Nov. 9, 2012; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony (7) reacts against the Dallas Mavericks during the second half at Madison Square Garden. Knicks won 104-94. - Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE
The best way to explain why the New York Knicks are 6-0 with some pretty eye-opening wins already in hand is to say that they are simply doing everything right.
The New York Knicks are currently the best team in basketball, and that's not even a controversial statement. The Knicks beat the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday to move to 6-0. Of those six wins, five came against probable playoff teams. (I'll understand if you're skeptical about the current incarnation of the Sixers, which the Knicks have beaten twice.)
Thursday's 4-point road win over San Antonio was New York's first game of the season the team didn't win by 10 or more. New York has the No. 1 offense in the league and the No. 2 defense. The Knicks are No. 3 in the league in shooting (including No. 2 in three-point shooting), have the lowest turnover rate, force turnovers at the third-highest rate and rarely foul. There's basically one important thing out of all of the important things that New York hasn't done particularly well: rebound. Other than that, the Knicks are dominating in all facets.
The all-important question is very, very difficult to answer: can it last?
No one knows. You would expect the really insane levels to normalize -- can the Knicks really shoot .428 on three-pointers all season, for example? The NBA record is ... .428, achieved by the 1996-97 Hornets. That was the final season the NBA used the shorter three-point line, so asterisk. The non-asterisked record is .412 by the 2009-10 Suns. Can the Knicks really turn over the ball on less than 10 percent of their possessions? The Knicks have a 9.9 percent turnover rate. The 2002-03 Mavericks (starring Steve Nash) have the NBA record at 10.9 percent. Can the Knicks seriously threaten the all-time margin of victory record, set at 12.28 points per game by the 1971-72 Lakers? The Knicks are currently at 13.67.
Certainly, you can imagine the Knicks staying well above average in all of these categories if not record-breaking. For instance, the excellent turnover creation New York has showed carries over from last season: the Knicks were No. 2 in the categories in 2011-12. But others seem ... alarmingly out of left side. For instance, the Knicks were No. 21 in three-point shooting last season. The backcourt has been completely retooled, yes, but enough of the individual Knicks are shooting absurd percentages (J.R. Smith at .737, Jason Kidd at .550) to expect some regression.
Based on his career before this season, we'd expect Smith to shoot between .338 and .392 on three-pointers (with a 95 percent confidence interval). So not only will he likely come down, but he'll come down a lot. But there are other sides to this expectation, including one glaring issue: Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks' star scorer, is shooting at the low end of his expectations. Here's another: knock him all you want, but Amar'e Stoudemire remains a deft scorer. His eventual re-entry will hurt the defense, surely, but S.T.A.T. can score. So if the shooters cool off, there will be an infusion of likely-to-be efficient scoring.
I don't get the sense this is a massive house of cards, unlike other teams that blaze off to incredible starts. Among the rotation players, only Smith and Kidd are playing way over their heads, and that's all related to the above-mentioned shooting. Felton has been surprisingly good compared with last season, but it's in line with what he did in his previous half-season in New York. It's not a Mike James bargain with the devil type of start he's having. Ronnie Brewer has always been solid. Rasheed Wallace is ... Rasheed Wallace. Tyson Chandler is elite. Carmelo Anthony is very good. Mike Woodson is criminally underrated as a coach. You know how the Lakers started pretty awful but everyone knew they'd bounce back eventually, whether they canned Mike Brown or not? I don't feel that the opposite is true. I don't feel that the Knicks will necessarily crash back down to Earth like the 2011-12 Sixers (who were blazing hot for a month).
I'm not sure they'll be the East's best team at season's end -- Stoudemire's eventual return might make it difficult to maintain a top-3 defense, and the idea of an overconfident Smith is terrifying to anyone expecting great things. But holy moly, they've blown out the Heat, Mavericks and Sixers twice, and just took care of the Spurs in San Antonio. I'm going to withhold skepticism for the moment. (I should note I was a Knicks skeptic before the season, and had them nowhere near a top-3 seed in the East. In particular, I thought the guard lineup was a disaster. It is not.)
On Friday, they land in that wasp's nest that is FedEx Forum, where the ravenous Grizzlies are hoping to steal the headlines. The ball control from Felton and Kidd will be tested by the E. Honda stylings of Mike Conley and Tony Allen. Zach Randolph is going to try to match 'Melo shot for shot. Marc Gasol is going to yank Chandler away from the post. Rudy Gay is going to test Brewer's defense. It's going to be a wonderful game if both teams play up to their current momentum. For the Knicks, it could either be another notch in a wonderful start, or the first sign that crushing reality is ahead. Get your popcorn.
The Hook is an NBA column by Tom Ziller. See the archives.