Where Art Thou, Pablo?: Why Prigs needs some big boy minutes

Let’s get this out of the way first: Pablo Prigioni is awesome. OK. Now disregarding how cool the guy is, let’s talk about why he needs more playing time from a strictly basketball perspective.

Judging by net-rating, Pablo is included in 8 of the Knicks’ 11 most efficient three-man groups (via NBA.com/Stats).

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Admittedly, many of the above threesomes come in very small sample sizes, but only because of Prigioni’s miniature dose of minutes in general—he’s logging 14.6 minutes for Mike Woodson on average.

So let’s bump up the criteria a bit. Below are the Knicks’ most efficient three-man lineups that have played at least 80 minutes together.

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Notice that Pablo still runs with three of these six best Knicks trios. And the Tyson-Felton-Kurt lineup just barely made the cut at 83 minutes. So there’s that.

Prigs’ minutes had been on the decline ever since Jason Kidd relocated to the second team to run point, essentially bumping Pablo out of the rotation. His burn dipped down to just 12.6 minutes per game from Feb. 6 to March 17.

Mike Woodson has recently tried to find minutes for Prigioni by plugging him in as starting point guard, shifting Ray Felton over to the 2. In three games as a #starer, Pablo has received the following minutes: 20, 20, 10—the 10 being most recent, and most concerning, considering his play didn’t particularly warrant a severe minutes slash (it rarely does), and Kidd, a day shy of 40 years old, was run out for 31 minutes. The Knicks play the last half of their back-to-back against Toronto tonight, so perhaps Woody may have been preserving Prigioni for the second leg of the home-and-home.

Whatever the case may be, Prigs has the ability to play a big role in the offense. He’s deserving of well more than the 14.6 minutes he averages on the year, and even the 16.6 he’s logged in the last 10 games. His minutes need to be leaning more towards the 20 from his first two starts than the 10 from his last, and if Woodson says it’s hard to find minutes for him, then tough shit! That’s part of the job as an NBA coach—to have the optimal personnel on the court at all times. And if it means cutting down Kidd’s minutes—no matter how much Woody likes having a “coach on the court”—too bad.

It’s not even as if playing Prigioni more hurts the team on either side of the ball. Since Dec. 15—the team’s last 45 games—Prigs has shot 43 percent from the field, 39.2 from the arc, and 93 from the stripe while dishing out three assists on average in 15 minutes per game. Compare that to Kidd’s line of 33 percent from the field, 29 from downtown, and 75 from the free-throw line, adding roughly the same amount of assists in 27 minutes. The argument could be made that Kidd should be the one averaging 15 minutes.

Sure, at 35 he’s not going to keep up in a foot race with younger 1s, but the same can be said (moreso) about Kidd. And we haven’t even mentioned Pablo’s awesome inbounds steals that we get to see about once a game.

And unlike the elder Knicks brethren he shares a locker room with, aside from a few back flare-ups, Prigioni has been relatively injury-free. Of course, this can be attributed to his lack of burn, but he’s played big-time minutes consistently—and healthily—as recently as last summer. As starting point man for the Argentinian national team, Prigioni averaged 28 minutes per game, including 36 and 37-minute performances. None of his six Olympic games were played more than four days apart.

Looking at it from all angles, it’s a real mystery why Prigioni is such an afterthought in Woodson’s rotation. Let’s just hope the madness comes to an end soon, because let’s face it: We can all use some more Prigs in our lives. Especially the Knicks.

Making Sense of the Senseless Jeremy Lin Situation

Well, if you turn to any national media source, you would be led to believe that Jeremy Lin has already bought a nice Houston home, and is looking forward to beginning training camp with the Rockets alongside, well, nobody. Although the Knicks have made a move to acquire point guard Ray Felton, Lin’s one-way ticket out of New York has not been punched yet, and if you try to use any ounce of common sense you have left after this NBA offseason, you’d realize that letting Lin walk wouldn’t make any sense at all.

Come to think of it, no part of this whole situation has made much sense from the very start. Ever since Coach Mike Woodson’s first days at the helm of the team, he’s been lukewarm-at-best on Lin. Peep this quote from May 10th:

“Will he start? Only time will tell. He’s had some success in our league where he’s played at a high level, and he’s done a lot of nice things for our ballclub.”

Not overly embracing words from Woodson. Fast forward to the acquisition of Jason Kidd, however, and Woodson seemed to have pulled a 180.

“Jeremy was our starter before he got hurt. Unfortunately he went down with the injury and he’s not going to be punished for that. He has a lot to do this summer. But when he comes back to veterans, he’ll have the first nod. He’ll be our starter, and Jason will back him up in terms of helping him develop and developing this young man into a great point guard.”

An interesting change of heart. But was it? Or was this simply a charade put on by the Knicks organization?

Jeremy Lin was gifted to the Knicks for practically nothing. Re-gifting, especially in this situation, is very bad.

