Al Iannazzone Newsday Knicks beat writer Al Iannazzone.

Al Iannazzone joined Newsday in January 2012 as the Knicks’ beat writer, after covering the NBA for 11 years for The Record. Al covered the Knicks and Nets in that time, and also reported on the U.S. Open tennis tournament and other major sporting events. Al appeared regularly on the YES Network’s Nets pregame show from 2005-2011.

Follow him on Twitter @Al_Iannazzone.
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The Knicks had a golden opportunity to reach the midpoint of their season with a winning record, but without Carmelo Anthony they couldn’t get past the Nets Wednesday.

After going 17—65 last season, being 20-21 was better than most expected, but still not a cause for celebration or to believe the Knicks are a finished product.

There are many upgrades needed and areas to be addressed. But the Knicks made strides, built chemistry and if they continue to play the way they did the last few weeks they could be a playoff team.

“They’re a good team,” former Knicks coach and ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy said. “I think they’re going to have a great opportunity at the playoffs. I think Porzingis is the real deal. I think there’s real hope for continued improvement.”

THE GOOD

Carmelo Anthony: His shots and scoring are down but his assists are up. He’s improved as a leader and is playing a more well-rounded game. He’s still the Knicks most important player. They’re 0-3 without Anthony.

Kristaps Porzingis: He’s a leading Rookie of the Year candidate and looks like a future All-Star. He’s shown physical and mental toughness and wants to be great. The Knicks found a future franchise player with the No. 4 pick.

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Arron Afflalo: He could average 20 points, but Afflalo has done a good job of picking his spots to score and take over games, and he’s been clutch. He was the Knicks’ best offseason signing.

BIGGEST SURPRISES

Porzingis: No one expected Porzingis to be this impactful, not even the Knicks. Most scouts saw him as a project who would develop into a good player. He’s already a good player who now is projected to be great.

Lance Thomas: After bouncing around, the ex-Duke player has become the Knicks’ sixth man and a “glue guy” for Derek Fisher. Thomas is a reliable contributor, a good defender and has improved his offensive game.

The Knicks: They’ve been streaky but they have played well lately with six wins in their last nine games. A 20-21 record at the midpoint is a big surprise.

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NEEDS IMPROVEMENT

Point guard play: Selfless vet Jose Calderon has played much better lately. But he can’t do it every night or defend quicker guards. Rookie Jerian Grant has been inconsistent. The Knicks will address this spot and have options in free agency: Mike Conley, Jr., Rajon Rondo, Brandon Jennings.

On the wing: The league continues to go small and the Knicks have five players 6-9 or taller. They need to find an athletic wing player with versatility to guard multiple positions and plays both ends of the floor. Maybe the Knicks can move one of the bigs for a perimeter player.

The bench: Some nights the reserves look good and others they’re flat. The Knicks need to get consistent effort, production and play from Langston Galloway, Derrick Williams and Grant.

DEREK FISHER’S BEST MOVE

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Shortening the rotation: After going 11- and 12-deep regularly, Fisher seems to have settled on a nine-man rotation with Porzingis often playing center with four reserves. Fisher still needs to work on his rotations, and staggering Porzingis and Anthony more, but it’s been much better.