Steve Novak took the Knicks to new heights last season.
The 6'10" forward out of Brown Deer High School in Wisconsin quickly became a fan favorite with the Knicks. "Novakaine" was a side dish to the furor of Linsanity, with his long-range jumpers bringing the crowd to its feet and sending the Garden into a frenzy.
His signature "discount double-check" championship belt celebration became as much his as Aaron Rodgers,' at least in the eyes of Knicks fans.
But the sensation off the bench does have his limitations. He's primarily a catch-and-shoot player with limited ability to create off the dribble. His height makes him an asset on the glass, but his defense leaves something to be desired.
In the playoffs against Miami, Novak was numbed by the Heat defense. In the five contests versus the Heat, Novak averaged 19 minutes per game but scored a grand total of just 12 points.
With Amar'e Stoudemire out for Game 3 due to a laceration on his hand, Novak was named the starter in his place. In 22 minutes, Novak failed to score a single point, missing both shots that he took. The Heat did what many opponents during the season had failed to do: patrol the perimeter.
Novak did not see the wide-open looks he had found against other opponents. The Knicks played the Heat on February 23, and Novak went 4-of-5 from three-point range. When they squared off again on April 15, the Heat paid him more attention and he managed only six points.
In the playoffs, the Heat blanketed Novak and the Knicks just couldn't get anything going. While they did manage to win their first playoff game in more than a decade, the series never really looked like much of a contest.
The Knicks have reloaded this offseason and look prepared to play more than five playoff games in 2013.
Despite letting Jeremy Lin go to Houston, GM Glen Grunwald brought in Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton, Ronnie Brewer, Marcus Camby, Pablo Prigioni and a trio of forwards in Kurt Thomas, James White and Chris Copeland.
Gunwald may look to add another power forward, according to Jared Zwerling of ESPN New York. They also re-signed J.R. Smith.
Oh, and they re-signed Steve Novak, too.
The journeyman has finally cashed in on his tremendous shooting prowess. After New York plucked him from the waivers pile, Novak won Early Bird rights in arbitration this offseason, and the Knicks have inked him to a four-year, $15 million deal (h/t ESPN New York).
This season, Novak will reprise his role as the sharpshooting substitute, and Knicks fans will be calling for him to come in off the bench. After the Heat showed the league how to stop him, coach Mike Woodson will be drawing up ways to get him open again.
The Knicks bring in a completely new pair of point guards, each with veteran experience.
Kidd and Chandler possess a chemistry that brought a championship to Dallas in 2011. And Felton and Stoudemire ran a pick-and-roll that former coach Mike D'Antoni called "unguardable" (h/t Newsday).
Stoudemire has also been working with Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon on his post-up game (per Yahoo! Sports), which should make him more versatile in isolation beyond jumpers from the elbow.
Felton also played last season with Camby and Thomas in Portland, and spent the 2009-10 season with Chandler in Charlotte.
With so many weapons on the interior and the experienced players at the point to feed them the ball, defenses will be hard-pressed to guard the perimeter and deny Novak. If they do so, it will be at their peril.
To the delight of the Knicks, their opponents will have to pick their poison.
Ultimately, what guarantees success for Novak in 2012-13 is the length of his journey. He has struggled to contribute in the pros. Now he has found a home in New York, and don't expect this opportunity to pass him by.
Novak was a promising player in college with Marquette. In 2005-06, he led the team in scoring with 17.5 points per game, along with 5.9 rebounds and a staggering 97.4 free-throw percentage. He averaged 46.8 percent from beyond the arc in his college career.
In his Big East debut, he led the Golden Eagles to a 94-79 upset victory over No. 2 Connecticut, pouring in 41 points and grabbing 16 boards (per ESPN). He won the college three-point shooting contest in 2006.
After being drafted No. 32 overall by the Houston Rockets in 2006, Novak struggled to find playing time. He averaged just 5.5 minutes over 35 games in his rookie season. In 2007-08, he spent time in the D-League before rejoining the Rockets, but averaged only 7.5 minutes in 35 games.
In 2008, he was traded to the LA Clippers for the princely sum of the right to exchange second-round picks in 2011. Novak saw increased playing time with the Clips in 2008-09, averaging 16.4 minutes and 6.9 points in 71 games. His court time for LA decreased in 2009-10, however.
After the Dallas Mavericks signed him as a free agent, he was released after playing just seven games. Novak caught on with the D-League's Reno Bighorns, and the Spurs called him up after two games. Perhaps it was his 68.4 percent shooting from the field for Reno.
But, after giving them 23 games, the Spurs released Novak just prior to the start of the 2011-12 season. The Knicks scooped him up shortly thereafter.
Novak didn't see much playing time at first, even after going 3-of-3 from long-range in just six minutes against the woeful Bobcats on January 24. On February 6 against Utah, Novak poured in 19 points in only 17 minutes, shooting 5-of-8 from beyond the arc. He scored 19 points in the next game against Washington as well.
Will Novak lead the NBA in three-point shooting again in 2012-13?
Three weeks later, Novak made the leap to minor stardom.
On February 29, he keyed a Knicks comeback victory against Cleveland, going 5-of-8 from three-point range. He became a worldwide trending topic on Twitter. The crowd at MSG was chanting: "We want No-vak!" while he was on the bench late in the 120-103 win (per ESPN New York).
Suddenly, No. 16 jerseys were on sale at Modell's and inside MSG.
After a long journey around the NBA and a battle for minutes, Novak has enjoyed a meteoric rise with the Knicks. He is relishing the opportunity and now has the security of a four-year contract under his belt.
The same belt that Novakaine dons after driving a dagger trey into the other team's heart.
The Knicks now know what they have in Steve Novak. He will remind some of another Steve, namely, the Bulls' Steve Kerr, who broke the hearts of Knicks fans in so many crucial games with his lethal three-point shooting.
In fact, Kerr admitted that when he was the GM for the Phoenix Suns, he wanted to sign Novak for his shooting prowess but could not find a roster spot for him. And Novak admitted that he envisioned himself filling a role similar to the one Kerr played on Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls (per ESPN New York's Jared Zwerling):
Growing up, when [Michael] Jordan was at his best, and obviously me being a shooter, it was inspiring to be that. When you saw Steve Kerr, it was like, 'Man.' That's what made me believe. That's how I saw my role if I ever got to the NBA. Watching him and hearing stories about how his focus was and hitting big shots the way he always did, it was inspirational for me.
It seems that Novak has indeed used that inspiration to assume a very similar role in the NBA. He just needs to translate it to the postseason.
Novak will look to break the hearts of opponents this year and help the Knicks to their first deep playoff run since 2000, way back when Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas were on the team.
And if he really wants to be like Steve Kerr, he'll use his shooting skills to help net the Knicks a championship.