With Anthony, the reasons are clear. But Pablo Prigioni? And all 3.4 points and 3.0 assists of him?
It’s not so much the player, it’s the team. And the Knicks are who they are this season—more subtly than for Anthony’s flash and J.R. Smith’s rise, but just as impacting—thanks to dual-point guard lineups.
New York’s 2013 playoff success, and at least a trip to the Eastern Finals, will depend on them.
Prigioni is the latest swap-in. He started (his only starts of the season) through the entire win streak, during which he put up more consistent minutes than at any other time.
New York is 14-1 when he starts, all of which have been with Raymond Felton.
After wasting nearly two years forcing Anthony into an offensive relationship with a big man (Amar’e Stoudemire), it’s become obvious that scheme will never work as well as everyone would like (or at all). Hopefully, we won’t be discussing gelling anytime soon.
Is there any urgency for a Stoudemire return in time for the postseason? No.
More important is the return of that early-season Jason Kidd, who as ESPN’s Ian Begley reported,
played a pivotal role for the Knicks; he's the chief reason New York has the fewest turnovers in the league and one of the driving forces behind the Knicks' efficient and explosive offense.
It’s even more important to have Felton back in form, which he finally appears to be after a stumbling recovery from a seemingly-innocuous finger injury.
Who would you rather start in the No. 2 this postseason?
And now, just in time, Prigioni has seen the most basketball of his season and an increasing dose of NBA responsibility—to great success. He averages the same amount of turnovers as Kidd (about one a game).
The Knicks have a three-headed point-guard backcourt and have ridden this beast to 37 of their 52 wins.
When the Knicks start either Kidd-Felton or Prigioni-Felton, they win about 73 percent of the time, or nearly three out of every four games. What team wouldn’t take that into a seven-game series with anyone?
Felton is the hub of the backcourt. Kidd does not have the legs. Prigioni, until now, lacked the playing time at this level. The Knicks were 6-6 when Ray was out, starting either Kidd alone or Kidd with James White.
John Schuhmann of the NBA’s Hangtime Blog goes further, noting that the Knicks are
15-13 in games in which they’ve started just one [point guard]. Felton’s 12-game absence in December and January has something to do with that mark. The Knicks have proven to be much better with two point guards on the floor, whether they’re starting together or not.
According to Schuhmann, New York has a +/- of +163 when two point guards are on the floor vs. +61 with a traditional point guard-shooting guard backcourt (and that includes Smith’s 18 PPG in the No. 2).
Win-loss records and stats aside, there are two other reasons why the Knicks’ playoff success will rely on the dual-point guard setup.
First, this is the kind of lineup that maximizes Carmelo Anthony. He gets to play his isolation game (which has just numbed opponents lately) with two pass-first point guards on the floor.
Secondly, the Knicks don’t really have any other viable option. Iman Shumpert is locked in at small forward. It’s too late to switch him over this year. And James White is a bust.
With J.R. Smith, the Knicks only everyday scoring option off the bench, doing so well (and routinely combining with Anthony for 50-60 points), that’s where he is going to stay. He gets his assassin-like 30 minutes a game, anyway, leaving the backcourt in the hands of two point guards two-thirds of the time.
Lucky for the Knicks, they’ll just have to go with it.