There is no easy remedy for the New York Knicks' disastrous point guard situation. New York lacks the resources to make a major acquisition and is limited by its desire to maintain cap space for 2015. Team president Phil Jackson will have to be creative in upgrading the position.
The incumbent starter, Raymond Felton, ranked 46th among point guards with a player efficiency rating of 12.90, according to ESPN.com. His backup, Pablo Prigioni, was just a slot higher, at No. 45.
Felton's 9.7 points per game tied for 38th among point guards, and he ranked even lower (65th) in points per 48 minutes, via ESPN.com. He finished 23rd in assists and 26th in rebounds per game, via ESPN.com, while shooting a dreadful 39.5 percent from the field and 31.8 percent behind the arc.
Sadly, offense was his strong side of the ball.
The Knicks' porous defense broke down at the point of attack due to Felton and Prigioni's inability to keep point guards out of the paint. New York allowed more points per possession to the ball-handler (.9) and roll man (1.19) on pick-and-rolls than every other team in the league, per Synergy. Felton gave up .9 points per possession to the ball-handler on pick-and-rolls, which ranked 203rd, per Synergy.
There is no great solution to the Knicks' point guard quandary within the organization. The slow-footed Prigioni turned 37 in March, and while rookie Toure' Murry impressed at times, particularly on defense, he does not possess the shot or playmaking skills to earn starter minutes.
One option would be to play Iman Shumpert at point guard. The shooting guard has some experience running the point from his rookie season and is an excellent on-ball defender well-equipped to harass opposing point guards.
New York is expected to run the triangle offense favored by Jackson, and the Zen Master has had success with unconventional point guards in the past, such as shoot-first guards John Paxson, B.J. Armstrong and Steve Kerr with the Chicago Bulls, and Ron Harper in Chicago and again with the Los Angeles Lakers.
However, in Chicago and L.A., Jackson had other players who could generate ball movement, create for their teammates and get to the foul line. New York ranked 28th in both assists and free throws per game, via ESPN.com, and Felton was the only player on the team to finish among the top 75 in passes per game, via NBA.com.
Shumpert could see some time at the point, though the Knicks must look outside the organization for help, where again, their options are limited. New York does not own a pick in the 2014 draft, has few desirable trade assets and will be over the salary cap even if Carmelo Anthony signs elsewhere.
The Knicks can attempt to purchase a draft pick late in the first round or the second round, though that may prove difficult in what is considered to be the deepest draft in years. Shabazz Napier of the University of Connecticut, Deonte Burton of the University of Nevada, Vasilije Micic of Serbia and Semaj Christon of Xavier University are some point guard prospects who could be on their radar.
Look for the Knicks to rekindle trade discussions for point guards they pursued during the season, including Rajon Rondo and Jeff Teague, via ESPN.com's Marc Stein. Both are long shots, particularly Rondo, who would have to force the Boston Celtics' hand in order to get a deal done. All the Knicks have to offer is Shumpert, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Tyson Chandler's expiring contract.
The most likely scenario is that management will address the point guard position through free agency. If Anthony re-signs, it will be limited to the mini mid-level exception of $3.287 million per year and veteran minimum contracts. If Anthony bolts, Jackson and his staff could have the full mid-level exception at their disposal, which starts at $5.3 million for up to four years.
Barring an unforeseen opportunity to acquire an elite point guard, New York will be reluctant to sign a player to a multiyear deal and reduce its cap space for the much-anticipated free-agent class of 2015. That restricts it to players who are looking to prove themselves on a one-year deal in order to earn more money next summer, injury risks and those still unsigned when the market dries up.
Kyle Lowry, the best free-agent point guard available, is out of the Knicks' price range, as are restricted free agents Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas. New York will zero in on players such as Ramon Sessions, Shaun Livingston and Darren Collison, who have experience as starters and would be an improvement over Felton.
All three will look for a deal similar to the one Jarrett Jack received from the Cleveland Cavaliers last season, $25 million over four years. Jack's contract may have been a bit excessive, though the lack of elite point guards on the market should work in their favor.
The Knicks showed interest in Collison before the trade deadline, via ESPN.com, but were unable to work out a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers. The speedy guard averaged 15.9 points and 5.2 assists per 36 minutes while shooting 37.6 percent from behind the arc.
His greatest value to the Knicks would be on defense. Per Synergy, Collison surrendered just 0.71 points per possession to ball-handlers on pick-and-rolls, and opponents shot 38.6 percent against him on isolation plays.
Livingston turned in his best season since suffering a devastating knee injury in 2007. He shot an efficient 48.6 percent while starting 54 games for the Brooklyn Nets, and his height (6'7") allows him to defend multiple positions. Based on his performance, he should earn a lucrative multiyear contract, though teams may be scared away by his knee history.
According to ESPN.com, Sessions' 16.04 PER ranked 21st among point guards. He averaged 16.6 points and 5.5 assists per 36 minutes while splitting the season between the Charlotte Bobcats and Milwaukee Bucks.
Sessions is in the final year of a contract worth $5 million per year and will be looking for a similar deal. Depending on how the market shakes out, the Knicks might be able to lure him to New York for less.
If the Knicks strike out on Sessions, Livingston and Collison, they could turn to combo guard Jerryd Bayless or shoot-first point guard Patty Mills. Mills had a PER of 18.8, via ESPN.com, and connected on 42.5 percent of his three-point attempts, while Bayless shot 39.5 percent from downtown during his 41 games with the Celtics. Both free agents can probably be had for the mini mid-level exception.
There is not an ideal option available for the Knicks at point guard this summer. The goal for Jackson and his staff should be to acquire a moderate upgrade while keeping their eyes on the team's long-term plan.
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