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.

Knicks Adjustments Need to Start at the Head (the very shiny head)

Mike Woodson

Photo via USA Today

I’ll admit I was weary when the Knicks re-signed Mike Woodson to a long-term deal last summer, fresh off another first-round playoff flop. I’ll also admit that I was a member of the gullible crowd just months ago that was convinced Mike Woodson was Coach of the Year material. After watching this Knicks team rise, fall, and level off through the last four months, I’ve realized I was wrong on both occasions.

When the man with the sparkling scalp, and the goatee an illustrator dreams of, took over Mike D’Antoni’s disgraced Knicks team, he arrived with a pretty mediocre reputation. Woody was D’Antoni’s defensive guy, and no one questioned his ability to preach defense. But his offensive schemes were an entirely different story.

As Hawks head man, Woodson made use of very few offensive sets, and often gave his star Joe Johnson free reign to run the show — what you and I know as “Iso-Joe.” This, more or less, held true last season in his 24 regular season games. But it worked. Carmelo Anthony’s USG% rose from 33 percent under D’Antoni to 37 percent under Woodson, and the Knicks rattled off 18 wins in those final 24 to finish seventh in the East. Then the matchup with Miami in the first round. Iman Shumpert and Baron Davis torn ACLs, confetti, streamers, blah blah blah. Carmelo’s USG% clocked in at 40.72 percent for the series, and the Knicks were done in 5.

Knicks management then decided to reward Woodson for his regular season run with a 3-year deal. This worried me. The guy could motivate and preach defense. We all knew that. But something about locking in your future with a coach whose career playoff record was 12-22 didn’t settle the right way. Call me crazy.

But the 2012-13 season began, and sure enough, Mike Woodson coached like nobody had ever seen him coach before.

There were passes. Passes everywhere. And screens. Off-ball screens. On-ball screens. Melo setting screens! It was as if you’d hooked the Knicks up to the computer on the hardest setting in 2K. Ray Felton, not Anthony, initiated the offense. Jason Kidd was at the wing on standby in case the ball needed a kickstart on its trip around the set. The ball flung rapidly about each Knick until one of the five found an open look.

Seriously, the passing was something else. Carmelo was using The Force to pass out of double-teams. He knew where all four other guys were at every second, and if his shot wasn’t there, he’d give it up. And oh yeah, J.R. Smith was passing.

J.R. Smith was passing.

And the defense, as we all expected, was among the league’s best. They destroyed the Miami Heat on opening night by allowing just 84 points. They didn’t allow more than 90 in three of their first four matchups. Through the first nine games, the Knicks were rocking a defense efficiency of 97.4, which would place second in the league right now. There were a few close calls, but Woody’s Knicks were murking teams almost every night out thanks to a dizzying array of passes and smothering defense.

Then those nine games were up. The Knicks were in Dallas in a nail-biter — the first late-game situation with Mike Woodson on the spot. It was 112-111 Dallas with 24 seconds left on the clock. The Knicks had been killing the Mavs in pick-and-rolls all night. Felton had 11 dimes and Tyson Chandler racked up 21 points. Woodson had been drawing up stellar plays out of timeouts all year. We were on the edge of our collective seat to watch the magic about to unfold. Then Woody just couldn’t kick his urge.

2012-13 got it’s first taste of Iso-Melo. He took the ball to the left, got Shawn Marion in the air on a ball fake but decided on the pull-up jumper. It missed, and the Knicks failed their first crunch time test of the season.

From that night on, the Knicks have been getting away from everything I just wrote about (aside from Iso-Melo). The most stark — and unexplainable — dropoff is the defense. Since those first nine games, the team’s defensive efficiency is 106. Overall that number stands at 102.9, or 14th league-wide (via HoopData). The Knicks went from being a top-five defense to a bottom-five defense in an alarmingly short time.

One of the most infuriating aspects of the defense’s demise comes directly from Woodson himself. Per his instruction, Knicks defenders switch on nearly every play involving a pick, instead of fighting through the screen. This leaves the Knicks with terribly unfavorable matchups all across the court — and far too often. The defensive woes were all supposed to vanish when Iman Shumpert rejoined the team in January. Due to a combination of (understandable) slow recovery on Shumpert’s part, and Woodson insisting on playing him out of position at small forward and not guarding the opposing point guard, Shump’s been the subject of league-wide slander for about a month.