After giving up significant pieces to acquire Felton, the latter seems more and more like reality. But why give these false endorsements? Why act as if the Knicks’ long-term option at point guard will be Jeremy Lin, when he’s already packing his bags?

On the other side of things, if Woodson’s words were sincere, why in the world would Raymond Felton agree to return to the Knicks as a 3rd point guard? Felton is coming off a rather miserable season, but he would presumably garner some interest as a first guard off the bench from some team. Was his desire to return to the Garden stronger than his desire to play meaningful NBA minutes?

Would the Knicks lie to Felton’s camp, and give the impression that Lin is a goner, only to match Houston’s offer? That seems a little shady to be NBA business. What also seems a little on the suspicious side, is hiding from Rockets officials who were sent to physically deliver Lin’s offer sheet, to buy themselves time to decide on whether to match or not. (League rules require the offer sheet to be physically delivered. The receiving team has three days upon receipt to reach a decision.)

Aside from the murkiness of the act, why would the Knicks need to buy themselves time if they’ve already decided not to match. They know the numbers. Do they really need the 3+ days to go over language? Presumably no.

As has been widely publicized, Houston’s offer to Lin is a “poison pill” deal. Under the Gilbert Arenas Rule, teams may only offer the league average salary ($5M) in contract year one, to players with less than two years of service time. They are due for a small raise in year two. Year three, though, bears no restrictions on salary. This is why the structure of Lin’s deal is:

Year 1: $5 million

Year 2: $5.25 million

Year 3: $14.8 million

The key for the Knicks here, and the reason Houston structured the offer this way, is that in the third year of the deal, the Knicks would have Amar’e Stoudemire ($23,410,988), Carmelo Anthony ($23,530,000), Tyson Chandler ($14,596,888), and Lin ($14,800,000) on their books for a combined $76 million. Teams start paying the luxury tax once they exceed $70 million. After considering all luxury tax penalties that will be in effect by 2014, Jeremy Lin’s $25 million contract would end up costing $43 million out of James Dolan’s pockets.

This is supposed to be the factor that steers the Knicks away.

The Knicks, who shelled out $60 million each to Eddy Curry and Jamal Crawford, $30 million to Jared Jeffries and Jerome James, and paid a 30-year-old Steve Francis over $20 million for a season and a half, are supposed to be scared out of a deal because of paying a luxury tax.

But there’s always the basketball argument. That is, that the Knicks truly think that Felton at $4.5million/year is of better value than Lin’s new deal. This argument would only lead you to believe that Isiah Thomas is still calling the shots behind the disguise of Glen Grunwald.

Raymond Felton has been a mediocre-at-best player since his arrival in the NBA in 2005, aside from a 54 game stretch under Mike D’Antoni two seasons ago. What’s not funny, but infuriating about the whole thing, is that the argument from a group of decided NBA fans is that it would be silly to hand Lin reigns to the team after 35 games, when the Knicks would essentially be paying Felton off his 54 games as a good point guard in New York.

Felton showed he could be a good point guard during his prime years during his stint in New York. He showed scoring and defending ability, however was incredibly inept at executing a simple pick-and roll.

Lin showed that he could be a good point guard at 23 years of age, in essentially his rookie year. His pick-and-rolls were up to par with the best in the game, considering he had the offensive wizards, Jared Jeffries and Tyson Chandler, as his partners. His shooting caught everyone by surprise; he was among the league leaders in pull-up jump shot percentage. His defense was active, but not stellar. Take into account that he was carrying all of New York City on his shoulders, and Felton’s Knick tenure is more or less irrelevant.

Take away Lin’s half-season in New York and you have nothing. Take away Felton’s half-season in New York and you have six-and-a-half years of mediocrity. Neither would be offered more than a minimum salary if it wasn’t for their New York body of work. So to those of you who detest paying Lin off his body of work, you must consider the same for Felton.

The addition of Felton does not necessarily mean the demise of Linsanity, as several news sources are guilty of assuming. The Knicks have a need at shooting guard while Iman Shumpert recovers from a torn ACL. Instead of taking a chance on the so-so guards left on the free agent market, Woodson could run out lineups with Lin and Felton sharing time at point guard, with Jason Kidd at the other guard– a position he found himself in often last season in Dallas. Lin’s scoring ability leaves him as an option to play at the wing as well, and let Felton, Kidd, or even Pablo Prigioni run the point. The addition of Felton actually compliments the Knicks guard needs pretty well, as long as Lin is still in blue and orange laundry.

There are so many questions that are up in the air right now, but if when it’s all said and done, James Dolan passes on a 23-year-old point guard who carried a team of scrubs on a season-changing winning streak (in Stoudemire and Anthony’s absence), in favor of pinching his wallet shut for the first time in his excruciating incumbency as owner, then it may finally be time to put this monster to rest.