Donnie Walsh and the New York Knicks have kept a watchful eye on Cleveland Cavaliers reserve point guard Ramon Sessions for quite some time. The Knicks initially showed interest in Sessions during free agency in the summer of 2009, but he opted to leave the Milwaukee Bucks to play in Minnesota.
Considering the inadequacy of talent on the Minnesota Timberwolves, Sessions figured he’d get ample playing time to fully flaunt his ability. The decision backfired, as Sessions saw career lows in minutes and thus, major statistical categories across the board.
Following a single season with the Timberwolves, Sessions trudged on to the disheartened Cleveland Cavaliers, who had just lost LeBron James. There, Sessions served as Mo Williams’ backup, but he started a number of games when Williams was hurt.
Williams was eventually involved in a trade which sent Clippers point guard Baron Davis to Cleveland to replace him. The injury prone Davis was not 100 percent when he joined the Cavs, and Sessions again thrived in the starting point guard’s absence.
With an aging and unpredictable Chauncey Billups guaranteed to run the point in New York for another season, one of the Knicks’ most pressing offseason moves must address the lack of point guard depth. Toney Douglas, who is much better suited to be a shooting guard, demonstrated in the first-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics that he is not ready for the responsibility of orchestrating the offense. That leaves Billups as the only trustworthy true point guard on the team.
The Knicks briefly showed interest in Sessions prior to this year’s trade deadline, but a deal never materialized, and he finished the season in Cleveland. Sessions is under contract with the Cavs through 2013, so look for New York to put together a trade package for him in the coming months.
Sessions can offer the Knicks substance at a depleted position, and with Billups never fully healthy since arriving from Denver, he also gives them an obligatory insurance policy. Sessions should jump at the chance to be able to contribute to a playoff-caliber team and will be an excellent fit for New York if a transaction to acquire him becomes reality.
Between Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, the Knicks have enough egos to feed. Throughout his career, Sessions has been a team player who has never relished the spotlight or stirred up any drama.
Sessions clearly has exceptional skill and has performed practically at an all-star level when given the opportunity. In fact, Sessions only appeared in 17 games as a rookie with the Bucks after spending the previous four months in the D-League. He answered the call in one of those games with 20 points, eight rebounds and 24 assists. Sessions’ 24 dimes set the Bucks single-game assist record, which stands to this day.
Sessions certainly is confident in his ability, and when he gets the chance to play, his stats turn you into a believer. However, he has never complained about lack of playing time, knowing full well he could start somewhere in this league. Instead, Sessions has waited patiently for his time to come.
You never know. Sessions could work out so well in New York as Billups’ successor that they won’t need to pursue Chris Paul in 2012. This would allow Donnie Walsh to shift his focus to obtaining a couple mid-level role players rather than adding one at maximum salary.
Over the course of the 2010-11 season, Sessions started 38 games for the dismal Cleveland Cavaliers. Besides Antawn Jamison and J.J. Hickson, Sessions was not surrounded by too many respectable players.
Even when he started, Sessions was lucky if he stayed on the court for 35 minutes because Cleveland had become so accustomed to being blown out. Nevertheless, he still managed a line of 14.5 points, 5.9 assists, 3.7 rebounds and a tad under a steal per game. To put it in perspective, his numbers were right on par with Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley, who is a very solid player on a drastically superior team.
Sessions can plan on subbing in for Chauncey Billups for the duration of the 2011-12 season. But, if Billups goes down with an injury, as he often has of late, the Knicks coaching staff should feel comfortable putting the ball in Sessions’ hands.
If the situation arises for Sessions to become a permanent fixture in the starting five, he will be more than capable of handling this burden, having started a third of his career.
Sessions will only be 25 years old at the start of next season and already has four pro years under his belt. This gives him at least six or seven more productive years before age becomes a factor.
With Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire both signed through 2015, Donnie Walsh can feel secure inking Sessions to a four-year deal to match. Younger than both of these superstars, Sessions could become the third component of what hopefully amounts to a championship nucleus and still be in his prime when his contract expires.
If Sessions can improve his defense, I see a lot of similarities between him and Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. They both are penetrators who prefer driving to the basket over a perimeter shot, and they are also above-average distributors.
Surrounding Rondo with the “Big Three” of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen did wonders for his game. The same could be said of Sessions with teammates like Anthony, Stoudemire and another elite player.
In his first year with New York, Sessions could provide a nice change of pace upon entering the game. Sessions has a much quicker first step than Chauncey Billups, and where Billups is content launching a three or posting up smaller opponents, Sessions would rather slash through the paint and create.
Due to such discrepancies in style, defenses would be forced to prepare differently depending on who is at the point. If it’s Billups, teams can expect a half-court offense that is much more calculated, but Sessions brings an up-tempo flow with fewer boundaries.
Averaging just 5.6 assists in a career spanning 13 years, Billups has never been known for his passing. On the other hand, Sessions has no reservations when it comes to finding the open man. Sessions can frequently dish out double-digit assists, and that’s exactly what an organization with two top 10 scorers needs.
Granted, you can never have enough scorers, but when your leading playmaker, Raymond Felton, is long gone, and Billups is the only Knick to average more than three assists per game, adding a guy like Sessions develops into a necessity.
Not many people are aware, but Mike D’Antoni’s brother and Knicks assistant coach, Dan D’Antoni, coached Sessions during his AAU days back in South Carolina. Dan D’Antoni thinks very highly of him, so there’s a strong probability that a reunion will occur.
Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash really excelled under Mike D’Antoni’s tutelage. Since taking over the reins from Isiah Thomas, D’Antoni hasn’t had a point guard with similarities to Nash.
Despite not being a great outside shooter like Nash, Sessions is comparable in terms of his ability to get to the basket and find creative ways to score over bigger defenders. Nash also has the capacity to turn nothing into something when you think he has no further options; Sessions has exhibited flashes of this brilliance as well.
To be most productive, D’Antoni’s system requires a run-and-gun style point guard. Sessions has the quickness and athleticism to get out on the break and use the entire court to his advantage, as opposed to Billups who often walks the ball up with his back to the man guarding him.
There would be noticeable distinctions between a D’Antoni game plan run by Billups and one headed by Sessions. Billups’ veteran leadership and big-game experience should never be discounted, but if New York ultimately chooses to bring Sessions onboard, they may find Sessions is better suited to captain the ship as long as D’Antoni is in charge.
Donnie Walsh’s rebuilding phase is far from complete, and aside from finding a quality center, signing a lieutenant second in command to General Billups is top priority.
Having only missed four games in the past three years, Ramon Sessions is a durable option with youth in his corner. His style and demeanor is conducive to playing alongside superstars as well.
Sessions could prove to be a diamond in the rough, and if the Knicks are able to land him somewhere in the $5 million-a-year range, their return on investment will be well worth the cost.
Let’s hope Sessions still has a soft spot for old Coach Dan.