New York Knicks Entrusting Title Hopes to Gritty Veterans and Reborn Castoffs
Led by an eclectic cast of contributors, the New York Knicks are in pursuit of a championship. Most of the group's core aren't your typical big-time pieces on a team in the race for it all, and for plenty of reasons.
The Knicks are the NBA's eldest team. Nine of the 15 players are at least 30 years of age. And if the player isn't a past-their-prime grinding vet, they're probably a journeyman who's found their way to the bright lights of Madison Square Garden after years of bouncing around the league's 30 cities.
The most unexpected part of the season? It's working.
Jason Kidd was initially brought to New York as Jeremy Lin's understudy and mentor. As we all know, that's not exactly how Kidd's situation shook out.
Through much of the year, the 39-year-old Kidd was Mike Woodson's starting 2-guard. He was thriving off the ball and knocking down three-pointers at the best rate of his career. But after about a half-season of playing 30 minutes per game, the veteran guard's season tailed off, as any logical person could've expected.
Kidd's been demoted to the bench, but his performance has rounded off in recent weeks: never too dominant, but not excruciatingly brutal.
Kidd is weeks away from his 40th birthday, and his prime is well into the rear-view mirror. But if the Knicks want to perform as well as they did in the season's first quarter, they'll need Kidd to perform at a high level.
With Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler starting at the Knicks' 4 and 5 spots, the first team is in good shape. The second and third lines of defense come with much more experience and much less versatility. In spot minutes, though, the veteran bigs have been productive.
Kurt Thomas has acted as the team's starting power forward at several points this season when Anthony has been sidelined. The league's oldest player has appeared in 35 games—15 of which were starts—and has averaged a meager nine minutes per contest.
His numbers normalize to nine points, eight rebounds and a block per 36 minutes. Defensively, Thomas has proven sturdy in the paint and given the Knicks size down low.
Rasheed Wallace was the Knicks' most pleasant surprise through the season's first month. In 20 games, 'Sheed averaged 18 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks per 36 minutes until foot injuries got the best of the 38-year-old forward. Wallace is on the shelf for the remainder of the regular season, and it's undetermined whether he'll be able to return for the playoffs.
Marcus Camby was signed to a three-year contract over the offseason, but has only appeared in 12 games during his second New York stint. He's rarely been at full strength, courtesy of calf and foot problems.
He had been effective in a starting role in January for Mike Woodson. That was, until playing a season-high 20 minutes against the Indiana Pacers on Jan. 10 and re-injuring the foot that forced him to miss so much time. Camby is healthy again, but is struggling to find court time after the addition of Kenyon Martin.
Camby has scored just 6.5 points but has grabbed 11.4 board per 36 minutes this season. He rocks the second-lowest defensive efficiency on the team.
Martin was brought aboard just after the Knicks shipped out Ronnie Brewer to the Oklahoma City Thunder at the trade deadline. It took a few games for K-Mart to enter Woodson's rotation, but he's been highly efficient since doing so.
In four games, Martin's per-36 stats come out to 10 points and 6 rebounds, and he's played to a defensive efficiency of 103—ranked third on the Knicks.
This bench squad of bigs sound like it'd be best fit for 2003 instead of 2013, but it's been surprisingly effected in limited time this year.
At 35, Pablo Prigioni is the oldest rookie ever to log minutes in an NBA game. He's of course more seasoned than your average rookie, and less durable by far. But in limited time, Prigioni has been very effective running the show.
He's only averaged 15 minutes per game, but the argument can be made that the Argentinian import has played the most consistent point for the Knicks. He's averaged eight points, seven assists, four rebounds and two steals per 36 minutes, and knocks down treys at a 38-percent clip.
Prigioni's NBA career comes after a lengthy one overseas. He's been competing professionally since 1995 as an 18-year-old.
Prigioni occasionally slips out of Mike Woodson's rotation, but it's not easy to explain why. He's shot the ball consistently well, although sometimes too infrequently.
He's shown a knack to find open shooters, and although turning the ball over more often than the Knicks would like, he's still deserving of a more prominent role in the offense—especially if Jason Kidd plays off the ball at shooting guard.
Steve Novak is one of the younger Knicks at just 29, but he's as well-traveled as most NBA players today.
After stops with the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs, Novak arrived in New York last season on a one-year, minimum-salary deal. After leading the league in three-point shooting, the Wisconsin native earned his first long-term deal. The Knicks inked Novak to a four-year pact worth $15 million.
Novak has been notorious for his lack of basketball know-how save long-range shooting. It's what held him back and restricted him from setting up shop in one location for too long—until that shooting was just too good to pass up.
This year, he's still shot the ball as well as ever, but attempts aren't coming as easily for the sharp-shooter. Attempts from deep are down from 5.2 last year to 4.4 this season, as teams are adjusting and leaving Novak with little room to operate with.
Just a year ago, it'd be hard to believe that Novak would be a mainstay in a contending NBA team's rotation, but that's exactly the case.
Tyson Chandler is an All-Star center, reigning Defensive Player of the Year and an NBA champion. But just a few years ago, the seven-footer was widely labeled a bust, and his NBA future was very much up in the air.
