As the legend of Jeremy Lin continues to grow, it’s easy to ignore the other key contributors for the New York Knicks during their recent five–game winning streak, especially when one of them is almost as surprising as Lin.
Steve Novak may not have come from quite the same obscurity as the 23-year-old Harvard graduate who was a complete unknown in NBA circles until 10 days ago, but he has certainly risen from the end of the Knicks bench and taken advantage of his increased minutes recently, much like Lin has.
Novak, a 28-year-old second-round draft pick out of Marquette back in 2006, is on his fifth team in his sixth season and, unlike Lin, has actually been around the NBA long enough to be considered a journeyman. He’s at the stage of his career where he needs to make the most of his opportunities, and the opportunity in front of him right now is probably as good as it’s ever going to get.
As a classic spot up shooter, Novak is quite possibly the perfect compliment at either the small or power forward position in head coach Mike D’Antoni’s offense, particularly with a point guard like Lin running the show.
As a result, Novak has averaged 15.5 points per game during the last four games with Lin in the starting lineup. Compare that to his 3.4 points per game over the Knicks’ first 24 games of the season and it’s impossible to argue that his Asian-American teammate doesn’t have a lot to do with his recent success.
Of course, that’s not meant to downplay Novak’s abilities. He is one of the better catch-and-shoot players in the NBA and he plays an important role that’s often undervalued by many fans. Being able to hit the shots that Novak can knock down, especially at his height, is much easier said than done. It’s why players like Steve Kerr, Del Curry and Dale Ellis, among many others, were able to stick around the league for so long as fairly one-dimensional players.
They’re the finishers from the outside when the other guards are penetrating the lane and getting the defense to collapse, which is exactly what Lin has been doing at will for the Knicks over the past five games.
Two of Lin’s biggest attributes are his deceptive quickness, which allows him to get into the paint consistently, and his ability to find an open teammate if he can’t find a shot for himself. This is where Novak thrives.
The 16 three-pointers that Novak has connected on since his increase in playing time over the last four games are more than he had made previously all season and that’s not a coincidence, unless you’d prefer to pronounce it as “co-LIN-cidence.”
Perhaps coach D’Antoni initially gave Novak more of opportunity because of Carmelo Anthony’s recent injury, but opportunities must be capitalized on or else they will eventually be taken away. After all, Lin would not have remained the starting point guard for the Knicks had he not proven his value to the team, just as Novak would not have been on the floor to hit a game-tying three-pointer against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday had he not stepped up earlier on.
D’Antoni has obviously realized that Novak is a great compliment to his offensive system, which relies on a great point guard, plenty of pick-and-rolls and spacing along the perimeter from players that know how to get open without the ball and hit open shots. What it doesn’t rely on is the constant isolation plays that Carmelo Anthony demands on a nightly basis, which could derail the recent success for Lin, Novak and the rest of the Knicks.
Simply put, Novak and Lin compliment each other perfectly, which is something that many fear won’t happen with Anthony and Lin, even though Carmelo is insisting that he’ll let Lin continue running the show when he returns to the lineup.
“When I get back Jeremy will have ball in his hands and I’m playing off of that,” Anthony told reporters on Monday.
Hopefully Anthony can fit in and space the floor as well as Novak has with Lin running the Knicks offense. In the meantime, the previously unheralded journeyman out of Marquette will continue to do his best to shine under the radar of an even more unheralded point guard.
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