Following news that New York Knicks point guard Raymond Felton had been arrested late Wednesday night for criminal possession of a firearm, the team's ever-hemorrhaging hopes may soon fall squarely upon the shoulders of 36-year-old Pablo Prigioni, whose performance—while steady—hasn't quite carried the same impact of a season ago.
When the New York Knicks signed the Euro League staple to a one-year, veteran’s minimum contract ahead of the 2012-13 slate, the expectations were as slight as the point guard’s spindly frame.
Give Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton the occasional breather, play defense and move the ball: that was the job description.
By season’s end, Prigioni had become an indispensable cog in New York’s hyper-efficient offense—the perfect, pass-happy conduit for Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, Amar’e Stoudemire and the rest of the Knicks’ big guns.
Since signing a fresh, three-year tender last July, Prigioni’s production has remained largely on par.
At the same time, his game-to-game footprint has been far less consistent.
That the two are not mutually exclusive—that Prigioni could bring the same brand of basketball smarts and situational savvy to reduced effect—highlights just how bad the Knicks have been.
Last season, New York hit on 40 percent of their three-point attempts with Prigioni in the fold, the highest rate of anyone with over 100 minutes of playing time.
This year, that number has dropped to 38.4 percent—not drastic, but still worth a few points here and there.
Overall, New York registered a plus-minus of plus-6.5 with Prigioni on the floor last year (second only to Steve Novak), compared to a negligible plus-0.2 thus far this season.
The same applies to true shooting percentage, which registered at a full 5.7 percentage points higher with Pablo on the court (56.3 percent—the second highest mark on the team after Kenyon Martin) than off (50.6 percent).
And while Prigioni’s on-off court numbers have been worse when compared to 2012-13, New York’s production has suffered a similar hit whenever he’s on the bench.
|Season||O-Rtg (On)||O-Rtg (Off)||TS% (On||TS% (Off)||AssRatio (On)||AsstRatio (Off)|
To put it another way: It’s not that New York is worse with Prigioni off the court than they were a year ago. It’s that, with the exception of a notable few (Anthony and Prigs in particular), the Knicks have been a worse basketball team in general, across pretty much every statistical metric.
Those in the pro-Prigioni camp have long argued the Knicks would be much better off if only Mike Woodson would give the crafty Argentine more minutes. Still, despite averaging nearly four more minutes per game this season, Pablo’s production—like that of the team writ large—has stalled.
Then again, perhaps the minutes increase has been too marginal. As Newsday’s Al Iannazzone pointed out in his profile of Prigioni from back in December, the Knicks have excelled when the diminutive point guard shoulders more responsibility:
Last season, the Knicks were 16-2 in games Prigioni started. This season, they are 4-2 when he starts and 3-1 when he plays at least 30 minutes. The pass-first Prigioni is averaging 7.3 points and 5.3 assists in those four games. ‘He knows how to change the pace of the game,’ Carmelo Anthony said. ‘He knows when to push it. He knows when to hold back. I think that's just his demeanor.’
Unfortunately, that stretch was immediately followed by Prigioni suffering a fractured toe, forcing him to miss the next 16 games. Upon his return, hopes were high that Mike Woodson would not only return to the team’s vaunted two-point guard lineup, as he told the New York Post’s Marc Berman he might, but stick with it for the long haul.
‘I don’t know who’s going to start,’ Woodson added. ‘We’ve had some success last year with playing (Pablo) and Raymond both and Melo back at the 4. I’m not opposed to going back small based on what other teams do. Unfortunately we’ve been playing teams with big 4s, and Bargnani is our big four.’
That last sentence perfectly crystalizes New York’s ongoing internal crisis: Do they stick with what has proven statistically successful, or try and save front-office face by force feeding the team’s most expensive players—of which Andrea Bargnani is one—into the rotation?
In the end, Woodson—either by dint of circumstance or stubbornness—waffled far too often on that very question, fostering a rotational uncertainty that has understandably affected all involved, including Prigioni.
But with Felton's immediate future now uncertain, it could once again be Pablo's time to shine.
When compared across specific metrics, the two offer a sheer contrast in styles and strengths.
|Points per 36||Assists per 36||PER||TS%|
One thing to bear in mind, should the Knicks continue to struggle even with Prigioni at the helm: They simply aren’t the same team.
Losing Jason Kidd—who became a kind of coach by proxy for Woodson—has hurt far more than anyone expected. Last year’s sporadic sprains and strains have devolved into a full-blown injury pandemic. The chemistry and smiles, all but vanished.
Prigioni, who turns 37 in May, will still have two years remaining on his contract after this season. And while it’s never wise to speculate as to someone’s underlying financial motives, it’ll be interesting to see whether this year's disappointment compels Prigioni to reconsider sticking around.
Should he decide to retire, chances are the resulting fanfare will be just like Prigs himself: muted, unflashy, but imbued with pride and appreciation.
Then, a year from now, during the same February doldrums, we’ll write about how the Knicks could use a player like Prigioni to anchor the second unit—someone with a knack for getting guys to play the right way.
And that, perhaps, will end up being Pablo’s lasting legacy: a player who only reminds you how good you had it long after he’s left the floor.
All stats courtesy of NBA.com and current as of February 23, 2014, unless otherwise noted.
Jim Cavan is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JPCavan.