New York Knicks Backcourt: Changing of the Guard
A big part of the question for the “New Look” New York Knicks since the new regime of Donnie Walsh and Mike D’Antoni moved in has been the backcourt.
Who’s starting? Will anyone possibly play out of position? Who’s staying? Who’s going? Who’s coming? Will the pieces fit and work together?
Whew! These Knicks have more questions than Sarah Palin’s qualifications for VP.
With the regular season starting this week, a few things have started to take shape for these New Look Knicks' backcourt.
Arguably, the most noticeable of changes for the Knicks would be the absence of Stephon Marbury starting at point guard throughout the preseason.
For the most part, Stephon has been coming off the bench, with the exception of a decent preseason start at small forward against Paul Pierce and the Celtics.
When playing the point, Marbury is still tough to guard and nearly impossible to stop from getting to the hoop.
But he still doesn’t quite fit into the system yet, still holding the ball way too long and dribbling way too much. Defensively, he still gets killed on the pick and roll.
Openly disappointed in coming off the bench thus far after arriving to camp focused and in terrific shape, the eccentric Knick did display tact when telling the New York Post this month:
I don't want to go through any more distractions. If the Knicks want me to come off the bench, that's what I'm going to do. I just want to win a championship in New York.
However, Marbury stated numerous times he did believe he was a starter. The big question is: Will Marbury flip the switch and turn the locker room into a circus—or continue to accept his new role, play hard, and use it as motivation?
Being in the last year of his contract, it would serve Marbury to stay on the same page as D’Antoni and continue the new and improved team-first approach.
As for Marbury’s apparent replacement in the lineup, Chris Duhon is bringing a few things to the table as the projected starting point guard.
Duhon is a good rebounder, solid defender, and an effective floor general willing to pass first.
The only worrisome part of Duhon’s performance this preseason is his leading the team in turnovers with 22. This is uncharacteristic of Duhon, who averaged only 1.37 a game with the Bulls.
The crucial thing is for Duhon to not get rattled playing for New York and settle down. He was brought on for his decision making and pass first attitude, being a “true” point.
D’Antoni believes Duhon will progress with starter quality minutes but with pressure to turn around the losing culture in New York, If Duhon doesn’t live up to expectations, D’Antoni has to think about a hungry Marbury waiting in the wings.
Nate Robinson—one of the few Knicks who were expected to thrive this season under D’Antoni’s system—has lived up to expectations thus far, providing energy off the bench and scoring in bunches.
Robinson, who had a terrific camp and who D’Antoni refers to as “scary athletic,” currently leads all Knicks in scoring with 18.7 ppg.
The biggest shockers amongst the Knicks' backcourt going into the regular season, however, have been Jamal Crawford and Mardy Collins—for opposite reasons.
With the exception of their final preseason game against the Nets, Crawford has been quiet. While not looking bad per se, he has looked very tentative and hesitant.
He has inferred that the preseason is just a warm up, and the real test would be the regular season.
Crawford is expected to start alongside Duhon come opening night. He has always been a capable scorer so it will be interesting to see how he performs in D’Antoni’s system.
Critics suggest Crawford can’t operate without the ball. That may be true, but Crawford is a solid player who works hard. D’Antoni will give him the opportunity and he will respond.
Mardy Collins looks like a man ready to contribute. He looks more confident and comfortable on the floor than in previous years, and is scoring well off the bench.
He has improved his outside stroke and is certainly looking more aggressive and physical in this new offense, unafraid to go to the rim and take contact. D’Antoni’s style seems to have given his game the kick in the pants it needed, as he looks good whenever on the floor.
The guard on this roster who seems to making the least noise is Anthony Roberson.
To be fair, though, he has not gotten a huge amount of minutes.
In the minutes he has played he has not exactly shot the lights out, but he has only attempted eight shots in his career thus far as a Knick, making two of them.
On the verge not even making the cut, Roberson beat out Ewing Jr. for the last spot on the roster after impressing in the summer league.
The Knicks feel very strongly that down the line having a shooter like Roberson could be huge down the stretch. According to teammate and fellow Florida alum David Lee:
He's going to make big shots, he's going to make his own shot, he plays hard out there, and he takes coaching very well…I think we're lucky to have a guy like him on our team.
Overall, despite the rumors, lineup changes, and new system to learn, the Knicks have arguably one of the deepest and most athletic backcourts in the league. With defense being the major liability and no plans made clear to make any more moves, this array of talent may not lead the Knicks to the playoffs—but with some work, may lead them back to respectability.
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