New York Knicks Linsanity: Going Forward

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Last night’s third episode of MSG’s new hit series “Linsanity” was a lot like the first two: exhilarating, uplifting, improbable and ultimately satisfying.  Jeremy Lin has single handedly revived a Knicks team that was practically dead in the water at 8-15 and given New York hope that its basketball team might make something of its 2012 season after all.

Lin’s first two NBA starts are statistically comparable to Isiah Thomas and LeBron James. Pause and read that sentence again. Furthermore, his coach tacitly compared him to Steve Nash. Don’t mistake me for a D’Antoni supporter – I honestly believe he was the main reason for the team’s inexcusably bad start – but the coach knows a thing or two about point guards.

The excitement over Lin is palpable, and even though he’s only played a significant role in three games, it’s very possible that the Knicks have found their solution at point guard. So now the question is, what happens when Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire return?

The Knicks’ offensive efficiency problems have been well-documented since they traded for Carmelo Anthony a year ago. The terms “volume shooter” and “ball-stopper” are commonplace in the Knicks fan’s vernacular. Many analysts don’t believe it’s possible for Stat and ‘Melo to coexist with just one basketball between them.

These are real problems. But if Mike D’Antoni is, as advertised, an offensive guru, now that he has a functioning point guard at his disposal, I think it’s reasonable to expect the Knicks to play at a very high level once their superstars return. Here’s why:

First of all, there might not be a better finisher at the basket than Stoudemire, especially off the pick-and-roll. That’s the bread and butter of the D’Antoni system and Lin has already proven that he can execute it. His instincts are top-notch in terms of whether to keep the ball, pass it to the roll guy, or kick out to an open shooter.

Then, there’s ‘Melo. Make no mistake, I’m a big Carmelo Anthony fan. I’m about as steadfast in my defense of the trade as I am in my defense of Mark Sanchez, which if you know me, is pretty steadfast.  The point is that Anthony is one of the best pure scorers on planet Earth right now and any team with him on the roster is potentially dangerous. But he needs to be deployed the right way, and D’Antoni’s experiment with him at point-forward failed miserably.

Ideally, Anthony will live in his favorite spot on the floor: the wing. Except he won’t start with the ball on every set. Maybe the Knicks screen for him and get an easy bucket on a backdoor cut. Maybe when Lin drives, Anthony’s defender will leave him to help on Lin, and Anthony will have a wide open 18 foot jumper. And yes, there still should be some isolation plays in the Knicks’ arsenal, because there’s no denying ‘Melo’s 1-on-1 talent when he’s firing on all cylinders (see last year’s legendary 48-point performance vs. Boston in the playoffs).

Most importantly, Lin makes the Knicks deeper, allowing them to slot the rest of their players into their natural positions. Iman Shumpert and (hopefully) Toney Douglas will be the energetic combo guards off the bench. Steve Novak and Bill Walker the outside threats, and Jared Jeffries the defensive specialist. If Baron Davis ever gets healthy, he’s certainly not a bad guy to share the backcourt with Lin and show him the ropes in the NBA.

Don’t expect the hysteria to last forever, but at the very least, Jeremy Lin has brought some energy back to the Knicks. Now, the team needs to sustain that success, especially when its two superstars return.