New York Knicks: Ranking the Most Important Bench Players
Sitting at an abysmal 6-7 after a home loss to the Orlando Magic, the New York Knicks currently lay claim to the eighth and final spot worthy of a postseason appearance in the Eastern Conference standings.
Who would’ve thought the abomination of a franchise that LeBron James left in his wake—the Cleveland Cavaliers—would make such an emphatic turnaround that they’d be peering down at the Knicks right now?
As easy as it is to pin the blame on injuries to key players (i.e., Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Iman Shumpert), the reality is the best teams only go as far as their benches take them.
A franchise may have the most talented starting five in the league (think Miami Heat), but there are too many variables that can cause things to spin out of control fast if you don’t have a backup plan riding the pine behind the head coach.
Disputants of the ‘Melo deal are shaking their heads and saying “I told you so;” the hypothesis that New York was giving away too much in the trade and would suffer for it absolutely has legs to stand on.
Having lost gifted reserves such as Wilson Chandler and Timofey Mozgov, who both went on to start in Denver, the Knicks, arguably, received the short end of the stick.
While the bench situation will improve with the arrival of Baron Davis, forcing either Landry Fields or Shumpert to play in the second unit, the Knicks will have to make do with what they’ve got in the meantime.
Let’s take a look at the subs who really need to step up and give a consistent effort down the stretch for the Knicks to be respectable.
5. Mike Bibby
Mike Bibby is a step slow and has seen his better days, but man, can he still shoot.
At this stage of his career, Bibby is not expected to penetrate and make plays. However, if he can simply set up the offense, locate the open cutter and knock down the occasional three, he will be fulfilling his duty for the Knicks.
Nagging injuries have resulted in sporadic appearances from the point guard. But when he’s been healthy, Bibby has shown flashes of the fearless-shooter-with-a-hot-hand reputation that he was notorious for in Sacramento.
In back-to-back contests earlier this month—his only double-digit-scoring outputs of the season—Bibby nailed a combined 7-of-7 from beyond the arc and averaged three assists.
The emergence of rookie Iman Shumpert has seemingly made the veteran expendable. But if Toney Douglas’ shooting woes continue, Bibby will be counted on to provide some firepower off the bench.
The return of Baron Davis will, in all likelihood, push Bibby to the bottom of the depth chart. But, given Davis’ injury-laden history, Bibby must always stay ready. His leadership and ability to make clutch baskets could be leaned on by Mike D’Antoni, as the season is still young.
4. Bill Walker
Just when he looks to be making strides, Bill Walker takes a step backwards. Since Walker came over in the trade that sent Nate Robinson to the Celtics, inconsistency has become a common theme.
One night, he’ll land a feature on SportsCenter's Top 10 with a dunk over shot-blocker Serge Ibaka. The next, he’s MIA. This is a frustrating pattern because, as a fixture in Mike D’Antoni’s rotation, his unpredictability is magnified.
At 6’6” and 235 lbs., Walker has the size and athleticism to match up with guards and forwards—it’s this type of versatility that earns him playing time. However, with a group that is generally struggling to score, New York needs him to make the most of his opportunities and put the ball through the cylinder.
Walker is too often content to hoist up three-pointers when he could be using his strength and deceptive leaping ability to take his man to the hole. After all, it is usually a rim-rocking stuff that gives Walker the confidence in his jumper to stroke it from deep.
Presently, the Knicks don’t have a reliable backup for Carmelo Anthony, and this is where Wilson Chandler is sorely missed. Anyhow, Walker could assume the role of a poor man’s Wilson Chandler—if there is such a thing—once D’Antoni is comfortable letting him loose from his short leash.
3. Toney Douglas
Whether it’s the ill-effects of shoulder surgery or a lack of poise due to Iman Shumpert taking the team by storm, Toney Douglas no longer exudes self-confidence.
During his first two years in the NBA, Douglas was unquestionably a go-to guy and one of the first off the bench. His undaunted Eli Manning-like demeanor enabled him to make clutch shots in big-game situations.
For a reticent, little-known pick out of Florida State, it didn’t take fans long before they laid out the “welcome” mat. The combo guard made himself feel right at home under the bright Garden lights.
With the departure of Chauncey Billups, the transition for Douglas to full-time starting point guard should’ve been seamless. But it appears the New York pressure finally penetrated his protective bubble.
Accustomed to providing instant offense as a scorer, it soon became apparent that facilitating an offense is not exactly Douglas’ cup of tea. Furthermore, his shots aren’t finding the bottom of the net.
Thus far, Douglas is only converting on 33 percent of his attempts from the field and less than a quarter from long range. Over the first 13 games, he has reached a field goal percentage of 50 percent once.
