Two years ago, journeyman Roger Mason Jr. was starting next to Tony Parker in the backcourt for a San Antonio Spurs team headed into the playoffs.
These days, however, he’s warming the bench for the New York Knicks.
It’s been an unusual turn of events for Mason Jr., who, before the season began, could have been slated to be the Knicks’ starting two guard. Before the emergence of Landry Fields, Mason Jr.’s success with the Spurs boasted the best credential of any other guard on the team.
When he signed with the Knicks for the veteran’s minimum this offseason, Mason Jr. was considered a steal. He talked early on about making an impact by leading by example and, hopefully, guiding his new team to the playoffs.
However, a less than stellar preseason, in which his shooting was clearly off, bounced Mason Jr. out of the Knicks’ rotation and at the end of their bench.
Despite only playing in eight games thus far, Mason Jr. has tried to remain upbeat, telling the New York Post, "I'll continue to work and be a good teammate and cheer them on and wait for an opportunity. I haven't really had one yet."
And wait patiently he should, because those same teammates he cheers on so mightily may need his help soon. Mason Jr. steps in as point guard during team practices and the Knicks are reportedly looking for a backup to help grant some rest to starter Raymond Felton during games.
Obviously, only Knicks’ insiders know just how well (or not so well) Mason Jr. runs the point in practice, so there may be a reason as to why he is not playing. That being said, his career and more specifically, his standout season with the Spurs in which he averaged double-digit points, only give way to why the sharpshooting guard would be a good fit for Coach D’Antoni’s system.
As good of a fit as Mason Jr. could be, the Knicks are on an absolute high right now. If something isn’t broken, don’t fix it. As a veteran who has bounced around the league quite a bit, it’s certain that Mason Jr. understands that.
That is surely why he has been professional throughout the process. All he can do is be the cheerleader the team needs right now.
Nevertheless, it is a long NBA season. Aside from obvious fatigue settling in, some players may not be able to keep up their positive play throughout the whole season.
In fact, Toney Douglas, who outshined Mason Jr. during preseason, has already shown signs (at least to a small extent) of his quality of play slipping. After Douglas, the Knicks are more depleted at the guard positions than everyone originally thought. With guys like Mason Jr. and Bill Walker out of the rotation and Kelenna Azubuike out indefinitely with an injury, the once praised depth has been non-existent.
When not spelling Felton, Mason Jr. could clearly fit right in at his more natural position of shooting guard. He has even raved all season long about his (at least off the court) rapport with Felton. If given the opportunity, the two could perhaps build some rapport on the court as well, given Mason Jr.’s chemistry with Tony Parker.
With the Knicks’ train to success clearly still on the right track, it’s key that Mason Jr. just enjoy the ride. While it is not his time just yet, it’s important for the Knicks (and Coach D’Antoni) not to forget what an asset they have waiting in the wings on the bench.
If and when his time comes, Mason Jr. could ultimately provide the Knicks with the good quality play and experience they signed him for in the first place as they inch closer towards the playoffs.
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