The New York Knicks have fashioned themselves this offseason into one of the deepest teams in the NBA. They are stacked all over the depth chart with legitimate pro starters, but nowhere more than at point guard, where they are three deep in Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni and Beno Udrih.
So who’s getting stuck with the short straw? It’s the guy in the middle, Prigioni.
Felton has been the Knicks’ official No. 1 during both of his stints in New York. Other than his rookie season (he still started 54 of 80 games that year) and his time with the Denver Nuggets (21 games), Felton has practically never come off the bench in his eight-year career.
When ex-Portland Trail Blazer head coach Nate McMillan benched Felton in 2011-12, saying he "just wanted to go in a different direction,” Felton was publicly unhappy about it (as he was in Denver under similar circumstances).
The Blazer bench experiment lasted four days and Portland went 1-3. So much for Felton coming off the bench. He was back in the starting lineup for the duration, and McMillan was canned seven games later.
No way Felton loses much time in New York unless his play drops off the Earth.
Coach has already called it. As Newsday’s Ian Cutler reported:
Knicks coach Mike Woodson isn't sure what his starting five will look like heading into the season and only would guarantee spots to three players: Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton.
The Knicks actually need Felton specifically to up his game and fix his career-long inconsistency issues—poor scoring, bad shots, turnovers and recurring sloppy play that rear their heads for occasional stretches.
New York also doesn’t have the time to develop Felton into an effective bench player, which does require a certain patient and spontaneous skill set, neither of which are this point guard’s strengths.
But really, neither Prigioni nor Udrih have the game-to-game goods or overall numbers to replace Felton at the point. Not even close.
That being said, and as a matter of postseason preparation prudence, Felton’s minutes will be trimmed from his usual 35 a game.
After all, where else is Prigioni going to play except to mostly back up Felton (or contend with Udrih for the honor)?
On the other side of the backcourt, a healthy Iman Shumpert and hopefully a repentant J.R. Smith have got a lock on shooting guard (no matter which forward position Anthony takes), squeezing Prigioni out of two-PG sets.
Even though the Knicks excelled down the stretch (16-2) riding the backcourt tandem of Felton-Prigioni, it’s difficult to envision New York employing this duo to such an extent given the team’s latest jammed roster.
Still, Prigioni has proven he is capable of the 20 minutes a game he deserves. That would be a five- or six-minute uptick in playing time.
The only thing is, Beno Udrih is a bit better, scores more, is five years younger, averaged more than 30 MPG in four of the past six seasons, has more NBA experience and can also get into the two-PG backcourt mix. He can play the 2 as well.
Zach Harper at CBS Sports explains the writing on the wall:
Udrih will probably compete for minutes with Prigioni as the primary backup point guard and has a realistic shot of earning that role. His greatest skill is the midrange pull-up jumper in transition. He's one of the best in the league at it, along with finding good jumpers within the flow of running a pick-and-roll. He should fit in nicely with the second unit of the Knicks.
Udrih fills the slot left over by Jason Kidd’s departure but won’t immediately jump into Kidd’s shoes. Kidd started the season at shooting guard beside Felton.
Despite the two-PG scheme’s effectiveness, Woodson has to go with Shumpert at the 2 out of the gate, and you know J.R. is going to play—a lot.
There’s just not enough room on the court to satisfy all three point guards' desires. Felton is still king at point guard. Prigioni and Udrih will duke it out to back him up. Don’t be surprised if Udrih pulls a coup.