• Greg Alcala

New Year, New Knicks


*Photo via ESPN

If the New York Knicks make the 2016 postseason, they can point to New Year’s day as the turning point of the season. On the first day of 2016, the Knicks suffered an embarrassing 108-81 loss to the Chicago Bulls. They shot 36.9 percent from the field, 31.6 percent from three and loss the rebounding battle by 12, 54 (Bulls) to 42 (Knicks).

They loss in all the major statistics that constitute in a win and at that point, the Knicks were reminding NY of its dreadful 17-win season the previous year. The loss against the Bulls capped off a 5-5 record in their last 10 games where the Knicks saw what was a .500 record slip to 15-19. A then disappointed Derek Fisher, the head coach ripped into his team.

“We don’t want to be front-runners — guys who can play hard when things are going well,’’ Fisher said according to NBCsports.com. “We don’t want to be a team when it starts to rain a little bit, we give in. I thought we gave in a little bit there in the fourth quarter”.

He continued. “We had shots that didn’t go in in the fourth quarter, and I thought we got discouraged and the energy turned around the other way and it snowballed from there. There should’ve been enough left in the tank.” Fisher's remarks, regarding the team, echoed the feeling of the locker-room.

*Photo via Getty Images

He lit a much needed fire in the team and to his credit the Knicks responded. They are seeing 20/20. I mean they did lose two of their last three games to the Brooklyn Nets and the Memphis Grizzlies, without Carmelo Anthony. And needed two extra periods to outlast the hopeless Philadelphia 76ers on MLK day with Anthony, improving to (21-22) on the season, but I the Knicks are seeing clearly these days.

Since that discouraging performance against Chicago, the Knicks have reeled off three straight wins, beating the Atlanta Hawks twice and even more surprisingly the Miami Heat, which was perceived as a stretch. They also came within two points of beating the best team in sports, the San Antonio Spurs and also took care of the Milwaukee Bucks and the Boston Celtics. In their last 10 games, the Knicks are 6-4, and are looking forward to adding more when they host the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night.

There’s no doubt that this turnaround is a response to that loss in Chicago, and the players and the coaching staff deserve the bulk of the credit for making the adjustments, but there are a couple of individuals in the Knicks organization that are key to this forward progress. You have to credit the evolving Anthony. Known as one of the purest scorers in the NBA for his entire career, Anthony has finally realized that he has to trust his teammates and this play in the loss to the San Antonio Spurs shows how far he has come.

With eight seconds left in the 4th, down by one, 100-99, Anthony dribbled the ball from half-court to inside the three-point arc, defended by Kawhi Leonard. As Anthony got closer to potentially taking the game-winner, Manu Ginobili provided the help. Anthony then dished to Jose Calderon in the corner who missed the three that would’ve completed the comeback.

Ginobili also recovered on Calderon’s attempt but the fact is Anthony made the right basketball play. “No way I could probably get a shot off,” Anthony said referring to passing up the last shot according to the Daily News NY. “I feel good with making that play tonight.” After the game, Anthony admitted that two or three years ago, he would’ve taken that shot and probably would’ve made it too. But Fisher believes he made the right play and most importantly so does Anthony.

*Photo via NYPost

“What we’ve seen is I think a willingness to kind of fit into what we’re trying to do,” Fisher said according to Ian Begley of ESPN.com. “[He’s] trying to give other guys space to operate out there.”

At this time last season, Anthony totaled 107 assists. Today Anthony has recorded 45 more. Anthony is still leading the Knicks in scoring but he’s passing up the usual tough, contested shots for better ones and he’s letting the game come to him rather than attack it. Because of Anthony’s unselfishness, the entire team is benefitting and the evidence has resulted in wins.

“I know the guys that I have on this team,” Anthony said stated by ESPN.com. “It’s just me trusting those guys out there and believing in those guys and letting them know I’m relying on them.” I think that sums up the new Melo.

In their last six wins, Arron Afflalo and Kristaps Porzingis, in addition to Anthony have taken turns as the leading scorer. The 2015-16 Knicks might not have a team built to win a championship, but Anthony realizes that this team is considerably better than last year’s bunch and he’s getting the best out of this roster by changing the way he plays basketball. Another person who deserves a lot of the credit is president of basketball operations, Phil Jackson.

He constructed this team and as the All-Star break approaches next month, the Knicks are ranked 10th in a much improved Eastern Conference. Jackson found Afflalo, who has emerged as one of the Knicks primary options on the offensive end. He signed Derrick Williams, Langston Galloway and Lance Thomas who have all bought into the triangle offense as well as playing on both ends. And he also found the surprise of the 2015 NBA Draft in the 4th overall pick, Kristaps Porzingis.

*Photo via NYPost

Going into the draft, Porzingis was viewed as a project that would take 2-3 years to develop. Fortunately for Knicks fans, Porzingis will be worth the wait. The 7’3 native of Latvia has emerged as a rookie of the year candidate, nearly averaging a double-double in 14 ppg and eight rebounds, playing a man’s game at just 20 years old. He’s also swatting anything near the rim, averaging 2.0 blocks a game and has played well alongside Anthony becoming a more than capable number two.

The Knicks had a lottery pick and they hit the lottery and at the end of the day, these Knicks are the product of Jackson’s vision. They probably won’t win the championship. They might not even make the playoffs. But the Knicks are in the discussion because they are competitive; they’re playing hard and they’re playing team ball. And I think that’s all the orange and blue nation is asking for. So far this season, the Knicks are delivering.

*Stats and Info Courtesy of ESPN, NY Daily News, NBA.com

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