Woodson has also neglected to remove Jason Kidd from the starting lineup, when it’s blatantly obvious he’s been overrun to this point. The glorious, reborn Kidd from the season’s first two months is only a faint memory now. These days, Kidd is everything you’d expect a 39-year-old point guard to be: really bad. Since Jan. 1, Kidd has shot 27 percent from the arc and 32 percent from the field. Yet he’s stil the Knicks starting shooting guard (Shumpert’s natural position), and Shump is still at the 3.

Woody has stuck with the same starting five for 12 of the last 13 games. The Knicks are 6-7 in them.

And that cool, team-oriented offense with the picks and the passes and stuff? That’s been on hiatus for almost as long as the defense has. For the last month, the offense is essentially this sequence:

  1. Felton or Anthony bring the ball up.
  2. Tyson receives the ball at the top of the key. Tyson passes it to the other side.
  3. Some unproductive passes occur. The shot clock winds down to 10. 9. 8…
  4. JR Smith takes a stepback jumper or Carmelo tries to draw contact at the rim.

The lack of sets on O has especially doomed Steve Novak, who was on the receiving end of a solid amount of open looks early on thanks to several screens. Nowadays, you can usually find Novak in either corner of the court, defender on his hip, desperately trying to position himself for a feed that never gets fed. In his last 12 games, Novak’s points per game are down to just six, and his three-point attempts are down to 3.8. For comparison, Novak was launching 6.1 attempts from deep upon entering the rotation last season.

Since Dec. 17, the Knicks have been the definition of an average team: 15-15 in their last 30 tries. The Garden has been the Mecca of Mediocrity for some months now, and the Knicks have their hot start to thank for their third place standing in the East.

That start is also what they’ll have to thank if they eventually do get back on track. For this team to win, Woodson can re-implement several aspects of November and December into the right-now. It’s amazing how far some set plays and defensive effort can go.

So no, Mike Woodson won’t be recognized as the league’s top coach. That was a bit naïve of us to expect. But he does have what it takes to get the Knicks back on track, and even make a serious run in the postseason — he proved that much to us back in November. Now it’s just a matter of if Woody can do what his predecessor never could: adjust. With the necessary changes, the Knicks could contend for a ring this spring. But they’ll need that coach from the first two months of the season to do it. That guy can coach.

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.

NBA Free Agency 2012: New York Knicks

We’re about 25 hours deep into the frenzy that is NBA Free Agency, and it’s already spewed out more reports and rumors than any fan can handle, so let’s get right into it.

The Knicks’ first priority is clearly Steve Nash. A farfetched pipe dream, it seemed merely a day or so ago, has turned into a very real and interesting option for New York. For months, the national and local media had everyone believing that all the Knicks could offer Nash would be their $3 million Mid-Level Exception, and their July 1st conversation would go something like this:

GM Glen Grunwald: “So Steve, we’d really love for you to join our squad and be the missing piece so we can compete for a championship.”

Nash: “Me too.”

GG: “Our offer to you is $3 million per year for three years.”

Nash: “OK, bye.”

But early Sunday, reports emerged from all walks of the internet that Phoenix has interest in Knicks guard Landry Fields, which opened the door for a sign-and-trade.

In such a deal, the Knicks could swap Fields (who’d sign for his $2.7 million Qualifying Offer the Knicks extended to him on Wednesday), Toney Douglas, cash considerations, and the non-guaranteed contracts that belong to Jerome Jordan and Dan Gadzuric. The $3 million in cash sent by New York would basically cover the cost of Douglas’ contract, so consider Phoenix getting him for free. The Suns could then waive Jordan and Gadzuric at no cost to them, opening two roster spots. I haven’t heard any speculation of this, nor have any confirmation that this is allowed under the new CBA, but including the draft rights to recent draft pick Kostas Papanikolaou could help entice Phoenix as well.

