When you think of all the ways the Knicks' season could have started, you realize how scary this could have gotten. They could have lost a not-canceled game at Barclays against the upstart Nets. They could have been drilled by the hungry defending champs in their home opener. They could have been dominated by an eager-to-please Andrew Bynum, showing off for his new team in Philadelphia. They could have had half of their bench guys go down with ulcers and shower falls. There was so much negativity about the Knicks this off-season that any one of these scenarios seemed not just possible, but likely; the Knicks were going to be the Jets, hoisted on their own petard and paraded around for everyone's amusement. Except the thing is ... these Knicks look nothing like any Knicks we have seen in a long time.
All the Knicks did in their two home games to begin the year was blitz two Eastern Conference semifinalists from last year, trouncing both Miami and Philadelphia with rather stunning ease. The Knicks actually only trailed once all weekend — 2-0, yesterday — and completely controlled every aspect of both games. Now, Miami looked, oh, let's say sluggish on Friday, and Philadelphia was missing Bynum yesterday, but that's not the story: The story is just how cohesive these Knicks have played. This is not like any Knicks team we've seen in a long time.
The Knicks, a team perpetually riddled with egos and struggling with roster transition and twelve different fellows on twelve different pages, are playing like a team for once — like everybody likes each other and is working together for a common goal. This is rare in the NBA, particularly this early in the season, and it's exceptionally rare for the Knicks. But that's exactly what's happening.
The Knicks are doing tons of things we haven't seen them do before, at least not in a long time. A few:
1. They're passing like crazy. Who can remember a Knicks team moving the ball around like this one has been doing? Raymond Felton, who has been at the center of this and is playing even better than he did when he was with the Knicks the last time, actually joked, "We've been passing the ball too much." Coach Mike Woodson yelled at J.R. Smith to shoot the ball (rather than restrain himself from strangling Smith after another twenty-foot fadeaway jumper, as we've all become accustomed). The plan to have veterans in the backcourt who trust each other and always try to make the extra pass is working. Jason Kidd is looking Yoda-ish out there, Smith and Steve Novak have some sort of kismet, Felton is dashing through the lane and whipping the ball around, and even Carmelo Anthony is finding the open man. The offense looks crisp and smart and, considering the last two years, baffling.
2. They're draining threes everywhere. We've seen that at certain points in the past, but right now, everyone's hitting. The Knicks have hit 30-of-63 three-pointers for a wild 47 percent rate, and seven different guys have hit at least one. (And five have hit at least four.) Obviously, that rate of success can't continue, but it's not a total fluke either: These shots have been open because the Knicks are making the right passes to get them open.
3. Carmelo is leading everything. While the general consensus was that for the Knicks to challenge the elite in the NBA this season, it would require Carmelo Anthony to take his game to an MVP level, and no one really thought it would happen. But two games in, Carmelo is the center of everything happening. On offense, they look for Anthony first, and if that's blocked, they find a guy open outside. (And most of the time it works; Carmelo's averaging 28.5 a game so far.) But defense is where Anthony is truly standing out. He was terrific against LeBron James on Friday and even better yesterday, battling with bigger Thaddeous Young and stripping the ball out at every opportunity. At one point, he even dove into the third row for a loose ball — bashing some dude's beer in the process; honestly, fan, noon's too early to be drinking on a Sunday anyway — which is something we don't ever remember seeing Carmelo doing. Anthony is playing possessed right now, as if he realizes that this is, in fact, the season in which he must elevate his game to the superstar level everyone had always told him he'd already achieved. This is the Top Shelf Carmelo Anthony.
Now, obviously: It's two games. There are 80 to go, and there will be plenty of times where the Knicks' intensity lags. But right now, this team is playing together; it is playing hard, and it is playing smart. All the Knicks' runs the last few years have felt like anomalies, exciting, sure, but outside the normal order of the team and the franchise. This looks sustainable. This looks different. It's just two games. But it's difficult not to be excited by these two games. There could be something brewing here.