New York Knicks: Ranking Every Starting Option at Shooting Guard
The Rasheed Wallace addition earlier this month more or less solidified 14 roster spots, leaving one open for Chris Copeland, Mychel Thompson, John Shurna, or simply to leave vacant as an insurance policy for this seasoned Knicks squad.
The Knicks will be without second-year man Iman Shumpert until December at the earliest, according to the New York Times about a month ago. Shumpert was the team's starting shooting guard by the end of last season, and arguably its most well-rounded player in just his first pro season.
Remaining options to start at the off-guard slot vary, and at this point, is very much up in the air.
J.R. Smith may be the team's most potent offensive guard, but his undisciplined past seems to fit him best in a sixth-man role.
General manager Glen Grunwald scooped up ex-Bull Ronnie Brewer for the veteran's minimum last summer, but he's rehabbing from knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus. He practiced with the Knicks for the first time on Wednesday, according to the New York Post.
We still haven't even brought up Jason Kidd, who could very easily be starting Game 1 against his former teammates, but at an unfamiliar position.
Mike Woodson isn't thin on possibilities at the position, but his call won't be an easy one. Does he go in the direction of experience with Kidd? Or maybe Smith, in order to get more points on the board early. And you can't forget about Brewer's defense if he's healthy enough to go.
Honorable Mention: Iman Shumpert
By last April, Iman Shumpert was New York's favorite Knick. His tenacious defensive skill and explosive offensive game embodied New York City on the hardwood.
He worked his way back from an early-season leg injury to the starting lineup by the postseason, and even received one first-place vote for NBA Rookie of the Year, according to NBA.com. He led all rookies with 1.7 steals per game.
The city's excitement was quickly put on hiatus not soon after. Late in Game 1 against the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs, Shumpert went down with a gruesome knee injury.
As Shump gripped his leg in agony—New York was trailing Miami by 24 at the time—Knicks fans felt helpless, as 2011-12 felt all but over, and their most promising player in years may never be the same again, after just one 66-game season.
Shumpert has not yet returned to practice, but he is walking without a limp. He feels no pain in his left knee, and currently is doing stamina drills at the team's training camp (via New York Times).
Shumpert may return this December if his rehab finished ahead of schedule, but a mid-January return seems like a more safe estimate.
If it wasn't for the injury, the second-year Georgia Tech alum may have had the starting spot all to himself. Instead, he'll have to hold off a season and play his way back into the starting five.
And we have every reason to believe he will. It's nothing we haven't seen from him before, anyway.
6. Mychel Thompson
Klay Thompson's older, less-talented brother is going to need a perfect storm in order to make the Knicks out of camp, but he's been playing with the first team through much of the preseason.
Mychel started the team's first exhibition game in Washington, but he failed to impress. He shot 0-of-5 from the field and scored two points in 16 minutes.
Against Boston on Saturday, Thompson's shooting woes continued. He made only 2-of-7 shots, but hauled in six rebounds and dished out two assists, sort of resembling a (very) poor man's Landry Fields.
It's unlikely that he'll actually be a Knick by November 1, but his practice reps with the first team (via MSG's Alan Hahn) are enough to give him consideration on this list.
Thompson plays a sound, heady game, but his talents won't be turning any heads. He'll likely call the D-League home by the time the 2012-13 campaign tips off.
5. James White
Following a three-season hiatus from the NBA, the man once known as Flight is in the mix to start at shooting guard for the Knicks.
Since 2010, White has been a member of the Dinamo Sassari of Lega Basket Serie A, the cream of the crop in Italy as far as basketball is concerned.
He averaged 17 points per game last season overseas, shooting 53 percent from the field.
In the past, White's game has been built primarily on athleticism. According to his agent, however (via ESPN New York), he has come along way since his previous stint in the NBA.
He started one preseason game so far—he missed the first with a hamstring injury—and scored two points on 1-of-7 shooting in 25 minutes against Boston. Flight's return to NBA competition didn't go exactly as he hoped.
His contract for 2012 is guaranteed, so White will presumably be sticking around this year. Though his skills appear unpolished off the bat, we'll give the 29-year old a few games to prove himself before we jump to any conclusions.
With that said, the Knicks simply have better options than White to start at shooting guard to start the season. His first objective should be to crack the rotation, then he can worry about starting games for Mike Woodson's Knicks.
4. Raymond Felton
The Knicks brought Ray Felton back on board initially to replace Jeremy Lin. There's a possibility, however, that Felton may be spending time at an unfamiliar spot.
Felon could be the team's best bet to run the point, but he's not its only option.
Glen Grunwald also signed Jason Kidd to a three-year deal last summer, and nabbed 35-year-old Pablo Prigioni from Spain. Both provide tremendous basketball IQ, as well as a sturdy handle at the 1.
More notable is the preseason emergence of Prigioni as a reliable shotcaller. Through two exhibition games, he's shown the ability to hit the three with regularity and has been able to find his teammates in positions to score, exemplified by several lobs to Tyson Chandler and others.
