Here is where it gets interesting, what we’ve all been waiting for:
The confluence of Linsanity and StoudeMelo, the latter of which is celebrating its one-year anniversary today.
The work-in-progress finally can get under way, as long as there are no more injuries, no more trades and no more surprises. Though Knicks fans are notorious for being down with OPP (other people’s players), it’s time finally to leave this roster alone and see what it can become.
The players are ready for this. The question is, after years of waiting, are the fans?
“Comin together is the beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success,” Melo said in a poignant tweet on Tuesday afternoon, quoting American auto pioneer Henry Ford.
What we saw in the first quarter of Monday’s loss to the Nets is the potential for this offense, with Lin running the show and Melo‘s playmaking skills (six assists) complimenting the point guard. What we’ve yet to see is how Melo’s ability as an elite scorer will work, mainly because Melo isn’t Melo yet. Not in his first game back after missing two weeks with a groin injury.
With no practice time, this had to be the game for him to “come out and get the rust off me a little bit.” So, no, it wasn’t pretty with just 11 points on 11 shots and a few uncharacteristic misses at the rim.
Lin wasn’t himself, either, though he still hit for 21 points and nine assists before he fouled out. Amar’e Stoudemire, the other piece in this puzzle, still remains somewhat of an anomaly with his noticeable lack of explosion at the rim and 14 blocks against in his last eight games.
Then there is J.R. Smith, a scoring force off the bench who has yet to have a practice with his new team, andBaron Davis, who made his debut on Monday and showed he, too, needs a lot more time to get his legs under him.
As the Knicks reach the midpoint of this lockout-shortened season, they still have a lot of work to do.
“We have to get some things sorted out and we know that,” Mike D’Antoni said. “We have to figure out the type of team and the identity we have to have.”
Identity might be the most important issue to solve over the next two weeks. With Lin, the Knicks ran D’Antoni’s famed Seven Seconds or Less offense with great success, as three-point specialist Steve Novak and pick-and-roll big man Tyson Chandler emerged as major contributors. But with Carmelo and Amar’e, the lineup has a different look and, as a result, the system must be adjusted.
But should the system be adjusted to Melo and Amar’e or should they adjust to the system?
“Any time you have three new players, people coming back, your identity as a team is going to change with the personnel,” Lin said. “We are not in panic mode because it is not like people show up and you have great chemistry. We have to work through some struggles. But as long as we are committed, we will be fine.”
The commitment has been there all season and the schedule now affords something very few teams will get after the All-Star break: a full week with only one game. Imagine that in a truncated season with games squeezed together.
The Knicks return from the break with a home game against the Cavaliers on Wednesday, Feb. 29. Their next game isn’t until Sunday, March 4, at Boston. That leaves six days of practice around that Cavs game to hold a mini training camp with all hands on deck.
That’s right, the entire roster should be available, including Josh Harrellson (broken wrist). It’ll be something to watch the scrimmages now, with a second unit of Davis, Smith, Shumpert, Harrellson and Jeffries — not to mention Novak — taking on Lin, Landry Fields, Melo, Amar’e and Tyson.
It’ll be something to see what D’Antoni comes up with as an offensive mindset, too. How to best utilize the collective talent. The Knicks spent the two-week training camp focusing almost exclusively on defense. Next week, the Knicks should focus entirely on offense.
They should emerge for that game in Boston with an identity that will carry them through what will be an extremely challenging month of March, when they will pay for that week off with 17 games in 27 days. And those games bring some heavy hitters, from the Celtics, to the Mavs and the Spurs and the 76ers and Bulls, plus a back-to-back, home-and-home with the Pacers. All of this by St. Patrick’s Day.
This is going to take some fortitude. And some of you, based on your volatility on Twitter, may not have the stomach for it.
Even through the worst of times, in the days before Linsanity, there was never a sense of surrender within the group. The defense has steadily improved, though it has moments where it falls into bad habits. And it is impossible to overlook Stoudemire’s issues at that end of the floor, which needs to be addressed.
The loss to the Nets, however, much like the loss to the Hornets on Friday, wasn’t about defense, unless you want to go with the idea that had Iman Shumpert (knee tendonitis) played, Deron Williams wouldn’t have gone off for a career-high eight three-pointers. Let’s just say D-Will was unstoppable for a night. But that alone shouldn’t have been impossible to overcome.
No, the Knicks offense failed them in both losses. They managed just 85 points against New Orleans and missed 10 free throws and 20 three-pointers, which is as far as you need to go when dissecting that loss. Against the Nets, there were more shooting woes from downtown (5-for-21), as several open looks and more than a few layups missed the target.
Sometimes, yes, the difference between a win and a loss is the simple imbalance of makes and misses on open looks. Missed jumpers are like a pin to a balloon. But the Knicks never do seem to get completely deflated. When was the last time they looked “defeated” when things weren’t going well? They fought back for wins over the Timberwolves and Raptors and even on frustrating nights against the Hornets and Nets, they still had a shot at it down the stretch.
When watching and analyzing this team over these next few games, don’t just search for the problems. Search for the promise, too.
“Like Coach said, there’s going to be a little bit of adjustment time,” Lin said, “things to sort out, things to talk about, find out where we want to go from here. It is Day One and obviously we’re not happy with Day One, but sometimes you have to go through tough times as a team.”
And as a fan, you have to go through them, too.