By just about any metric, the Knicks finished up the pre-All-Star Game portion of their schedule in excellent shape.
They lead the Atlantic Division and are on pace for their best season since at least 2000-01 with a strong finishing kick threatening to move it even further up the list of the best Knicks regular seasons ever. The team's found ways to integrate several new faces while also finally seeing the Carmelo Anthony/Amar'e Stoudemire partnership bear fruit.
If you'd thrown those facts out at the start of the year, you would have found plenty of happy buyers lined up to plunk down their dough. And yet it feels like the Knicks left quite a bit on the table, especially over their 13-12 stretch over the last 25 games.
There are injuries to blame for some of the struggles and the growing pains involved with finding the right lineups when your team hasn't spent much time together, but the differences from the early season are hard to miss. There's less ball movement, the offensive reliance on three-pointers leaves them prone to brownouts and the defense seems to get less effective by the day.
The Knicks answered a lot of their biggest questions during the first half and the responses were uniformly affirmative. There's just one question left, really, and it is the one that can't be answered for at least 82 more games.
How good are the Knicks?
While you ponder that, a quick look back at what the Knicks did during the mathematically inexact first half of the NBA season.
Carmelo Anthony: There are still some ghastly shooting nights and he could stand to show a little more resolve when it comes to referees, but it's hard to find too much fault with Anthony in the first 50 games of the year. He's having the best offensive season of his career, he's generally less prone to force his offense and the team will rise or fall based on his ability to keep it up.
Tyson Chandler: He finally got a trip to the All-Star Game so his increased offensive usage has paid off for him, but there are nights where it feels like it might be coming at the expense of his defense. While it doesn't help that the Knicks have no other interior defenders, Chandler's had a less pronounced impact on that end of the floor of late.
Raymond Felton: The return of Ray-Ray has been a mixed bag. They missed him terribly when he was out with a broken pinkie, but there have also been games where he's shot them right out of a chance to win. Then there are others where his offensive touch is invaluable, often because his defense is forcing the Knicks to trade baskets.
Jason Kidd: His shooting touch has disappeared and the offense stagnates when he's on the point, but it's still a major net positive to have him on the team. He's made a huge impact defensively, which makes him useful enough to wait for the shooting to return.
Amar'e Stoudemire: He was awful against Toronto Wednesday, but he's found a place to be effective offensively and the team has needed it. If only there were a way to do something about that defense.
J.R. Smith: Smith's ability to heat up out of nowhere, make big shots in big moments and finish alley-oop passes thrown at his waist make him the most entertaining show in town. His cold shooting nights and propensity to get lost defensively make him the most maddening as well.
Steve Novak: When Novak is making an impact, there's little chance the Knicks aren't winning. The problem is that most teams go out of their way to stop him from scoring and he brings nothing else to the table.
Pablo Prigioni: Like Novak, Prigioni is a guy who will have his moments while struggling other nights. His knack for stealing inbounds passes balances out his freakish unwillingness to shoot.
Ronnie Brewer: He made a lot of corner threes early and played a fair amount. He stopped making them and now does not play.
Chris Copeland: On a worse team, Copeland's playing 28 minutes a night and scoring at a good clip. On this team he's left wishing he played here in the Isiah Thomas era.
James White: Works hard enough on defense to make you wonder why no one's given him a longer look. For now, though, the Slam Dunk Contest is his time to shine.
Kurt Thomas: He's fallen out of favor with Stoudemire back, but there are nights when they could use 10 minutes of Thomas' ground and pound defensive style.
Marcus Camby/Rasheed Wallace: They could use these two guys more. Both did good things for the team defensively, especially Wallace, and their absence has coincided with the team's defensive downslide.
Iman Shumpert: It's a small sample size, but Shumpert's impressed more with his hair than his play to this point. If things work out, his first half cameo is like training camp.
Mike Woodson: He deserves huge credit for weaving together a winner from a team of moving parts, with special credit for making Stoudemire's return a win when so many thought it would be a loss. The inconsistencies on defense and the penchant for slow starts are starting to gnaw away, though, so it's not all roses for the coach.