York Knicks, off to a fantastic 21-8 start, have certainly stamped themselves as a legit NBA team this season.
A championship team? Well that’s unlikely, because they are, to date, a live-by-the-three, die-by-the-three team. And they are undersized as well.
But clearly, by bringing in a guy like Jason Kidd (the MVP of the Knicks after Carmelo Anthony, who may very well be the MVP of the whole league), the Knicks are an interesting team to watch and a team that will win 50 or more games this season.
But what exactly does that mean for them, short- and long-term, as a championship team? Well, for decades, New York Rangers fans had to live with “1940, 1940” as a chant that other teams’ fans threw at them. And if you were around in the 1970s to the ‘80s and ‘90s, you know how it went from “30 years since a Cup” to “40 years since a Cup” to “50 years since a Cup.” The torture, of course, finally ended in 1994 and, unfortunately, Sam Rosen’s “This one will last a lifetime” may turn out to be truer than any Rangers fan had hoped for.
The Knicks? Well they are certainly entering 1940-territory. At the end of this season, they will be looking at their own 40-year nightmare without a championship. It;s hard to believe that this Knicks team can beat the Heat (despite their two big wins over them already), the Thunder, the Clippers or even, it says here, the Lakers.
But they are very competitive and are playing at a very high level. Mike Woodson can not only coach, but, just as importantly (see Avery Johnson), he seems to have the respect of the players. When Amar’e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert come back, the Knicks will be very deep.
But, to this writer, they are in that second tier of teams after the top four or five.
THE RETURN OF AMAR’E
It’s probably the most overpublicized and overanalyzed story in New York sports this year, outside of the Jets’ QB situation (an absurdity for another day).
The return of Stoudemire shouldn’t really be a big deal. It’s very clear that Anthony, the main man no matter who is on the Knicks, has to get the overwhelming majority of his minutes at the four. If you didn’t understand that last season, anybody with even half a basketball brain can see it this season.
But the Stoudemire solution is very simple if his dedication as a real “team player” is true (and it says here that it is true). Anthony is averaging 36 minutes per game. Tyson Chandler, at the five, is averaging 32 minutes per game. While some of that is overlapping, there should be minutes at the four and five for Stoudemire when these guys are out of the game.
On straight math, that’s 28 minutes per game (again, with some overlap) that Woodson can insert Stoudemire into the game and not hurt the chemistry that the team has up to this point. His minutes at the five should be carefully crafted by Woodson to have Stoudemire play against second-string centers so the already undersized Knicks don’t get killed on the boards. In addition, add some time where, maybe (MAYBE), Woodson can try Stoudemire at the four and Anthony at the three (that obviously did not work last year).
Then, there will be lots of minutes for Stoudemire.
Frankly, Woodson should limit Stoudemire’s minutes to somewhere in the 20-22 minute range. Everybody thought (correctly) that his knees wouldn’t hold up over time. There’s no point to test that theory by playing him 30-plus minutes.
That’s a recipe for disaster.
The Jeremy Lin dynamic was an amazing one to watch in New York earlier this year. Unfortunately, many “experts” decided not to give Lin the benefit of the doubt and, to this day, continue to criticize him. It’s hard to escape the notion that there is some prejudice involved. Certainly, at a minimum, there was stereotyping going on, as anyone who has played basketball at any high level knows that, when an Asian guy walks on a basketball court, the initial reaction for many is that “this guy can’t play.”
The discussion about his contract, to be kind, was misguided. Maybe Chris Rock said it best in a Tweet: “If linn were a 23 year old black kid who came straight from high school and had tat on his neck that said thug life and happened to score 38 points on the Lakers I don’t think anyone would question his contract.”
Truer words were never spoken.
And maybe Kobe Bryant said it best, in terms of his ability to play and the fact that he was overlooked, after Lin did torch the Lakers for 38.
“Players don’t usually come out of nowhere,” Bryant said. “If you can go back and take a look, his skill level was probably there from the very beginning, but no one ever noticed.”
The “experts” who didn’t believe (or couldn’t see) Lin’s obvious skill set (he’s quick, fast and has no fear but, most important, he simply sees the floor as a point guard better than most point guards in the NBA already), still had to stick with their stories this year. The fools (and there are a bunch) who said that his knee surgery for a torn meniscus was “just minor” clearly don’t understand what a damaged knee (of any degree) does to an NBA point guard.
You see, the day that Lin can’t compete on a speed level through injury or age is the day he can’t play in the NBA. But that’s true for virtually every quick NBA point guard.
The myths about Lin abound. He can’t go left? Google Jeremy Lin/John Wall Summer League Game and watch Lin torch the then-top draft pick by blowing by him twice to Lin’s left.
How about he’s a “shoot-first” point guard? Again, beyond stupid. Lin sees the floor better than most point guards, and he is just now finishing, essentially, enough games to have played ONE season in the NBA. He had to shoot a lot last year when “Linsanity”started. Why? Well, that’s easy.
In the first nine games of “Linsanity,” Anthony and Stoudemire were in the lineup together for only one game. They both were out of the lineup for three of those nine games.
So what’s a point guard to do? Score — that’s what. As an example, here’s the starting lineup when the Knicks played against the Timberwolves on February 11, 2012 — the fifth game of “Linsanity”: Lin, Chandler, Landry Fields, Jared Jeffries and Bill Walker.
Any questions? Of course he had to shoot.
Back to his “minor” knee surgery, where, clearly, Lin was a little gun-shy coming back. Criticized for that, he certainly was not 100 percent earlier this season. In his first game against the Knicks, he simply couldn’t cut or run as fast as he could last season. So the uninformed “experts” who made their bed last year by, essentially, saying that he was a flash in the pan, continued to criticize him as an NBA player.
But then came the second Rockets-Knicks game, where Lin, completely recovered, did whatever he wanted against the Knicks, shooting 9-of-15 for 22 points and getting to the rim whenever he felt like it (blowing by Raymond Felton or Kidd at will).
The problem for Lin is his tenacity. And while he would probably tell you that his fearlessness is the reason that he got to the NBA and has been successful, he really needs to back off and take a page from Russell Westbrook’s book. Westbrook, with the best mid-range jumper in the NBA, avoids lots of collisions by simply pulling up for 10-foot jumpers. Lin, rather than getting hammered by Chandler, needs to get over the macho stuff and pull up for short jumpers.
If he does that, he will lengthen his career, help his team and have a less likely chance of getting injured. Conversely, if Westbrook can ever see the floor like Lin does, Westbrook will become one of the three greatest point guards ever, behind Magic Johnson and Bob Cousy.
So Lin landed in a good spot and, now, with James Harden, will eventually become part of one of the top backcourts in the NBA. Could he have been better on the Knicks and made them a better team than they are now?
We’ll never know the answer to that question.
Felton, who has been excellent for the Knicks, has been aided by having one of the great point guards of all-time (Kidd) starting at the two. Would Kidd have helped Lin as much as he has helped Felton? Again, we’ll never know, although it sure looked like Kidd went out of his way to try to score on Lin last year in their second meeting — and even, maybe, try to hurt Lin in that second game.
Whether anyone will admit it or not, everybody seems to try harder against Lin for whatever reason. Add the poor, uncalled-for comments by J.R. Smith and Anthony about Lin’s contract offer from the Rockets, and you just don’t know what would have happened had Lin stayed with the Knicks.
But make no mistake about it: No matter what you read or hear from the “experts,” Lin is already a good-to-very-good NBA point guard whose game will continue to improve if he stays healthy.
How will Amar’e fit into the Knicks’ rotation, and will Lin be a very good NBA point guard for years to come? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…