The combined salary of the package Grunwald would send out to the desert would be $6.82 million. As per new CBA rules, teams are allowed to receive back the same value they send out, plus 150% + $100,000. So $6.82 x 1.5 + 100,000 = 10.3, meaning the Knicks would be able to receive back a $10.3 million player.

This ~$10.3/year contract that the Knicks can potentially offer to the Suns would compete with the reported 3 year/ $36 million offer that the Toronto Raptors sent Nash’s way on day one of Free Agency. Consider the basketball situations of both teams, the fact that Nash has made his summer home in NYC for the past decade or so, and (if you wanna get ticky-tack) the greater income tax in Toronto than in New York, even the most Canadian bone in Nash’s body would be halfway through the Garden entrance.

It’s simply a matter of whether or not Suns GM Lance Blanks would pull the trigger.

This is essentially the only method of losing Nash that hauls a return for Phoenix, rather than just losing him outright. A package structured around Landry Fields may not be the sexiest group of names to show off to your fans, but one would suspect that getting some sort of return would be better in Blanks’ eyes than letting Nash walk for free. Also, it would be in good faith for the Suns to do their best to place Nash in the most realistic option possible to get him his hardware.

Fields isn’t exactly coming off a historic season, but keep in mind the better of his two seasons was played under an up-tempo system, similar to the one the Suns run. Fields made All-Rookie first team that season.

For the Knicks, adding Nash would be pretty horrible news for the rest of the Atlantic division. Pairing Nash with Amar’e Stoudemire to rekindle some of that old fire they started out West could be just what Amar’e needs at this point in his career. Don’t forget about the newly motivated All-Star small forward who just witnessed his career-long rival win his first championship, either. Nash coming to New York would also provide him with a second job: a mentor to developing star Jeremy Lin– not a bad guy for Lin to mold his game after.. Also, Nash starting at point guard would push Lin to the second team– a team possibly consisting of Lin, JR Smith, Steve Novak, and Jared Jeffries. Mobb Deep II.

Update: There have been reports in the last hour that have pointed out that the Knicks may not necessarily match a back-loaded offer made to Lin by teams such as Toronto, Dallas, or the Nets. I fully expect Lin back on the Garden floor to begin next year and these reports are nothing more than speculation at this point. Especially after the “Bird Rights” hearing that clogged our Twitter feeds for the past month, the Knicks are confident they will be able to resign Jeremy Lin, Steve Nash or no Steve Nash.

The Steve Nash situation will be the first domino to fall this offseason. We can expect a decision in the coming days.

It’s also important to note that if the Knicks obtain Nash via sign-and-trade, they’d still have their $3 million MLE in their pocket to spend on important role players.

The Knicks also checked up on an old friend, Ray Felton, on Sunday. If Nash spurs New York for Toronto, Phoenix, Dallas, or Brooklyn, Felton would be another option to back up Jeremy Lin at the 1. Felton failed to impress in a non-D’Antoni offense last season in Portland, but his return could spark the pick-and-roll combo that helped throne Amar’e Stoudemire king of New York.

Jason Kidd is also expected to receive a call from Grunwald and his team some time this week.

Outside of the point guard position, the Knicks need a legitimate shooting guard. JR Smith is no lock to return, and even with a new contract in New York, Smith is best designed for a limited-minutes role (see Round 1, 2012 NBA Playoffs). Ray Allen is currently coveted by a few teams, receiving formal offers from Memphis (full $5 million MLE) and Miami (full $3 million MLE). Boston’s interest in re-signing Allen is unclear this early in the game.

The Nuggets declined to extend Rudy Fernandez his Qualifying Offer, making him an unrestricted free agent. Fernandez would be a great asset off the bench, or possibly even starting until Iman Shumpert returns from injury. Fernandez would help the Knicks on the offensive end, where they especially struggled last season.

An area in which they excelled in 2011-12, however, was defense. The Knicks are on a list of teams Marcus Camby is considering, which would only help bolster their strong front line.

Phew. Am I missing anything? Probably. New reports have probably emerged in the time I took to write this up. Oh well, any major developments will be provided either in an update below or in a new post entirely.

Happy Free Agency! And may the Collective Bargaining Agreement be ever in your favor.