The Knicks went 54-28 last season. That's a damn good record, and previous season records are the best indicator of future success. So one would expect, based entirely on that 54-28 record in 2012-13, that the Knicks would be pretty good in 2013-14 ...
... Except the Knicks made some pretty drastic changes, were already a pretty old team that didn't get much younger and have a wildly imbalanced roster. Combine that with an early injury to Tyson Chandler -- quite possibly the only plus defender on the roster at this stage -- and as the Knicks flail at 3-6, what exactly did you expect?
The Knicks offense in 2012-13 was fueled by a career season from Carmelo Anthony as he largely played power forward, a huge reliance on three-pointers with a top-notch conversion rate and one of the lowest turnover rates on record. 'Melo was shifted back to small forward to start the season. (He's back at the four now.) The Knicks had four rotation players shoot 40 percent or better on threes last season. One of them, Chris Copeland, left in free agency. Another, Steve Novak, was included in the Andrea Bargnani trade. A third, Pablo Prigioni, is averaging fewer than three field goal attempts per game this season. The fourth, Iman Shumpert, is basically being sold at auction as we speak. As for turnovers, that's still working.
Meanwhile, the defense -- already pretty bad last season -- has gotten worse. Quelle surprise, given the fact that Bargnani is No. 4 on the team in minutes played. Il Mago has actually done well on offense early this season, but he's an absolute abomination on the glass and defensively. (Only three Knicks -- Prigioni, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Raymond Felton -- have defensive rebound rates lower than that of Bargnani. He is the tallest Knick.) Bargnani's game is not really a surprise: he's been in the league since 2006. This is Bargnani. The Knicks knew it coming in, and didn't seem to worry about his defensive shortcomings. Guess who is paying for it? The Knicks.
Mike Woodson, the beleaguered but not embattled coach, has changed up quite a bit this season. He's moved Anthony around, he's moved Shumpert around and he's started Smith -- the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, and a guy who had his best season ever in that role last season -- in three of the four games he's been available.
The Knicks' 2012-13 roster, the Knicks' 2012-13 rotation -- those are the units that got a 54-win season. After massive changes in both, we have a 3-6 team. 'Melo is darned good, but not good enough that no matter what happens around him his team will rule. There's only two of those guys in the league: LeBron and Durant. And even their teams have ruts, especially when injuries drop their supporting casts.
Woodson has coached an elite defense just once, and in that season he took over for Mike D'Antoni two-thirds of the way through the season (2011-12). Chandler is a great defender, but he's 31 and currently out for another month or so. Shumpert has a rep as a defender, but no numbers actually back that up. (The available regularized adjusted plus-minus numbers consider him a slight negative. Raw on-off agrees.) Metta World Peace is not bad, but also 33 years old. He's nothing like he once was on that end. Felton is mediocre defensively. 'Melo is neutral at his best. Bargnani and Amare Stoudemire are incredible liabilities. Kenyon Martin, who is just now being sprung from a platoon, is pretty good in the pivot, but almost 36 years old. This team is not built to have a good defense. An average defense is too much to ask based on the roster.
That means the offense needs to scream for the team to be good. The fundamentals of the offense are sound: 'Melo is a brilliant scorer, Smith is historically good at putting up points in bunches, Bargnani has been a good deep shooter in the past and the turnover success is legit and sustainable. (The benefits of isolation basketball, I suppose.) Smith has been off to a disastrous start, but his history beyond even last season suggests he'll be fine ... assuming offseason knee surgery didn't ruin his speed and athleticism. Shumpert is a good and improving young player. Prigioni and Beno Udrih are solid. (The latter isn't being used at all.)
In all likelihood, the team will be pretty good when it's all said and done, especially if Chandler returns on schedule. Winning 54 games again was likely a stretch in any case, and given Chandler's absence, Smith's late start due to suspension and his slow start due to whatever, 50 wins might be asking too much. But the Knicks will make the playoffs and maybe even grab a top-4 seed. Unless the Nets clean up their own problems, the Atlantic Division is well within reach.
It's not what New York wanted, it's not what James Dolan (foolishly) expected and it won't satiate all fans despite the franchise being in tremendously better position than at any point in the first decade of the millennium. (Hence the "Fire Woodson!" chants at the Garden.) But it's not the Knicks' fault for being who the Knicks are -- an above-average but old and therefore at-risk club. Anyone who expected more should probably blame themselves for not understanding what impact New York's awful offseason would have on the win total.
The TL;DR version: don't worry, the Knicks will still win like 45 games. Sorry if you expected more.