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Early Analysis on the New York Knicks’ Positive Start

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For a team that most expected to struggle on paper this season, the New York Knicks certainly look much better on the court so far through the first four games of their 2015-16 season.

And while a 2-2 record doesn’t jump off the page at you, consider who they played in those first four games: an undermanned Bucks squad, the Wizards, Hawks and Spurs. That’s four playoff teams from last year, one of which (Spurs) should challenge for the NBA title this season.

Also, we can look beyond the box score to see that the Knicks’ efforts against the Hawks and Spurs, while not enough to procure two wins, were valiant and showed signs of progress, for both the short-term and long-term.

Against the Hawks, the Knicks saw themselves down by 21 at one point in the third quarter and where last year’s team would’ve folded completely, this year’s team fought to cut the deficit down to 11. The fourth quarter kept the Hawks lead between 12 and 18 before the Knicks ended up losing by 11. The upgrade in talent across the board, even marginally at some positions, has started to pay dividends.

Against the Spurs, the Knicks were within five points with a little over seven minutes remaining in the game. The Spurs are considered one of the title favorites this season and while they are still working out the kinks in incorporating LaMarcus Aldridge into their squad, it was surprising to see the Knicks within arm’s reach that late in the game. There was also a very poor defensive goaltending call against Knicks rookie and possible velociraptor Kristaps Porzingis that pushed the Spurs lead to seven and the Knicks never got that close again. Minor moment, but a momentum killer nonetheless and very good teams like the Spurs make you pay after sequences like that.

In the game against the Washington, we saw Carmelo Anthony break out of his shooting slump to eviscerate the Wizards with an incredibly efficient 37-point performance. The motivation behind it? Wizards forward Jared Dudley calling him the most overrated player in the NBA. The Knicks out-executed the Wizards in the fourth quarter behind Anthony’s 11-point quarter and Langston Galloway hitting some big shots as well.

Talking more about the Knicks’ performances in losses and not their wins might sound strange, but as the old adage goes, “We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success.”

The interesting question for the Knicks and head coach Derek Fisher this season will be finding the right middle ground. What I mean by that is that the Knicks have found three young gems in Porzingis, Galloway and Jerian Grant and you want those three players to receive as many minutes as possible to develop them and get them used to this level of play.

The conundrum comes as a result of the newfound possibility that the Knicks might actually end up being a playoff team this season. Before the season started, most were set on the notion that the Knicks would improve on last year’s dreadful campaign, yet remain a mediocre to bad basketball team that would struggle. But that doesn’t seem to be the case so far with this squad’s injection of youth coupled with the steady veteran hands of players like Robin Lopez, Kyle O’Quinn, and most surprising of all, Derrick Williams.

This Knicks team has battled hard and shown well so far against four teams that most would perceive to be better than them. Whether it be Williams’ unexpected scoring presence, O’Quinn’s relentless effort on the offensive boards and phenomenal passing ability for a big man or Lopez’s ability to provide cover defensively and alter shots at the rim, the Knicks look like a completely different team from last year. Lance Thomas has also been a key contributor on both ends of the floor.

So Fisher must figure out where the balance lies in getting the young guys the playing time they need while not sacrificing Anthony’s remaining good years and a shot at a playoff berth this season.

One of the things Fisher cannot continue to do is give playing time to Jose Calderon. Calderon, who by all accounts is an excellent teammate and consummate pro, simply can’t guard anyone anymore and is not good enough offensively to warrant his starting spot or even much playing time. The right move would be to start either Grant or Galloway, with the other running the second unit.

Some have clamored about Sasha Vujacic starting, but that will work itself out once Arron Afflalo returns from injury. Afflalo is a career 38% three-point shooter who should space the floor out nicely for Melo once he returns, while also adding a boost defensively as well.

One minor concern which shouldn’t last much longer is Melo’s shooting slump; he’s shooting just over 37% from the field and 30% from distance to start the year so far. We might be able to attribute this to a small sample size as Melo is a 45% shooter from the field and 34% shooter from distance for his career.

The Knicks have surprised so far with their young players looking like key contributors for years to come and the veterans supplying the team with a workmanlike effort on the floor to keep the team balanced out when the youth make their mistakes. Progress may be slow, but the path to it seems to be the correct one, so far.

As we go further into the season, we’ll take a deeper look at the statistical side regarding lineup rotations and offensive and defensive outputs.

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