Unless you’re a serious observer of international basketball, you didn’t know who Pablo Prigioni was when the Knicks signed him on July 23, 2012. I was one of those, and our first look at him was during the Olympics. While Olympic hoops is a different game than the NBA, you could see right away that Prigioni was a pro, and to be overly simple, knew what he was doing out there. Whether he could make a real impact for an NBA team that had deep-playoff-run aspirations no one could say for sure, but you knew there wasn’t going to be anything at this level that he hadn’t seen. 35-year-old rookies are prepared like that.
Early in the season, we saw from Prigioni much of what we saw during the Olympics, and it reinforced the types of things you heard about his game – he’s smart, solid, won’t thrill you but won’t kill you eiither. Later in the season when the Knicks were struggling a bit and were banged up, Mike Woodson decided to give Prigioni a shot in the starting lineup, something Knicks fans had loudly campaigned for. It was long overdue considering guys like James White, Kurt Thomas and Ronnie Brewer had spent stretches of the season as starters. And when Prigioni finally did get a shot, the Knicks won 13 straight games and finished the season with a 16-2 stretch.
As unreasonable as it is to believe that Prigioni was the sole reason for the run, it’s just as unreasonable to think that the results were simply coincidental. Having another point guard in the starting lineup, and sometimes three on the floor at once, helped the Knicks get off to good offensive starts, often times deciding games earlier on than later on (eight of the Knicks’ 13 wins during the streak were by double digits). And probably more importantly, Prigioni greatly improved the Knicks’ back court defense.
Overall, the Knicks were simply a better, more efficient team when Prigioni was on the floor. When he was on the court, the Knicks shot better, assisted more and played better defense. Usually when you do those things, you win.
The numbers: 16.2 mpg, 3.5 ppg, 3.0 apg, .396 3-point %, 13.0 PER
Best moment: Prigioni helped save the Knicks from getting swept in the second round against the Indiana Pacers, namely in Game 2. Frank Vogel’s wacky timeout and the Pacers’ decision to shoot as though they were mad at the rim and backboard certainly helped, but Prigioni spearheaded the Knicks’ huge game-ending run that turned another tight contest into a total blowout. It was 72-66 at the start of the 4th quarter when things unfolded something like this: Prigioni defensive board, Prigioni three, Prigioni two, Prigioni defensive board, Prigioni assist, Prigioni block on Paul George three, Prigioni defensive rebound, Prigioni assist, Prigioni assist, Prigioni’s name chanted by The Garden crowd, Knicks win by 26. (Thanks to basketball-reference.com’s play-by-play.)
Honorable mention goes to Game 6 in Boston, when Prigioni canned three early 3s, helping the Knicks get off to a great start in a game where a bad start could have ended their season and put them on the wrong side of history.
And then, Mike Woodson struck.
Lowest moment: This is going to be the only “Lowest moment” that is not that fault of the person we’re reviewing. Before Game 4 against Indiana, the Knicks’ most crucial game of the season, Mike Woodson freaked out and removed Prigioni from the starting lineup. Ok. That’s not really the WORST thing in the world, especially given Woodson’s propensity to start a player only to have him play a handful of minutes. It’s always more about who finishes the game rather than who starts it, right?
Well Prigioni didn’t finish the game, either. He had as much impact on the proceedings as the vendors in the arena. He played a robust 3:26. For clarity’s sake, let’s spell that out: THREE MINUTES AND 26 SECONDS MIKE WOODSON YOU ARE A DINGBAT. It was the least amount of playing time Prigioni got in any of the 78 regular season and 11 playoff games he played all season. There is no level to how asinine this is. It was bad when it happened, it’s worse in retrospect.
All in all: Prigioni did a little bit of everything this season. He made threes, he took care of the ball, he defended, he blogged. He proved that, sometimes, the fans are right. We are all hoping that he decides he liked his one season with the Knicks enough to make it one more, at the very least. And if that happens, let’s hope Mike Woodson comes around on him fully, as he never seemed to do.
Listen to us, Mike. Sometimes we can be right.