The New York Knicks affirmed themselves as early front-runners for pulling off the NBA's most underrated signing last week when they inked veteran reserve point guard Beno Udrih to a one-year, minimum-salary deal.
After losing Jason Kidd to the coaching ranks earlier this summer, Mike Woodson's roster was devoid of a much-needed third point man. New York filled the void as perfectly as Knicks fans could've hoped at this stage in free agency.
One could ask why a team's third point guard is so direly necessary—for most squads, it'd be a conversation about the 13th or 14th man on the roster.
But in this regard, the Knicks are not "most squads."
After preseason injuries forced Mike Woodson into playing smaller lineups during last season's onset, the team accidentally ran into its ideal offensive system. When Amar'e Stoudemire, then slotted as starting power forward, went down with a knee ailment, Carmelo Anthony was bumped up to the 4—a position he had experimented with in the past, but never more. Ronnie Brewer then moved to the small forward, leaving a hole at the second guard position beside Raymond Felton.
Kidd, nearly by default, was chosen for the job. After a scorching 18-5 start, it became clear that there was no turning back from the team's hidden-treasure lineup.
In an offense featuring the isolation tendencies of top threats Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith, ball movement initiating from the point-guard spot must be a given. Without it, the ball sticks and possessions go to waste, as the 2011-12 pre- and post-Linsanity Knicks learned the hard way.
At its best, the Knicks' attack was highlighted by quick passes whipped around the perimeter, usually ending in an Anthony one-on-one post-up look or an open attempt from the arc. This was almost a direct result of dual-point lineups.
The chart below depicts the Knicks' success last year in games with and without a traditional point at the 2 spot.
The signing now enables Woodson to run out lineups consisting two-fifths of maestros, whether the name be Pablo Prigioni, Felton or the 31-year-old Udrih.
And with smaller lineups comes more of Anthony at the power forward, where he was much more effective in 2013. Against bigger, slower 4s, 'Melo was able to blow past his defender regularly in isolation matchups and showed no trouble scoring one on one in post-ups. When teams chose to eliminate this advantage by cross-matching, New York's three-point sniping made opponents pay.
Anthony spent significantly more time at the power-forward spot last season and posted better metrics at the 4 all season long—his first full year there. Unwarranted tinkering with the star's position should be avoided at all costs, especially after a scoring-title-winning campaign. The addition of Andrea Bargnani and return of Stoudemire will make starting 'Melo at the power forward somewhat more difficult, but that's another mess in itself.
What Udrih will supply New York with is steady play from both guard positions and an ability to score. His handle has been tight over a nine-year NBA career, and the lefty has a lethal pull-up jumper in his arsenal from mid-range. He can set up the pick-and-roll well, which was New York's most effective attack by playoff time.
Udrih is crafty enough off the dribble to set up his own shots but will also have no trouble finding Knicks scorers like Anthony, Smith, Bargnani and Stoudemire.
After being dealt to the Orlando Magic at the deadline last season, Udrih put up averages of 10.2 points, 6.1 assists and 2.3 rebounds. With Orlando, he shot the ball at a mediocre .408 clip—down from his career field-goal mark of .462—but sank three-balls at a shade under 40 percent.
Udrih's scoring heat map from last season, per Basketball-Reference:
His defense has left much to be desired to this point in his career, which is disappointing since opposing point guards torched the Knicks last season to the tune of 22.6 points per game. See the following chart, via 82games:
Opponent Production by Position
Quickness isn't one of Udrih's strong suits, which hurts his defensive impact. The same can be said about Prigioni, and pairing either with Felton in a backcourt would be something of a defensive nightmare for the Knicks. So there is a potential downside to the 2014 version of the dual-point lineup.
Udrih's presence also extinguishes any notion of Iman Shumpert spending time at the point, which was apparently thought about by some Knicks people this summer.
The team had also reportedly been eyeing Bobby Brown, Sebastian Telfair, Delonte West and NBA Summer League standout Toure' Murry for the third point spot. Murry still will likely have a shot at being New York's 15th man by making the team out of camp this fall.
The Knicks entered the offseason with a slate of questions, and they've answered the one that topped the list—and with just a veteran-minimum salary tacked onto their cap.
Udrih becoming a Knick won't go down as the flashiest free-agent addition in recent history, but don't be surprised when it becomes one of the most important.
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