While most of the New York Knicks starting the season with a 5-0 record (for the first time in 19 years) is attributed to Carmelo Anthony playing responsibly and unselfishly, a lot of it has to do with the way the team has been playing defense through the first five games, something which hasn’t been exactly a point of pride in recent seasons.
Five games into the new season, the only undefeated team in the NBA. But it’s more. These are five wins that have all come with double digit margins. These are all wins in which the Knicks have allowed less than 95 points and above 90 points only once. This is a team ranked number one in the NBA in points allowed with 87.8, while ranked second with 103.4 in scoring.
They haven’t given up more than 40 points in the second half once. It wasn’t any different against the Orlando Magic, who didn’t shoot badly from the field (49.3%) but turned the ball over 20 times and scored only 36 points in the second half on the way to a 99-89 loss. The Magic, 2-5, aren’t a true measuring stick to the Knicks’ ability and strength. The 20 point win over the Miami Heat and the 10 point win over the Dallas Mavericks are.
Carmelo Anthony is the first name that comes up, and just because he’s averaging 26.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game this season, adding 25 points and 8 boards in the win over the Magic. The offense is still very Anthony-centric, with the Dream Teamer taking 21.6 shots a game. But he’s looking for others. It doesn’t neccesarily come up in the assists column (only 1.6 per game) but the Knicks as a team are a much better and patient passing team, thanks to Felton and Kidd, creating more open shots than before.
There’s no wonder they’re hitting 42.9% of their three point shots, when players like J.R. Smith are no longer doing whatever they want on the court, but actually falling into line with Mike Woodson’s instructions on both ends of the floor. No more lazy man on man coverage, only waiting for the chance to get the ball on offense again.
Great defense that scored 24 points off of the Magic’s 20 turnovers. Smith is 72.2% from beyond the arc so far. Jason Kidd and Ronnie Brewer are 50%, Steve Novak is 42.9%. These aren’t just lucky, streaky shots. The Knicks are playing great offense, which creates good, open shots.
And it comes down to making Carmelo Anthony as the undisputed leader on the floor, accepted by everyone, and him rising to the occasion. No longer (until Amare Soutdemire) comes back about who is the alpha-male of this team, Anthony embraces the responsibility by playing much harder than ever before on defense, although according to him, it’s nothing new.
The numbers, aided by the fact that they have the league’s defensive player of the year, Tyson Chandler (doesn’t translate into individual numbers), show that Anthony is wrong. There is something different this year.
Not losing can’t last forever. In one of the away games in either San Antonio or Memphis looks like a good, solid bet. You can’t play suffocating defense with that kind of energy and commitment for 82 games. No one is expecting that. But for the Knicks as specifically guys like Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith to be looking this committed and putting in this kind of effort is much more than encouraging.
It puts the team way ahead of where many, including Mike Woodson, thought they would be. The answer to the question of whether it’s the enthusiasm of a new season waiting to fade or an actual change brought by the veterans, head coach and the team’s leader will probably come along once they reach their first crisis point of the season, and show the world how they handle the low points.