How Long Will Chris Duhon Start?

George MercurioContributor IDecember 3, 2009

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 17:  Head coach Mike D'Antoni coaches Chris Duhon #1 of the New York Knicks against the San Antonio Spurs at Madison Square Garden on February 17, 2009 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

At some point this season, Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni is going to have to review his starting point guard position and ask himself, “Is Chris Duhon’s play justifying the minutes I’m giving him?”

If he’s honest with himself, the answer will come back an emphatic no. 

Duhon was a pleasant surprise for most Knicks fans early last season.  He shot well when defenses backed off him and distributed the ball well, including a record-breaking 22 assist performance against the Golden State Warriors early in the season. 

But as the season progressed, the quality of his play deteriorated.  Many people, including D’Antoni, blamed fatigue.

But after an offseason of rest, Duhon has come out with some of the poorest point guard play Knicks fans have seen in a while, lending credence to what many had suspected all along:

Chris Duhon is just not an NBA starter. 

Out of the team’s first 19 games this season, Duhon has scored five points or less eight times, and failed to record more than five assists seven times.  He is shooting a reprehensible 28 percent from the field and 24 percent from the three-point arc.  

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But numbers fail to tell the whole story as to how badly Duhon is hurting the Knicks.  Duhon cannot keep the opposing point guard in front of him, as witnessed last night against the Orlando Magic when a past-his-prime Jason Williams went around him all night for layup drills and dish offs.   

Another microcosm could be found during the Knicks surprising win over D’Antoni’s former team, the Phoenix Suns.  During the second half, a three on one fast break developed, with Duhon leading the way. 

For some reason, rather than taking the middle of the court and forcing the other two Knicks onto the wing, Duhon dribbled into the corner.  The Knicks’s spacing on the play was so terrible, the Knicks fans, content all night with the play of their team, let out a chorus of boos.

Knicks fast breaks have been few and far between this year, and considering the Knicks are playing small ball night after night and should therefore have the quicker lineup, this can be perplexing. 

The Knicks have more than adequate athletes who can get up and down the floor and finish, such as Wilson Chandler, Larry Hughes, Al Harrington, and Nate Robinson; David Lee, a power forward playing against bigger, less mobile opponents, can beat most opposing centers down the court. 

And we all know D’Antoni’s would love nothing more than to see the Knicks rush down the court and shoot the ball in less than seven seconds.  This was his philosophy with the Suns, and his playbook hasn’t changed all that drastically since joining the Knicks. 

The difference is, of course, that D’Antoni had a guy named Steve Nash in Phoenix.  But no one is expecting Duhon to play anything close to Steve Nash’s ability.  The Knicks just need a point guard with the speed and ball-handling skills to push the ball consistently, because they have already demonstrated their half court play suffers when they have to slow the ball down. 

So what exactly is holding Knicks rookie point guard Toney Douglas off the court?  Many will remember how well he played when Nate Robinson went down with an injury a couple of weeks ago.  If asked, D’Antoni’s answer would undoubtedly have something to do with veteran leadership, with the old thinking that says a rookie can’t possibly lead your team from the point guard position.

I say why not give it a try?  Can the Knicks situation get any worse? 

Douglas has already shown he can make shots, and better yet, he is not afraid to take big shots, including one at the buzzer with the game on the line.  While he did miss it, it showed a lot of confidence for a rookie to take a shot like that. 

During the brief stretch we got to see him play, he often kept the Knicks in games single handedly.  Last night he came off the bench and scored 17 points in 21 minutes, one point less than Duhon’s highest total for the season.  In the three other games in which Douglas played more than 20 minutes, he scored 21, 23, and 15. 

To cap it off, Douglas is a much better defender than Duhon.  He is vicious when it comes to fighting over picks.  Right now, once the opposing guards fly past their defenders, the Knicks have no one to block or even alter their shots.  Douglas can go a long way toward alleviating this problem simply by staying in front of his man, something Duhon could not do if his contract depended on it. 

Why not give Douglas a chance?