What does this have to do with Felton, you ask? Well, if the team has legitimate starters other than Felton at point guard, that makes him all the more valuable.
What made Felton an All-Star candidate in his 2010 stint with the Knicks was his quickness and ability to score at the rim. As a shooting guard, Felton would be able to focus on his own offense, rather than creating for others.
Kidd or Prigioni would be able to hold down the point guard position if the Knicks called upon Felton to run next to either one of them.
Felton would still be responsible for some facilitating, but leaving the point guard duties for Kidd or Prigioni—since both their primary skills are their playmaking—wouldn't be entirely crazy.
A little crazy, but not entirely crazy. Good for fourth on this list.
3. J.R. Smith
J.R. Smith is many things. He's wild and unpredictable. He's phenomenal at scoring the basketball, but also annoyingly maddeningly erratic. One thing he's not? An NBA starter.
That's according to coach Mike Woodson (via Newsday). The Knicks head honcho sees Smith as a valuable reserve, and all signs are pointing to the 27-year-old New Jersey native wearing warmups during the opening tips this season.
The numbers agree with Woodson. Throughout his career as a starter, Smith's shooting percentage dips to an inadequate 41 percent.
Smith has said all the right things about the situation, which is refreshing coming from a player whose reputation hasn't always been squeaky clean.
"My goal was to come in here and be a starter, and play with those other four guys on the floor," Smith told ESPN New York. "It is frustrating after a while that people see me as a sixth man, sixth man, sixth man, when you believe you're a starter."
There were encouraging quotes though from Smith, as well. According to MSG's Alan Hahn, Smith said last week, "It's great to be able to put all that work in and understand what I can do without starting. I think that it makes our bench even stronger."
Also according to Hahn, Smith has vastly outplayed Mychel Thompson and James White—his competition at the position—all throughout camp, so we'll put J.R. above them on this list.
Smith's raw ability is enough to place him third on this list, but he still has to prove that he can be consistently wise on the court.
Even if J.R. does show maturation early on, he provides invaluable youth to a bench that is far from juvenile. The explosive offense he can inject as a member of the reserve squad is what makes him a better sixth man than starter to begin the season.
Injuries may also hold Smith back to begin the season. An Achilles injury has him in a walking boot (per Smith's Instagram photo). According to the New York Post's Marc Berman, Smith won't be making the road trip for this weekend's games against Toronto, Boston and Philadelphia. The severity of Smith's injury isn't known.
2. Jason Kidd
Much of the same arguments to support Raymond Felton starting at the 2 can also be applied here.
Jason Kidd is a bit more experienced at playing off the ball than Felton is, so he deserves to be a few spots higher on this list. Much of last season in Dallas, he found himself playing next to young Maverick point guard Rodrigue Beaubois.
Kidd may not be as prolific a scorer as Felton, but he provides more of a three-point threat than Felton does. He currently ranks third on the all-time list for three-pointers made, behind shooting legends Ray Allen and Reggie Miller.
The Knicks may have to rely on Kidd to provide the starting five's only threat from beyond the arc. Aside from Carmelo Anthony, the New York starters aren't all that reliable from three-point land.
Add in the fact that Kidd hasn't begun a single game on the sidelines since the 2004 season, and coach Mike Woodson may be hesitant to call Kidd a bench player just yet.
1. Ronnie Brewer
When the Knicks acquired Ronnie Brewer last August, it was to ensure that the team would have an elite defender at shooting guard in the starting five. Despite a torn meniscus that required surgery earlier this offseason, Brewer is still on track to start against the Nets on November 1.
Throughout his six-year career, Brewer has earned a reputation as one of the most talented defenders at his position. Last season in Chicago under Tom Thibodeau, Brewer was a leader on the league's No. 1 defense.
Offensively, Brewer is limited. Brewer will make an impact similar to the one ex-Knicks starter Landry Fields made in his two seasons in the Big Apple: A guard who can play lots of minutes while offering low-level offense but giving it all he's got on the defensive end.
The only difference is that Brewer is better.
Brewer shot an abysmal 28 percent from behind the arc last season, while Fields shot an ugly 26 percent. Fields had the edge in points per game and rebounding, however.
What Brewer can't provide offensively, he makes up for on the opposite end of the floor. He'll be able to guard players and make stops that Fields simply wouldn't be able to. And judging by Mike Woodson's philosophy and the Knicks current personnel, that seems to be the emphasis this season.
Brewer provides the most stable option at shooting guard, and him starting enables the Knicks' strong bench to stay in tact.
The only issue would be Brewer's health, but he has returned to practice and hopes to return to action this Friday, according to MSG's Alan Hahn.
If all goes according to plan—which is a lot to ask these days from the 'Bockers—Brewer will be the team's starter at shooting guard at the Barclays Center on November 1.
Follow John Dorn on Twitter at @JSDorn6 for more Knicks debate.
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