A group of gentlemen have been running around the country for weeks now, wearing orange and blue, impersonating the New York Knicks. These blatant frauds can be spotted by their steadfast refusal to stop winning basketball games.
Following Sunday's win over the Lakers, the Knicks now have as many victories over their last seven games (5-2) as they did over their first 41 games (5-36). That is...peculiar.
There are several obvious reasons why New York is playing better basketball of late. The schedule has been pitifully soft with even the more talented teams they've faced missing players (examples include New Orleans without Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis, and Oklahoma City without Kevin Durant). Carmelo Anthony has inexplicably returned from a long injury layoff to play six of the last seven games on a knee that requires surgery. And the 10-Day Crew -- Langston Galloway, Lou Amundson and Lance Thomas -- shocked the basketball world with their competence en route to earning full-season contracts.
But let's dig deeper, shall we? Here are five other reasons the Knicks have suddenly discovered how to score more points than their opponents.
1. Flipping the 98.6
Not only is 98.6 the average human body temperature, it is also a number that goes a long way toward explaining the Knicks' turnaround. In terms of points per 100 possessions, 98.6 is terrible amount for your offense and a wonderful amount for your defense. Observe:
|First 41 G||98.6||108.9||-10.3|
|Last 7 G||101.5||98.6||+2.9|
Obviously the biggest improvement has been on the defensive end. While that probably has a great deal to do with the quality of competition, the Knicks are certainly defending better. Their defensive rotations in particular have looked timely and crisp, leaving fewer open shooters behind the arc.
When they came back from London in mid-January, the Knicks were allowing opponents to shoot an unfathomable 40.1% from three. In the last seven games that number has dropped to an exquisite 30.7%.
A Knicks team that defends the three-point line? A don't even know who these guys are anymore!
2. Random old jokers
Question: Who has the highest Net Rating of any Knick over the past seven games? I'll give you a minute.
Give up? The answer is Jose Calderon, with an impressive +10.6 rating. The sweet-shooting Spaniard has turned his season around, averaging a 55.0 effective field goal percentage and dishing 5.5 assists per game against only 1.2 turnovers.
He has been joined in his rise from crappiness by (and this pains me to say it) Jason Smith. Three weeks ago this guy was on my short list of "Least Favorite Knicks Ever," but over the past seven games he is actually second on the team in assists per game (!!!!!) at 3.9 to go along with 10.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks.
Hey, rest of the NBA, Jason Smith is good again! Maybe you should trade for him!
3. Their new starting lineup
Just like we all predicted at the start of the season, the Knicks have been rolling with a lineup of Calderon, Galloway, Melo, Amundson and Jason Smith in six of their last seven. That wacky quintet has played 117 minutes over that span, outscoring their opponents by an average of 11.7 points per 100 possessions.
4. Efficient passing
The Knicks are actually shooting a lower effective field goal percentage of late (47.9%) than they did in their first 41 games (48.5%), and they're not getting to the free-throw line more often. The boost in offense has come mainly due to their ability to dish the rock.
New York has pulled off the rare trick of significantly boosting their assist total while also committing fewer turnovers. The result is a 2.10 assist-to-turnover ratio that would lead the league over a full season. Who should get the credit for this turnover? A motley group including Calderon (4.71 AST/TO), Amundson, (3.75), Jason Smith (3.38), Galloway, (3.33), Shane Larkin (2.50) and Tim Hardaway (2.50).
5. Reclaiming home-court advantage
Before they returned from London, the Knicks were equal-opportunity losers. They played better at MSG, and better offense on the road, but the results were similarly crappy:
|Home (20 G)||95.9||105.7||-9.7|
|Road (21 G)||101.2||111.9||-10.8|
Over the last few weeks they have made the transition into a fairly young team, with Melo, Jason Smith, Amundson, Calderon and Pablo the only veterans in the regular rotation at the moment. And their recent home-road splits are what you might expect from a callow, mediocre club: good at home, crap on the road.
|Home (4 G)||109.5||98.7||+10.8|
|Road (3 G)||90.8||98.4||-7.6|
The road team is perfectly Knicksian, sporting a 1-2 record, while the home team has dominated to the tune of a very un-Knicksian 4-0 mark.
While I doubt all of these trends continue as the level of competition improves and Melo finally comes to his senses and gets that knee operation, there are plenty of good signs here. The team is executing the Triangle with fewer glaring mistakes. They are finally...finally...guarding the three-point arc. Youngsters like Galloway and Hardaway are making important contributions. Calderon is proving that he didn't forget how to run an offense.
The Knicks are probably (hopefully) destined to linger at the bottom of the standings. But they are learning to do some things well, and that can only help the franchise moving forward.