The Knicks suck right now. But when basketball gives you lemons, you gotta make some basketball-flavored lemonade.
With that in mind, each member of the P&T staff has picked a particular trait from one Knicks player that has struck him as a bit of a pleasant surprise thus far. These are either a new wrinkles from old Knicks, or something we've noticed from a new addition that has surprised and titillated.
I gotta give it up for Pablo Prigioni's mean streak. This sweetheart has been seriously uninterested in other people's bullshit since preseason. The Knicks, by and large, are a cuddly and cute bunch of sweetie-pies. There are a few gnarly Charlies, but as a trusted point guard, if Pablo is down to set a few little fires around the court it could really bring the intensity out of a few of the tamer dudes. It would be wonderful if his attitude infused a wild upturn and he morphed into Sonny from A Bronx Tale for the rest of the season. "Now yous can't leave."
I'm gonna say Shane Larkin's general steadiness. His stats won't wow anyone, and he's still figuring out how to handle getting his own on offense, but as the de facto starting point guard, thrown into the fire because of injures, he's been impressive. The team is 5.5 points better per 100 possessions on defense with him on the court, and only mildly worse on offense (which feels misleading; small sample size, perhaps). He's got a nose for picking off passes, he's a surprisingly tough rebounder (3.1 per 36), and he's really strong for his size (ask MKG). Although he's still struggling handling big, important minutes so early into his career, I think it'll pay off for him down the line this season, when, hopefully, he can play shorter stints off the bench.
J.R. Smith's playmaking has been a bit of a surprise to me. He's quietly been a skilled passer for some time now, but his quick transition from primary scorer to primary passer is surprising. Smith is averaging 5.5 assists per 36 minutes, and is attempting the fewest shots per game of his career. I doubt J.R. will continue to lead the Knicks in assists per game after Jose Calderon returns, but it's encouraging to see Smith work to create shots for his teammates. Again, J.R. Smith leads the Knicks in assists per game. Maybe the Triangle offense really is magic.
Amar'e Stoudemire's rebounding has been very impressive in the early going. He's averaging 12.6 rebounds per 36 minutes (including 4.1 offensive boards/36), which is legitimately awesome. I'm not sure if it's a function of the offensive/defensive schemes putting STAT in better position to grab bounds or he's just been extra tenacious to start the season, but it's something I certainly hope he can sustain. Considering the fact that he's a sieve on defense, rebounding at an above-average rate would go a long way to helping Amar'e have a positive impact on the game.
A) Everything about Travis Wear. Ever. Trust me. You'll see. You'll all see.
B) Jason Smith looks more like a player than I expected. Like, he can be the starting power forward, especially if the Knicks add a real center this summer. At times, Smith's hustle and J are positively Oakley-esque. His defense isn't, but still. This year is about finding answers, and while it's early, Smith suggests the Knicks might be on to something. He's in on every play, disrupting and erupting. He squares up for jumpers with disdain, as if he can't believe the defense still hasn't learned its lesson. His LeBron face is already the 2014-15 Knick play of the year. Jason Smith is entropy. When the 2018 Knicks are celebrating in the Canyon of Heroes, Jason Smith's there, dancing. Hopefully Travis Wear is, too.
I've enjoyed seeing Tim Hardaway Jr. look to pass now and then. While remaining aggressive, Tim has gone from never passing the ball ever to embracing both halves of the Triangle's two-man game. He's mostly out there to receive hand-offs, but now and then, he'll hustle down the floor to fill the "four" role on the weak side and actually *offer* a useful hand-off to someone like Iman Shumpert curling over his screen. We've even seen Tim make a smart pass in transition instead of just bulling to the rim.
Hardaway's careful with his passes, too. Or maybe just stingy. Either way, he leads the team in A/TO right now by far. Joe pointed that out to me.
It's a small thing, but a small step toward versatility for a guy who was totally predictable last season.
We have to end with Iman Shumpert. He struggled in the opener against Chicago, with five points on 2-9 shooting. In the seven games since then, these are him numbers, per Basketball-Reference:
Wowsers. This streak of seven straight games scoring in double-figures is tied for the longest of his career. When was the last such streak? Try the first seven games of his NBA career -- Dec. 25, 2011 to Jan. 12 2012.
No, it isn't ideal to have Iman Shumpert as your team's best player through the first eight games of the season. But it isn't Shump's fault that Carmelo Anthony is struggling to find his shot. Instead let us celebrate a kid who is playing the best basketball of his career. Also, let us hope that someday soon we see 2013-14 Melo and 2014-15 Shump meet and become best friends.