On a team that’s turned employing past-primes and has-beens into its own cottage industry, Jeremy Tyler has emerged as the rarest of things: a young, improving player with upside to spare.
Since signing with the New York Knicks on December 31—after a whirlwind five months in which Tyler was waived by the Knicks, signed by one of New York’s D-League rivals and traded back to the Erie BayHawks before being brought up to the Bockers—the burly 6’10” forward has made quite the case for being a part of the franchise’s long-term picture.
With his team option set at just under $1 million for the 2014-15 season, the cash-strapped Knicks are almost certain to give Tyler another year on the big stage.
No small accomplishment, given Tyler’s journey up to this point.
After averaging 28.7 points per game during his junior year at San Diego High School, Tyler opted to forgo his senior season in lieu of a two-year stint playing overseas—first in Israel, then in Japan.
On its face, the decision—to hone his craft at the professional level, to see and experience different cultures, to shun the dog-and-pony cynicism of the NCAA—seemed imbued with an out-of-the-box maturity.
Sadly, it didn’t take long for the pitfalls of inexperience to rear their ugly head. In a scathing 2009 feature by The New York Times’ Pete Thamel, Tyler’s teammates and coaches dished on what they saw as a basketball microcosm of American exceptionalism:
His coach calls him lazy and out of shape. The team captain says he is soft. His teammates say he needs to learn to shut up and show up on time. He has no friends on the team. In extensive interviews with Tyler, his teammates, coaches, his father and advisers, the consensus is that he is so naïve and immature that he has no idea how naïve and immature he is. So enamored with his vast potential, Tyler has not developed the work ethic necessary to tap it.
Thus began a two-year sojourn that saw Tyler hopscotch from the Dakota Wizards to the Santa Cruz Warriors to the Atlanta Hawks to the Erie BayHawks to New York, back to Santa Cruz, back to Erie and back once more to New York, where he’s finally, it seems, found a home.
But if catching on with an NBA team gave him a much-needed jolt of confidence, cracking Mike Woodson’s stingy rotation would prove the toughest test yet for Tyler.
Over the course of his first three weeks with the Knicks, Tyler logged a total of 32 minutes, tallying a paltry 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Slowly but surely, game by game, Tyler’s potential began to surface—aided, at least in part, by the rotational void left by Amar'e Stoudemire's absence. Then came his breakout performance: 17 points and five rebounds in 23 minutes during New York’s 114-88 dismantling of the Boston Celtics on January 28.
While Tyler has yet to replicate that feat, his minutes have become at least somewhat more consistent—a product as much of New York’s increasingly grim injury report as his own blossoming abilities.
The scene was set, it seemed, for Tyler to assume more burn and bigger burdens, something Woodson himself hinted at during an interview with ESPN Radio following the Boston game (via ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk):
‘Obviously, he played well and he should have a lot of confidence going forward,’ Mike Woodson said on The Stephen A. Smith and Ryan Ruocco Show. ‘From a coach's standpoint, you really don't know what you are going to get from these young guys because their time really comes in practice. Now he is playing in a major game and contributing and doing a bunch of positive things on the floor to help you win… You hope that continues. It was nice to see.’
Considering his age (22), Tyler still has plenty of room to grow. How much room? If Tyson Chandler’s production at the same age is any indication: quite a bit.
|Tale of the 22 Tape: Tyson and Tyler|
|Player||PER||Points per 36||Rebounds per 36||TS%|
Obviously, one must exercise serious discretion when comparing per-36 numbers, attendant as they often are to heavy garbage-time minutes.
At the same time, it’s impossible to watch footage of his Boston performance and not see the vivid rudiments of what could be a well-rounded roster staple in the making.
Put to paper, the performance oozes a what’s what of big-man bona fides: the ability to power through contact, controlled athleticism, rim presence and an impressive mid-range stroke to boot.
That’s not to say Tyler’s is a game devoid of weaknesses, however.
Back in December, Posting and Toasting ran a detailed synopsis of Tyler’s defensive miscues while manning the pivot in Erie. Here’s a bit of Paul Chillsap’s not-so-subtle takeaway (I hope that’s his real name, though I somehow doubt it):
Jeremy Tyler has been foul-prone, lazy on the defensive glass, and reluctant to offer sufficient help on defense, and it's part of the reason the Bayhawks have struggled so much to start the '13-'14 season.
Ouch. Still, it’s difficult to ascertain precisely how much of Tyler’s shortcomings are the necessary byproduct of bad team defense or maladies of his own making.
So far, the numbers at least partially bear out Chillsap’s analysis: Of the Knicks that have logged at least 200 minutes, Tyler’s defensive rating (111.6) registers as the worst on the team.
The flip side: New York has touted its highest offensive rating (112.3) as well as its best overall rebounding percentage (54.3 percent) with Tyler on the floor.
To those who would cite a garbage-time bias, consider that, when adjusted for the first half of games, the numbers look even better: an offensive rating of 116.9, a defensive rating of 106.4 and an overall rebounding rate of 55.8 percent.
While it seemed for a time as if Tyler was poised to preside as a staple of the Knicks’ second unit, Woodson has instead reacted to his team’s most recent skid by further tightening the rotation—a stretch of nine losses in 11 games in which the young pivot has crested the 10-minute threshold only twice.
With New York poised to sign Earl Clark and Shannon Brown to fill out a roster devastated by injury and off-court intrigue, it’s unclear whether Tyler might soon find himself back buried on the bench.
Then again, if and when the Knicks are officially cropped from the playoff picture, Woodson would be wise to give Tyler and his pine-bolted brethren as many minutes as possible.
In a season that started with so much promise, it’s certainly not much of a silver lining. But when your financial future is as fragile and foreboding as New York’s, you’ll take whatever sliver of sun you can get.
All stats courtesy of NBA.com and current as of February 26, 2014 unless otherwise noted.