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In Defense of Toney Douglas

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In Defense of Toney Douglas
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The malign toward the New York Knicks' Toney Douglas is the kind of phenomenon that can only happen in one of the league's largest markets. In Portland, Orlando or even San Antonio, Douglas' flaws are just that: flaws. Every player has them, and his would be no more remarkable than the rest.

But in New York, Douglas is made up to be a scapegoat and a punchline, despite the fact that his greatest fault as an NBA player to date is that he hasn't lived up to expectations that were never particularly fair in the first place.

Douglas didn't come into the league with the promise of a competent playmaker, and yet because of expectations derived from his size and the Knicks' glaring needs, he's been derided for failing to develop into one.

The criticisms of Douglas' game are largely true: He fails to recognize open teammates, hasn't succeeded even as a basic drive-and-kick passer and doesn't have a particularly strong sense of court awareness in general.

But that doesn't make him any less of an impact defender, or—this season's aberration exempted—any less of a proficient outside shooter. 

It's just a bit baffling that we can dole out deserved praise to Boston's Avery Bradley—a similarly skilled and limited player in many ways—in one minute before laughing at Douglas the next; the two are hardly identical, but the degree to which context is being ignored with Douglas is astounding. One franchise has instilled confidence in a young player through effective coaching, strong internal leadership and successful role allocation, while the other has relegated its up-and-coming defender to the bench at the first sign of trouble, simply because he couldn't make sense of a seemingly unsolvable offensive logjam.

It would take a particular savvy to untangle the spacing and distribution issues that complicate the Carmelo Anthony-Amar'e Stoudemire-Tyson Chandler triumvirate, a quandary is clearly beyond Douglas' pay grade. I'm just not so sure that a problem beyond the reach of what—for Douglas—is a supplementary skill should be so obtusely held against him.

Why should that one shortcoming prevent Toney Douglas from doing what Toney Douglas does?

Douglas is best used as an on-ball defensive threat, protected—like Bradley is—by a skilled defensive big man. That's where his most intriguing utility lies, yet this season, despite the fact that the Knicks have more of a defensive emphasis than at any point in recent history, Douglas has been relegated to the end of the bench, deemed unsuitable even for backup responsibilities.

Again, there's no denying Douglas' struggles this year, but basketball is just too complicated a game to completely disregard a capable player because he's asked to fill an unsuitable role and fails in doing so. 

Douglas will apparently have a token shot at redemption on Wednesday night, as Mike Woodson has confirmed that the discarded guard will reclaim his backup point guard status—an opportunity borne of desperation that does very little to solve the problem of Douglas' misuse. Asking a limited playmaker to initiate an offense against Miami's defense is essentially dooming him to failure, and though Douglas at least has a chance to see the floor and potentially make an impact in Wednesday's game, the result will likely be of little consequence.

Douglas, the Knick, is simply too easy a target for most to surrender, and regardless of the fact that most characterizations of Douglas seem to miss the point of his basketball existence, he'll surely go on as one of the NBA's most convenient marks.

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