ON THE KNICKERBOCKERS AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN: LININNNNNG!
Of course I am caught up in the current Linsanity which has overtaken the sports world. What do you expect? After all, I did write a column on the New York Knickerbockers (Knicks) last Christmas, where I predicted that the Knicks will soon become the NBA Champions. Go dig it up from my archives. I based this prediction on the arrival of both Tyson Chandler (the perfect fit to anchor the Knicks defense) and the play of a healthy Baron Davis at point guard (not Jeremy Lin’s emergence). We all knew that the two building blocks (Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony) were already in place.
I also told the world that rookie Iman Schumpert was a solid player. In my mind, I felt that the final pieces to finishing this 38 year old puzzle, came down to finding (or developing) a driving, dishing, creative and fearless point guard: one who could consistently nail a jumper with the shot-clock winding down. And as much as Chauncey Billups had tremendous utility, letting him go to make room for Chandler was the best decision management made in the off season.
My hope was that if Baron Davis could be near half the all-star-caliber player he was, then the Knicks would be very formidable come playoffs. I qualified my prediction with the hope that the team stays relatively healthy all season, and free of major injuries to key personnel.
I also predicted that the management will make another player-move before the trade-deadline in March. I sensed the need for a back-up center with some playoff experience for insurance purposes mainly; or a power forward similarly situated; or a small forward with mobility; or a marksman shooting guard: just one more player move I thought. And yesterday management went out and signed J.R. Smith. Wow!! What an addition; strange/weird though he may be. J.R. Smith is a potent offensive weapon at the 2-spot. He can also fill in at #3 in a pinch.
My only fear then -and even now somewhat- is that the coaching style of D’Antoni is too inflexible. He has the talent to run and gun (fast break); go into half-court sets; or post up in the paint. He could even isolate star-players like Amare Stoudemire or Carmelo Anthony when the need arrives. He could start with his center at the high post; or his guards spread out like butter on toast. He has small forwards who can make opponents chase them right into open spots. He has multiple options based on his nightly opposition. He has a wealth of talent at his disposal. He has no excuses for not getting to the Eastern Conference finals: at least.
Truth is the New York Knickerbockers management has assembled a damn good team this year. A team that is much better than Charles Barkley’s perennial put downs. They have depth, size, range, speed and talent. The question now becomes: do they have smarts? The other question is this: are they committed to playing hard-nosed defense every night? And by the way: they are an underrated team defensively- speaking.
When Jeremy Lin arrived, he was a Christmas-gift from the Gods. He was cut by Houston on Christmas day. He has d been waived by the Golden State Warriors -who signed him (as a courtesy) after he was undrafted. He has been underrated since High School. To some he is an over-achiever. To those who know him, he is just a humble and faithful Christian.
For ivy-league grads like me, peering in at the college teams on weekends is something we quietly do. We always hope that some team other than Princeton would represent the ivies in the NCAA March madness tourney. Some of us long for the old days of Jimmy McMillan (Columbia University). It is from the ivies that Jeremy Lin first came on the radar screen. He is deceptively quicker than he looks. He is aggressive when driving into the lane. He is tireless and indefatigable. He is smart. He is tough. He is driven to succeed.
Sure, he is still an unpolished diamond; sure, he turns over the ball a lot. He has to improve his long range shooting. He has to pick up his defense for the competition at the pro level. He has to read and anticipate the picks better. He has to give a stronger effort fighting through the screens. He has to blend with some humungous egos. He has to finish his layups; since there are too many times when he fails to close the deal after getting to the bucket. He is still a work in progress; but he has won at every level: he is a winner. He is driven. He is cerebral.
This Harvard grad (economic major) is now going to be under more pressure than he has ever been in his life. He is under the microscope of the NYC media. The weight of 38 consecutive failed-runs at the NBA crown will be placed on his shoulders without subtlety. Every opposing point guard in the league will put a bull’s-eye on his back. His Christianity will be tested. His manhood will be questioned. His race and ethnicity will be on the front burner. This is where he has to man-up.
Truth be told: the complete Knicks coaching staff should be burnt on a pyre if they fail to get this team to the Eastern Conference Finals (once healthy). Players like Walker, Fields, Jeffries (mainly defense), Harrelson, Novak, Jordan, Douglas and Bibby, complement a very talented group of heavyweights (some already mentioned). So, as I said in my last Knicks column: a champion is growing up at Madison Square Garden folks. Go dig up that column. I can’t wait for the playoffs.
Stay tuned-in y’all.
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