Chandler was the second overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls. After not panning out the way Chicago had hoped, Chandler was dealt to the New Orleans Hornets, where he and Chris Paul developed an impeccable bond. In 2007-08, Chandler averaged the highest point total of his career at 11.8 while grabbing almost just as many rebounds: 11.7.
His performance dwindled during his third and final season in the Big Easy, and he found himself a member of the lowly Charlotte Bobcats the next year. In Charlotte, Chandler started only 27 of his 51 games, and logged just 23 minutes on average.
Chandler's career was trending in a downward direction, until the Dallas Mavericks took a flyer on the center who was entering the final year of his contract. This is where Chandler's NBA status was reborn.
He acted as the Mavs' defensive anchor in the middle en route to their NBA title during the 2010-11 season. His performance earned him a maximum contract with the Knicks, where he's stepped up his offensive game to lead all players in shooting percentage in 2011-12 and 2012-13.
Chandler has come a long way, but is finally one of the top centers in the league today.
Aside from his half-season stint in New York during the first months of 2010-11, Raymond Felton's career has been overwhelmingly mediocre.
Felton logged a 17.3 PER in his time under Mike D'Antoni, but has averaged a mark of 14.2 in all other seasons—just under the league-average of 15.
He's been the ringleader of Mike Woodson's offense and has been both effective and erratic. He's averaged only 5.8 assists, which is just 0.2 more than his career-low average for dishes. He's scored 14.7 points per contest, but on a despicable career-high 14.1 attempts per game.
Felton is able to explode into the paint quicker than many point guards, but lacks the ability to finish at the rim. He's completed just under 55 percent of his attempts at the rim in 2012-13.
There's no special quality to Felton, and last offseason's signing with the Knicks was the fourth change of scenery he's experienced in his career. We can throw him under the category of Knicks castoffs that are molding together to lead the Knicks to a high seeding this postseason.
Nine years in, J.R. Smith's career has been as eventful as NBA careers come.
The New Jersey native was drafted by the Hornets, where he spent the first two seasons of his career. He was then shipped to the Chicago Bulls in a deal involving Tyson Chandler, but was dealt to the Denver Nuggets before ever logging a minute with the Bulls.
In Denver, J.R. blossomed into one of the league's more explosive scorers, as well as one of its most explosive personalities. He scored 14 points per game in his Nuggets career as a sixth man, but never shot more than 45 percent from the field in any season.
With Denver, Smith was involved in a brawl with the Knicks, where him and Nate Robinson took their wrestling match into the first few rows of the Garden seats.
In his first trip to the playoffs, he and head coach George Karl had a falling out, courtesy of Smith's questionable shot selection that continues to doom him today. The following is from an ESPN.com article dated May 1, 2007.
"I have no idea what planet that came from," Karl told The Associated Press. Karl said he had drawn up a play to get the ball to Iverson or Anthony.
"And then, of course the one with eight seconds to go, from 50 feet," Karl said. "I just love the dignity of the game being insulted right in front of me."
Smith was involved in an incident in a nightclub before the 2007 season, which led to his suspension for the first three games of that year. That same year, Smith was also involved in a car accident and was charged with reckless driving. His friend was killed in the accident. He was suspended in 2009 for the incident.
As a Knick, Smith has been involved in a couple of social media-related incidents. Last season, J.R. tweeted out an inappropriate photo of model Tahiri which warranted a league fine.
Weeks ago, messages were leaked between Smith and a high school girl containing more explicit content. No league penalty has been handed down though, and Smith has been making light of the situation ever since.
On the court for New York, Smith has contributed a career-high 16.5 points, but has also added numerous occasions of poor shot selection and decision making. As it usually goes with J.R., they're taking the good with the bad.
Mike Woodson played a huge role in the Knicks' early season success. But it's easy to forget that he was plucked off the coaching scrapheap before the 2011-12 by New York.
He successfully resurrected the Atlanta Hawks franchise from the dead. During his six seasons at the helm, Atlanta morphed from a 13-win squad in 2004-05, to a playoff mainstay in 2009-10.
But it was his playoff futility that ultimately did him in as Hawks head man.
Woodson's Hawks teams improved every season under his leadership, and made the postseason in each of his last three seasons. They took the eventual champion Boston Celtics to seven games in the first round of the 2008 postseason, but that was the highlight of his playoff coaching success.
The next two years, the Hawks won their first-round matchup in seven games, only to be swept away in the next round. After growing tired of playoff failure, Woodson was relieved of his duties in 2010.
Woody was notorious for his Iso-Joe offense, which relied heavily on Joe Johnson running the show in crunch time. Coupled with limited playoff success, this steered several NBA teams with coaching vacancies away from Woodson.
The Knicks brought Woodson on as a defensive coach prior to the 2011-12 season, and bumped over one seat on the bench following Mike D'Antoni's departure in March.
Woodson has coached to a 56-29 record in New York, and the Knicks' success should come as no surprise when you consider several players' pasts line up symmetrically with that of their coach.