The New York Knicks originally went the star route while putting their present team together -- Amar'e Stoudemire, followed by Carmelo Anthony, and then they filled in the pieces from there. They went for the big splash, for flash and headlines. Anthony himself has mainly been all about flash in his NBA career -- a scorer but leaving the little things to everyone else. But now, to start this season? The Knicks are doing things the old-fashioned way, through defense, hard work and a selfless offensive philosophy. And Anthony is leading the way.
Mike Woodson is making everyone forget that Jim Dolan never bothered to contact Phil Jackson during the offseason (and now the Los Angeles Lakers are taking old Knick coaches in a role reversal no one could have seen coming a few months ago). Woodson's taking a page out of the Red Holzman playbook, and has set down the gauntlet for team-first play, and an emphasis on defense. And everyone's buying in. Anthony is setting the example, and playing his best all-around basketball since he's been a Knick. J.R. Smith was unhappy with his role before the season began, but now he's all-in, and though he's coming off the bench, he's still getting more minutes than most of the starters. All the old guys, from Jason Kidd to Rasheed Wallace to Kurt Thomas, have been implemented into the rotation perfectly. Woodson has stated that he "doesn't owe anybody minutes," and he's kept his word. The good of the whole comes before everything else.
Anthony is the key to all of this. And so far, it's all good -- he's been playing defense, rebounding and diving into crowds for loose balls. He's also getting his shots, and, in fact, is attempting more per game than his career average (21 shots per game this season vs. 19.3 for his career) -- it just doesn't seem like it, though. Maybe with both Raymond Felton and Kidd on the floor together, the ball moves around, with quick decisiveness, and doesn't get stuck with Anthony, but he's still the go-to option on offense. And the lack of turnovers are a key to their success as well. The New York Giants and New York Jets can regale the Knicks with nightmarish tales of what happens when you consistently turn the ball over. On the other side of the court, though, the Knicks are forcing turnovers with their defensive tenacity and acumen.
There are probably many younger Knick fans who are tired of hearing about the 1970 and 1973 Knicks -- selfless Hall of Famers, seamlessly working together, sacrificing their individual play for the good of the team, blah, blah, blah -- but that's the blueprint. Play defense first and spread the ball around and hit the open man on offense. So far Woodson has his team doing just that.
Maybe the Knicks will hit a speed bump with the returns of Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert, as playing time will have to be doled out carefully and judiciously. Will the complaints of too few minutes then begin? And maybe the elderly members of the roster will start to break down or fade as the season progresses. But right now, it's all working, with chemistry, defense and unselfishness ruling the day.
The Knicks are winning the old-fashioned, Red Holzman way, but it's only been four games. Can Woodson keep his team playing this way for 78 more games, and into the playoffs? It's easy with the fresh enthusiasm of a new season, with the schedule still having that new-car smell. But all season long? That's the hard part, and that's when Woodson will earn his money.