All of a sudden a future that seemed bleak on two fronts last week is brightening by the day for the New York Knicks and point guard Jeremy Lin. A week ago the city of New York, already shattered that pre-season expectations of a Championship were seemingly unrealistic, was contemplating whether head coach had the basketball smarts to turn a lackluster squad into a winner. Some called for his head, trade Stoudemire and Chandler for Dwight Howard, offered others but the general consensus was that the franchise was regressing on progress made over the past two years.
Enter Jeremy Lin. A week ago the Asian sensation was sleeping on his brother's couch, not certain that he would be in Manhattan long enough to find housing of his own. The Knicks revealed that Lin was set to be cut just prior to his breakout showing against New Jersey. As this week ends, Lin is the toast of Gotham, almost a certainty to write his own cheque at season's end if he keeps his recent performances up.
The Knicks are looking like a (playoff) contender once again, the surprising thing is they've done all this with both their stars out of the lineup. The joke now is whether Mike D'Antoni can integrate Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony back into a starting lineup that is on a 5-game winning streak.
The skpetics are out – more so on the Knicks as a team unit than on Lin's on-court ability – but the question of how New York will play as a team remains. Lin has proved he can handle the big stage (the 38 points and 7 assists against the Lakers in a nationally televised game is the proof), he can handle the pick-and-roll, a play the Knicks were struggling to run in their previous 23-games, and most importantly, he looks comfortable on the court. Like he belongs.
Amar'e returns on Monday night (US time), and of the two superstars he will be the easiest to make the adjustment playing with Lin, he had years of experience running the pick-and-roll with Steve Nash, Stoudemire will be overjoyed at scoring some easy buckets in the paint. Carmelo is the enigma in the equation. The forward is jacking up an average of just under 19 shots per game – connecting on just 39.9% of them. If Melo comes back understanding that Lin's emergence means he won't have to control the ball for long periods, the Knicks will be a dangerous unit. If Anthony reverts back to his more 'natural' game of being a 'closer' for New York, then watch out.
Back to Lin, as has been repeated ad-nauseum, Mike D'Antoni's system is predicated on a solid point guard that can set the offense up. Lin's arrival means the Knicks don't have to rush Baron Davis back, if No.17 keeps up his current 11.2 ppg and slightly increases his assists from the 3.8 he is averaging presently then he is doing his job. Once Baron eventually returns there will be less pressure on both the PG's – Davis won't have to carry the entire organization on his (ailing) back, and Lin's inexperience in playoff situations will be covered by Davis sharing backcourt duties with him.
New York's schedule has them playing 4 of their next 5 against sub .500 teams (Dallas is the only playoff team they'll face), win the games they are supposed to and all of a sudden they could find themselves leapfrogging the Celtics who stand two games ahead of them in the Atlantic Division. If the team starts to gel, a higher seeding for the post-season is not out of the question, and with that maybe a first-round win is possible.
Yes, things are certainly brighter for the New York Knicks this week.