In preparation for Monday night's game at the Garden, I spoke with Jared Zwerling, who covers the Knicks for ESPN New York, to get a read on the team. Here are his responses to three burning questions I had:
If Melo comes back tonight, how do you expect him to play with Lin? Is he really going to wreck D'Antoni's system or do you expect him to buy in?
For starters, Melo vouched for Lin to play in his breakout game against the Nets on Feb. 4. Even Lin said it's "funny" to him how people say he and Melo can't co-exist. Melo thinks the notion is crazy, too. While I think the pace will slow down a bit with Melo on the court, as the team adjusts, Melo will enjoy playing with Lin. His ability to get into the paint and kick-out to open shooters will benefit Melo's midrange game. Melo will also find more spacing on the court to get his shot off and attack the lane with Lin's ability to run the pick-and-roll. Melo will be even more effective in the offense running the lanes with Lin, who's been the team's best pusher and creator all season in transition.
All of a sudden, the Knicks have a multitude of weapons on offense. Shot-wise, how do they keep everyone happy?
As of now, no one has come out and said they're bothered about not getting enough shots. Melo did say in an ESPN interview that he wants the ball down the stretch to put the finishing touches on a team. That's probably the only demand I've heard from a shot attempt standpoint. Lin's play and the Knicks winning eight of nine games has created a very positive buzz around the team. Everyone seems to be happy. Of course, Toney Douglas is probably disappointed because he's not playing, but there's been no public anomsity I've heard. Mike D'Antoni said with the improved depth the team has, including J.R. Smith and soon Baron Davis and Josh Harrellson, he'll go deep into his rotation and will play those who are hotter (like Steve Novak Saturday night against the Mavericks) more minutes.
What's up with STAT? I know he had some buckets late, but he was pretty much a non-factor against Dallas. Will he ever be the player he was in the first half of last season?
There is a sense around the media that he's not getting the same lift on his moves around the basket. In fact, entering Saturday, Stoudemire has had 40 of his field goals attempts blocked this season, which is the third-highest total, behind the Kings' DeMarcus Cousins (48) and Nets' Kris Humphries (46). But there are a couple reasons for STAT's downgrade this season: Jeremy Lin's emergence, playing alongside Tyson Chandler who's just as an effective (if not better) roll guy to the basket and, of course, Carmelo Anthony on the court. Though his scoring is down obviously, STAT's been hitting key shots down the stretch and he's hustling on the boards. His biggest improvement has to be on the defensive end, and that hasn't happened yet. Too many opposing power forwards, from Boris Diaw to Kevin Love to Dirk Nowitzki, have had field days against the Knicks. That's not all on Stoudemire, but his one-on-one defense is his Achilles heel.