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Can better health and fitness help Cleanthony Early break out?

The Knicks need athletes on the wing. Can Cle fit the bill?

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that the last two preseason games have been the best of Cleanthony Early's pro career. The second-year wing looked frisky and quicksy, flying past defenders on the break, attacking the rim and even starting a few random beefs with Tyler Zeller and Jonas Jerebko.

I must admit, after what I saw in Summer League, and even the first preseason game, I was ready to write off young Early, or at least consign him to another stint in the D-League. What has got Cle feeling so spry all of the sudden? Better health and more yoga, apparently. The coaching staff criticized him for being out of shape his rookie season, and a host of health problems -- including an arthroscopic procedure on his knee in November -- kept him from getting his fitness level back up to where it needed to be:

"It wasn't just weight last year — people don't know I didn't do any basketball stuff until I got thrown on the court," Early said. "My conditioning was part of me going to the D-League [for three games]. I gave up a month-and-a-half not doing any basketball or conditioning. [When I came back], I was out there running, getting winded while trying to play basketball.''

This time around, Derek Fisher praised Early's conditioning, and laid out what he needs to do to get minutes this season:

"He's taking care of his body. He's attacking the basket. That's really the strength of his game, using athleticism and size. He's doing really well and proving with minuets he can handle it responsibly. He'll be able to help us this year.''

As Grandmaster Seth pointed out, the Knicks have been using Early more like a guard than a forward this preseason. And that just might work -- even with his shaky handle -- so long as he can hit a few jumpers and maintain the level of quickness and activity he's displayed of late. The threes have been falling -- 36.4% so far -- and he's looking like one of the fastest players on the floor at any given time. If that keeps up, there should be plenty of minutes available on a team in desperate need of athletic wings.