The lone positive sign in terms of Douglas’ shooting is that he’s missed just two free throws and hasn’t bricked any from the charity stripe since Jan. 2. This could be an indication that his poor shooting is, in fact, not a result of declining self-assurance and directly related to the failure to fully recover from his operation instead.
Whatever the issue, Douglas has to snap out of this funk because he will be a vital component to team success regardless of whether Baron Davis is healthy.
Now in his third year, it is high time for Douglas to commandeer the second squad and demonstrate some of that forgotten maturity that has been absent in the early going.
2. Jared Jeffries
For better or for worse, Jared Jeffries is one of Mike D’Antoni’s favorites. And for a guy who loves his offense, he puts Jeffries on a pedestal for everything but.
Since a calf strain suffered on opening day sidelined Jeffries until Jan. 14’s showdown with Oklahoma City, he has not compiled an extensive enough body of work to warrant praise nor denigration.
Nevertheless, D’Antoni made a statement that the lanky big man will certainly be in the mix, playing him 22 minutes in his first game back followed by 25 more two days later. To his credit, Jeffries had two steals and two blocks on Saturday against the Thunder despite going 0-for-4 from the field.
But, the purpose here is not to dwell on his shortcomings because they are all too obvious, and to try to rectify them is a losing battle.
Apparently, Jerome Jordan is unqualified for NBA competition, which leaves Jeffries as the only athletic center to offer relief to Tyson Chandler. Although Jeffries is nowhere near as boisterous as Chandler, he’s expected to imitate him on the defensive end—standing tall to alter shots and using his wingspan to clog passing lanes.
As Amar’e Stoudemire still struggles to gain any kind of defensive foothold, Jeffries will pair with Chandler on the front-line as well. This combination puts the Knicks at a severe offensive disadvantage, though and, until Baron Davis returns, the probability of this tandem being utilized for significant stretches is slim.
With New York still striving to establish some semblance of defensive identity, Jeffries is one of a select few who understands his role as a stopper. Jeffries has never been one to make a visible impact on a game, but it his intangibles that—with a bit of luck—should give rise to prosperity while he is on the floor.
1. Josh Harrellson
A month ago, most people would’ve scoffed at the idea of including Josh Harrellson in an article such as this—let alone securing the top spot. My, how he’s altered that perception.
Because the Knicks are so short on power forwards and Jared Jeffries was out at the time, Harrellson became a starter by default in just his fourth professional outing.
The rookie had particularly big shoes to fill. But considering Harrellson’s relative obscurity, there weren’t the typical expectations normally associated with being thrust into a role so imposing.
Unbeknownst to fans and even some scouts and coaches, Harrellson has a penchant for shooting three-pointers, and as it turns out, he’s not half bad. The Kings learned this the hard way as Harrellson put on a shooting clinic outside and was a monster on the boards inside.
That 14-point, 12-rebound starting debut did wonders to boost Harrellson’s morale, especially since Carmelo Anthony even gave him the green light to continue his barrage from downtown as long as he was open.
Although, Harrellson’s follow-up performance two days later as a replacement for Stoudemire in the starting lineup was not nearly as auspicious, his confidence hasn’t wavered.
In fact, over his last four games, Harrellson has buried at least two treys while shooting at a 53 percent clip. For the season, the big man has already attempted and made more threes than he did during his three-year stint at Kentucky. And he’s doing it at almost 37 percent.
This is a revelation for a Knicks offense that revolves around isolation sets run for Anthony because Harrellson helps spread the floor—as opposed to the congestion that is apt to occur when Anthony shares the court with Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler.
His numbers may be nothing to boast about, but it is Harrellson’s presence and basketball IQ that are bolstering his case for becoming the Knicks’ sixth man of choice. Compensating for his lack of mobility with an understanding of how to use his size to his benefit has been critical to his achievements.
Harrellson’s ability to put his body on a man, keeping himself between the opposition and the basket, is remarkable. And his post defense is improving on a daily basis; he knows how to defend a driving opponent with his body and hands straight up, thus avoiding fouls and drawing charges.
New York remains one of the worst teams in the league in regard to rebounding and points allowed in the paint. But as he gains experience, Harrellson will help improve upon these statistics.
While it’s still too early to draw comparisons, Harrellson exhibits plenty of the attributes that make Kevin Love great. That may be a tough act to follow, but even Love didn’t average a double-double his rookie season.
At the very least, Harrellson will be embraced by the Knicks faithful for years to come because the Garden crowd always adores a player blessed with a blue-collar work ethic—just like David Lee.
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