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Saturday, February 15, 2014
Three reasons to be optimistic

By Ian Begley

It's hard to believe now, but back in September, Knicks owner James Dolan told staffers he expected his team to compete for a title this season.

The Knicks enter the second half with plenty of questions, but one thing is clear: they are nowhere near title contention.

At 20-32, Dolan's club is one of the most disappointing teams in the NBA. But, believe it or not, there are a few reasons to be optimistic about this lost season.

Below, we offer a brief look at three aspects that should give you a glimmer of hope if you're a Knicks fan:

1. They stink: Wait, that's a bad thing, right? Well, not necessarily. Taking a big-picture view of things, the Knicks' struggles this season could turn out to be beneficial.

The team's poor performance makes it clear they can't win a title with this roster, which should force management to focus on an overhaul -- whether it's through major trades or via free agency in the summer of 2015.

If the Knicks were to win, say, 49 games and finish third in the East but lose in the second round of the playoffs again, the Knicks' brain trust may have false hope about the potential of this roster. But the Knicks' struggles this season make it clear it will take major changes to build a roster capable of competing for a title.

2. Melo's been Melo: Whether it's the switching on defense, the awful shooting or the terrible late-game execution, this team has given fans plenty to complain about. But it's hard to find fault with much that Carmelo Anthony has done.

Melo is scoring 27.3 points per game, the second-highest total in the NBA. But a true measure of what he's given the Knicks night in and night out can be found in his rebounding numbers. Anthony is averaging a career-high 8.6 rebounds per game. His rebounding rate -- or the percentage of available rebounds that he grabs -- is a career-high 13.

Anthony's nightly effort is one reason the Knicks are still within striking distance of a playoff spot. Due mostly to the mediocrity in the Eastern Conference, the Knicks are just 2 1/2 games behind Charlotte for the eighth seed. You can thank Anthony for that.

3. The young guys: One of the few positives of the first half has been the play of rookie Tim Hardaway Jr.. The Knicks selected Hardaway Jr. with the 24th pick in the draft. Some thought that was too high. Others questioned his outside shooting. Hardaway Jr. has shown that kind of knee-jerk analysis to be false.

The 6-6 guard is averaging 15.7 points per 36 minutes and is shooting 45 percent from the floor and 38.5 percent from beyond the arc.

There are a couple of other young guys that have impressed in limited minutes. Toure' Murry and Jeremy Tyler have played with energy and showed some promise in small doses. Before the season started, Dolan insisted that the Knicks find a few young players who could be developed within the organization. Hardaway Jr., Tyler and Murry all seem to fit that description.

Question: Is there anything that leaves you optimistic about this season?

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