The Knicks (32-18) didn’t exactly end the first half of the regular season the way they wanted, losing three of their last four, but for head coach — and eternal optimist — Mike Woodson, the team’s goals are still well within reach.
Woodson noted following Wednesday night’s ugly loss to the Raptors that his squad has led the Atlantic Division wire-to-wire so far, are still ahead of the Nets (31-22), and are still within striking distance of the suddenly surging Heat (35-14).
All of those points are true, but if given truth serum, even Woodson would admit his team has looked sluggish and old lately, and are in need of the All-Star break.
But for now, Woodson should be proud of the way the league’s oldest team has played, and the following grades should reflect such success:
Mike Woodson, head coach: He’s won 50 games as a Knicks coach faster than anyone in the history of the storied franchise. He’s also masterfully shifted his rotation and starting lineups whenever injuries — and there have been many — have arisen. Woodson came up with the plan to start the 6-foot-7 Carmelo Anthony at power forward and it’s worked well, even if the Knicks routinely get outrebounded. About the only criticism of Woodson so far is his insistence on giving quality minutes to struggling veterans like Ronnie Brewer, and recently Jason Kidd, and rarely giving guys like Chris Copeland, who is a very productive offensive player, more minutes. GRADE: A-
Carmelo Anthony, forward: Arguably the league’s best scorer, notching 28.6 points per game, Anthony has also raised his efforts on the defensive end and the glass, averaging a respectable 6.5 boards per game. Once thought of as the leading candidate for the Most Valuable Player award during the first two months, he’s come back to the pack now. But that doesn’t diminish his strong first half. The Knicks are hopeful his injured right biceps, suffered Wednesday night, isn’t anything too serious going forward, or else the team is sunk. GRADE: A
Tyson Chandler, center: The reigning Defensive Player of the Year has actually seen his dominance wane some in the post, as opposing teams have had great success in the last two months. Overall, though, Chandler is enjoying a great season — providing his pick-and-roll partner Raymond Felton is in the lineup — as he’s a first-time All-Star averaging 11.4 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. GRADE: B+
Raymond Felton, point guard: He missed 12 games due to injury and in his absence, the Knicks’ offense wasn’t the same — and neither was Chandler’s production. Those intangibles show more value than his respectable numbers of 14.9 points, 6.3 assists, and 1.3 steals per game ever could. GRADE: B+
J.R. Smith, guard: Although his reputation says he can be erratic at inopportune moments, Smith has actually played under control for most of the year and is a legitimate candidate for Sixth Man of the Year. He’s averaging 16.2 points, 5.0 assists, and 1.3 steals, and has picked up the slack for Anthony any time the star forward had an off game or didn’t play, which shows that the once mercurial guard has taken to his newfound leadership role. GRADE: B
Jason Kidd, guard: He started the season as one of the league’s best 3-point shooters (as high as 44 percent) and held his own filling in as the starting shooting guard while Iman Shumpert recovered from his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury. But Kidd is 39 years old, and has started to see his productivity dip recently, as his 3-point accuracy is now down to 38 percent. While Shumpert has returned to the starting lineup, playing small forward, Kidd has maintained his starting spot at shooting guard. But he’ll need to reboot during the four-day layoff or else he may see his starting spot vanish altogether. GRADE: C+
Amar’e Stoudemire, forward: He’s recovered nicely after missing the first two months following his knee debridement procedure, by flourishing in his sixth-man role. Only Anthony is more productive per-36 minutes than Stoudemire, who’s averaging 13.6 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-10 Stoudemire has also finally adapted his game to the post by becoming more efficient on the blocks, as he’s shooting .559 percent from the field, second only to Chandler’s .673 percent.
Steve Novak, forward: He’s one of the league’s best shooters, knocking down 44.7 percent from 3-point range. But as good as that number is, Novak’s numbers are actually down, even though he’s averaging a career-high 21.6 minutes per game. He’s averaging just 6.9 points per game, down from 8.8 last season, and his accuracy behind the arc has tumbled, down from last season’s league-best 47.2 percent. He’s been in a rut as of late, so the Knicks will need him to get back on track once he returns from competing in the 3-point contest this weekend. GRADE: C+
Iman Shumpert, guard: Woodson affectionately calls him “Rook” since he’s yet to play in 82 career games, but Shumpert’s impact when healthy is as valuable as any veteran on the team. Shumpert is still working his way back from the ACL injury, but it’s a good sign that he’s started all 13 games since his comeback and is actually on the floor in crunchtime. He’s also shooting a career-high 41.4 percent from behind the arc, which shows his legs are starting to get back under him. And once that fully happens, the Knicks are confident that he’ll get back to his explosive self, just in time for the playoff stretch. GRADE: C+
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.