Monday, December 3, 2012
Ten takeaways from the first month
By Jared Zwerling
The first month of the season is in the books, and the 12-4 Knicks are holding down the top spot in the Atlantic Division. ESPNNewYork.com takes a look at the top 10 things we've learned so far about the Knicks, starting with No. 10:
10. The Knicks scouted Pablo Prigioni and Chris Copeland wisely. Both players dominated internationally. Kevin Wilson, the Knicks' main overseas scout who is well-respected throughout the league, took notice. Prigioni and Copeland immediately made an impression in the preseason with their playmaking. Now, with some injuries, they've been playing well in increased minutes.
J.R. Smith has turned over a new leaf.
9. Ronnie Brewer has filled in perfectly for Iman Shumpert. The Knicks not only needed a perimeter defender to replace the injured Shumpert, but also someone who could knock down the open shot off of Carmelo Anthony's penetration and double teams. Brewer currently has a 41.7 3-point percentage, while doing a little bit of everything else for the team.
8. J.R. Smith is focused. Recently, he admitted he partied too much last season. His mentality changed over the summer while working with his trainer, Idan Ravin, who told the shooting guard he never wanted to hear about his potential and so-called "wasted talent" ever again. Now Smith's consistency is more evident, and he's making smarter, quicker decisions.
7. Rasheed Wallace has been the biggest surprise. Make that in the entire league. After a two-year hiatus, he's playing like he never left. While his shooting percentages are below 40 percent, he has been making some clutch shots. But it's his defense that's been most effective, which is why Mike Woodson has been going with Sheed over Marcus Camby.
6. The Knicks recognize their roles, and the players and coaches are in agreement. When you look at the Wizards, for example, you might quickly say, "They stink." But it's much more than that. Every team has talent, but the right ingredients are players who know their job and feel good with how they're utilized. The veteran Knicks are on the same page.
5. Mike Woodson's blend of coaching and personality is contagious. How often do you see Woodson smile? That's because he takes things game to game. He's always keeping a realistic outlook with the media and his players, and they're the same way. But he also knows when to have some fun with the fellas. His old-school, tough-love demeanor is well-respected.
4. Amar'e Stoudemire hasn't even played yet. When Shumpert and Stoudemire are back, the Knicks will be the deepest team in the league. While critics focus more on whether STAT should start or not, more importantly the team will have another legit scoring threat and his presence will create open shots for others. There's confidence in Woodson he'll make it work.
3. The two-point-guard backcourt in the starting lineup has come up huge. A fourth-best 102.9 points per game, and league-bests in turnovers per game (11.2) and average first-quarter scoring margin (plus-3.9). These are just a few of the numbers that prove why Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd's unique collaboration has greatly benefited the team.
2. Melo is playing like an MVP. While his offensive outputs are still mostly the same as previous seasons (26.6 points per game), he's improved his defense, hustle, 3-point shooting, focus, leadership and team-oriented attitude. And, of course, he's healthy. The NBA hasn't unveiled who the Player of the Month is yet, but don't be surprised if it's Melo.
1. The Knicks are for real. Most experts predicted the 9-8 Celtics to lead the Atlantic. But the Knicks are not only in front, they also only have one loss against a top team (Memphis), and only one other to a team under. 500 (Dallas). They've defeated the Heat, Sixers twice, Spurs and nearly beat the Nets. They meet the Heat again on Thursday night in Miami. Get ready.
What's stood out to you the most? Or is there something else you've noticed? Leave us your comments below.