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Derrick Williams and the New York Knicks Are Alive

Photo by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

The Knicks are tied for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference, trailing only the Bulls and the Pistons. They are a full half-game ahead of the conference favorite Cavaliers. It can only go down from here, so forgive me if I milk this feeling.

Carmelo Anthony and company traveled to Milwaukee for the first season opener in Wisconsin since 1984, winning in a rout 122-97 to start the season off on the right foot.

That actually isn’t entirely accurate. Let’s try again.

Derrick Williams and company traveled to Milwaukee for the first season opener in Wisconsin since 1984, winning in a rout 122-97 to start the season off on the right foot.

That is about as unexpected of a sentence as is possible to type, considering almost two months ago I compared the idea of him starting or playing major minutes to watching a horror movie. With Halloween just around the corner, I’m feeling a little better about the Knicks’ preseason All-Star: He’s alive! He’s alive!

That’s right, putting up a team-high 24 points to go along with seven rebounds in 21 minutes, Williams seemed like the life of the Knicks on the floor. He was extremely active on both ends, grabbing rebounds, fighting for loose balls, and driving to the basket. It was fun watching him play, and he almost had me fooled thinking he might be able to make the Knicks watchable, despite how awful they are projected to be.

Let’s not start losing our minds. I don’t expect Williams to fix the myriad problems he showed in Minnesota and Sacramento. What I won’t discredit any longer is that he looks like he has more energy on the court, and he is playing a little more aggressively, which is a huge trait to have on a team that lacks explosiveness and athleticism across the board.

Williams stole the show at times, but he was far from the only contributor to a 25-point victory over a competitive Bucks team. Kristaps Porzingis is the Knick to watch, and he had some moments in this game. He scored 16 points and pulled in five rebounds in 24 minutes—healthy numbers for a career debut. Those numbers are important, because while fans seemed to come around and get behind him as the season neared, there is still that fear in all of New York that he will be Darko Milicic, who scored 48 total points his rookie year over a decade ago.

Porzingis was only 3-11 from the field, and his size always seemed like it was going to be a problem even if he was able to hold his own for the most part. Still, he got a chance to knock down a three-pointer, and more importantly he got to the free throw line 12 times and converted on nine of those attempts.

Oct. 28, 2015 - Milwaukee, WI, USA - The Milwaukee Bucks' Greg Monroe argues for a foul during the first half against the New York Knicks on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, at the BMO Harris Bradley Center Milwaukee.  (Photo by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)

Oct. 28, 2015 – Milwaukee, WI, USA – The Milwaukee Bucks’ Greg Monroe argues for a foul during the first half against the New York Knicks on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, at the BMO Harris Bradley Center Milwaukee. (Photo by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)

Langston Galloway, Lance Thomas, Jerian Grant, and Kyle O’Quinn added to what was an extremely impressive performance from the New York bench. The Knicks bench outscored Milwaukee’s 73-32, and more importantly:  They just had life. Following Williams’ lead, Grant was all over the court and seemed like he was constantly moving and pushing offensively. Galloway was 4-5 from deep, and Thomas was 5-of-5 from the field. O’Quinn grabbed 11 rebounds, set a lot of picks, had a lot of fun, and finished with a plus-minus of +23 by the end of the game.

Of course, it wasn’t all roses for the Knicks. Robin Lopez opened the game with two quick baskets before going into hiding for most of the rest of it. Eight points and two rebounds won’t get talked about after a big win, but the Knicks invested a lot in their starting center. Sasha Vujacic played 29 minutes, which is concerning.

He didn’t even play poorly, especially considering he hasn’t really played in the NBA since the 2010-11 season, aside from two appearances and 10 total minutes in February of 2014 for the Clippers. The concerning part is that Fisher played him 29 minutes, which would point to him being a fairly significant part of the rotation. It may just be a wonky footnote because it happened in a comfortable win with Arron Afflalo out with injury.

The real concern lies with Jose Calderon, and to a lesser extent Anthony. Calderon was 1-5 from the field, hitting a triple for his only points, and the eye test didn’t show much of anything else. He didn’t threaten the opposing defense, which seemed content to concede a jump shot to him. He wasn’t active on either side of the ball and lacked any aggression at all.

In the first quarter, I saw him complaining to refs about minimal contact fouls and loose ball calls more than he impacted the game on either side of the ball. It only took about five minutes of game time before I asked aloud to nobody in particular whether the Bucks head coach would be a better contributor to this Knick team right now. It is only one game, but Knicks fans should get the chance to see Grant play plenty as the two point guards fight for minutes.

That may be harsh, but it isn’t all that unexpected. What was a little unexpected was Anthony’s struggles in the opener. He looked a little slow, and relatively unexplosive for the most part. He seemed to be forcing his hand a little early, electing for contested jumpers when he couldn’t get into a groove in the first quarter.

He has definitely lost some luster since taking this team to the playoffs in 2012-13, but even the fans who think he is a loser who has never won anything and will never win anything all still expect him to put 25 points on the board every game. Additionally, because the narrative for those fans is “has never won anything and will never win anything” they will turn on him fast if he can’t be that guy offensively anymore.

For everyone else who still likes Melo and knows he has been saddled with, at best, marginal talent in New York, there really wasn’t a fear he wouldn’t be able to bounce back this year and be the consistent rock they could rely on while those young guys develop. Once again, it is only one game, but it did break a streak of 16 consecutive 20-point games in Milwaukee for Carmelo, which ties him with Allen Iverson for the second-best streak by an opposing play (Michael Jordan is first with 32 ). The athleticism and length of the Bucks could have given him trouble, and although he played at least 20 minutes in all five preseason games—including 31 in the final preseason game—he could still be shaking off some rust in real game action.

Ultimately, the good far outweighed the bad in a big season opening win for the Knicks. Putting the ball in the basket is always a good thing, but even if the shots weren’t falling the youth of this team had so much more energy than the atrocious 2014-15 team that managed to win only 17 games. Winning game one doesn’t change what I thought the Knicks were going to be this season, but it does leave me with some confidence that I was right to be optimistic that they are much improved and trending in the right direction.

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