With the way the New York Knicks are playing, they might as well suit up 55-year-old assistant coach Herb Williams for some minutes in the paint. Realistically, there are a handful of players on the current Knicks roster that are, believe it or not, deserving of more minutes.
Right now, New York can beat no one. Give the guys below a little more time on the court, however, and the Knicks might actually win a game or two to crawl out of the Eastern Conference basement.
Tim Hardaway Jr.
Perhaps the nicest surprise so far of 2013-14 is rookie Tim Hardaway Jr., who has been making the case for more minutes from Game 1 when he scored five quick points in a win. He followed that up with 10 points and three boards in the Knicks' second game.
He’s been relatively consistent since—when given the minutes. In the Knicks’ last outing, he busted out for a season-high 21 points against the New Orleans Pelicans on 60 percent shooting from the field and was an even-better 5-for-8 (62.5 percent) from long distance.
Overall, Hardaway Jr. is shooting 44 percent from the floor and 40 percent from three-point range, both better than Carmelo Anthony, and putting fellow shooting guard, J.R. Smith (33 and 30 percent, respectively), to shame. Hardaway Jr. is New York's best three-point shooter among those players with at least 40 attempts.
After playing Hardaway over 10 minutes a game in each of New York’s first 10 games, Mike Woodson inexplicably trimmed the rookie's role to an average of just six in the next three games, not including a first "did not play (DNP)," against the Portland Trail Blazers.
For the season, Hardaway Jr. is averaging 15.4 minutes and just over seven points. But that takes a big jump to 17 points per 36 minutes (a nearly 150 percent increase in point production). His explosion against the Pelicans came in a 24-minute barrage.
No one expected this quick of an impact from the rookie, the 24th pick in this year's NBA draft, nor that the Knicks would be so lucky that deep in the draft for the second time in three years after taking Iman Shumpert with the 17th pick in 2011.
Hardaway Jr. has delivered. Put him in, coach, for at least 20 minutes a game.
Hardaway has played almost exactly half the amount of minutes as the Knicks' other fellow shooting guard, Shumpert. It’s a crowded position, with Hardaway coming up third on the depth chart, so there’s not too many minutes to go around.
But if Anthony moved back to the 4, where he and the Knicks were so successful last season, Shumpert could move up to the 3, leaving more room at shooting guard for Hardaway Jr.—maybe even to start. Smith and Metta World Peace can come off the bench.
As the New York Daily News' Frank Isola suggests, Hardaway Jr.'s "performance could push Iman Shumpert closer to the exit."
Though it’s a small sample, Beno Udrih is the best three-point shooter on the Knicks, hitting almost 50 percent on 6-of-13 shooting.
Remember how important a factor the three-pointer was for last season’s 54-win Knicks?
The Knicks could use a dose of that now. They’ve gone from making the franchise's most three-pointers ever in a season to 11th in the league. Last season, the Knicks had the NBA's fifth-best accuracy from downtown. Now, they are fourth—from the bottom.
It’s not just about the long-ball with Udrih. He brings more to the table. The problem is that, like Hardaway Jr., Udrih suffers from "crowded-position syndrome," as he is deep behind Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni in New York seniority on the depth chart.
Udrih, an NBA veteran of 10 years, has barely stepped on the court, playing in 10 of 16 games for about 16 minutes each. The reality is that most of those minutes came in a five-game stretch where he averaged seven points, four rebounds and four assists—all pretty close to twice his season averages, in less than twice the time.
Udrih’s a tougher proposition for more minutes because there is less flexibility at the point, unless Felton continues to struggle with his nagging injuries (hamstring, hip). Felton is the unbudgeable point guard, averaging his typical 35 minutes-and-up per game. No one knows why, though.
Backup Prigioni plays just 40 seconds more than Udrih. Right now, if you have to chose between the two, the move is Udrih—and maybe add a good five or six minutes to his line if Felton continues on with the worst season of his career.
Prigioni is flat, one of the more disappointing Knicks so far this season. The fleeter and younger Udrih is playing better and has the stats to back it up—and leap the depth chart.
It’s outrageous that following a 3-13 record (2-10 after Chandler went down), backup center Cole Aldrich has played only 14 minutes the entire season in the face of a nine-game losing streak and the Knicks getting absolutely eaten alive in the paint.
That’s worth repeating. The only other (seemingly) defensive big man on the team has played 14 minutes over five games. If Aldrich spread his time out over all 16 Knicks’ games, that would be less than a minute per game.
At 6’11”, Aldrich is the only player on the Knicks over 6’6”, except for a fading Kenyon Martin, who brings any defense to the equation at all.
At 6-foot-11 and 245 pounds—with a penchant for crashing the glass, swatting shots at the basket and finishing with authority—Aldrich plays with toughness and physicality.
“He’s absolutely tough and he’s a defensive presence,” says [Kings' point guard] Isaiah Thomas. “He’s a heck of a defender—he uses his size and strength to his advantage.”
While some of his biggest contributions on the court—setting hard picks, boxing out defenders and contesting shots at the rim—may not show up in the box score, Aldrich’s teammates value his active role.
That sounds like a wad of skill sets the Knicks could sorely use in Chandler's absence. What did Thomas and the Kings see that Woodson does not?
Extrapolate Aldrich's minutes to 36 (essentially multiply by three), and he is up to 10 points and a very meaningful 23 rebounds. Heck, the Knicks would be glad to take half of that, especially if Andrea Bargnani—who’s playing OK offensively—makes up the points.
Tyson Chandler is out and the Knicks look like they desperately need a big defensive plug, if only to just stand there under the basket. For goodness' sake, play Aldrich already.
The Knicks are so bad that anyone who isn't getting too many minutes could make a difference with some extra playing time. It's not like the guys getting time are getting it done.
Giving these three players—Hardaway Jr., Udrih and Aldrich—more minutes would give New York a whole new look, possibly even a winning one.
It certainly couldn't hurt.