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Knicks Have True Grit

Over the past month several people have asked me what's behind the Knicks resurgence. I could point to several factors, such as; the acquisition of superstar Amar'e Stoudemire, a significant upgrade at point guard in Raymond Felton, greater team chemistry, the development of Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari or the old school game of unheralded rookie Landry Fields. But ultimately, the Knicks revival can be summed up in two words: TRUE GRIT.

Former general manager Isiah Thomas comprised a team of malcontents who lacked discipline, leadership skills and a desire to play winning team basketball. When Donnie Walsh took over the reigns he traded Isiah's misfits for players other teams didn't want, but who fit into Walsh's plan to clear cap space for the free agent bonanza of 2010. Consequently, Coach D'Antoni was stuck with players motivated not by wins and losses, but rather their next contract with another team. Talented youngsters Chandler, Gallinari and David Lee were unaccustomed to winning in the NBA and lacked the veteran leadership to show them how it's done.

Enter Amar'e and Felton. Both have proven themselves to be better players than anybody realized. Amar'e has disproven the theory that Steve Nash made him who he was and is playing the best defense of his career. Felton, who averaged 13.5 points and 6.5 assists for his career is swishing and dishing at the rate of 18.5 and 8.9 per game. But the biggest contribution the two veterans have made to the Knicks is more subtle.

The co-captains adopted their role as leaders of the team and set the tone on and off the court. The message is clear; the Knicks will compete every night and expect to win regardless of the opponent. When they fell to 3-8 after an uninspired effort at home against a depleted Rockets team, Amar'e let his teammates know that their effort was unacceptable. He's backed up his talk on the court by demanding the ball in clutch situations and leading the league in fourth quarter scoring. When the Knicks are in a tight game or their energy is lagging Felton ("The Bulldog" as Amar'e calls him) raises the intensity level of his teammates by hounding his man defensively and driving to the basket with reckless abandon. The younger players have followed their captains' lead.

The NBA season is a grind. Players spend long stretches of time away from their homes and families. They fight through a lack of sleep and nagging injuries to face off against the greatest players in the world night after night. Talent goes a long way, but what often separates the winners from the losers is a will to win. In recent years the Knicks were content to showcase their individual talents and collect their multi-million dollar salaries. This team is different. They have true grit.

1 comment:

  1. Thank god this team is finally different.

    ReplyDelete