Mike Woodson’s two point guard sets turned out to be not only a positive for the team, but also extremely popular amongst fans. Now without Jason Kidd though, things will get tricky. The Knicks still haven’t signed a backup point guard, but even when they do, it’ll be a downgrade from the first ballot Hall-of-Famer. Despite the fact that he struggled mightily down the stretch last year, his IQ and intangibles strongly contributed to the success of the New York Knicks during the regular season.
Similar to his rookie year, I imagine we’ll see Shump bring the ball up the floor a little bit, and maybe even Tim Hardaway Jr will get a few opportunities to do so. Sebastian Telfair is still an option, but New York won’t be able to offer him as much cash as other teams. Aaron Brooks could find his way to the Big Apple, but if the Knicks swing and miss on both, it makes a lot of sense to do away with the system entirely and bring either Raymond Felton or Pablo Prigioni off the bench, allowing both Camelo Anthony and Iman Shumpert to start at their natural positions. So which one should take the fall? TOK’s Kevin Smith and Chris DiGioia debate.
Kevin Smith on Pablo Prigioni
The Knicks caught fire upon Prigioni’s insertion to the starting lineup last season. No, his presence didn’t directly affect Carmelo Anthony’s mind-blowing 36.9 points per game in April and he didn’t go Jeremy Lin and carry the team on his shoulders to a 16-2 finish, but with superior talent around him, Prigioni was able to better showcase his talents. At 35-years old, he was a younger version of Jason Kidd, menacing the passing lanes, sneaking steals from inbounders, and knocking down wide open treys when no one respected his flat-footed jumper. He furthered his impact in the playoffs, even hitting five threes while closing out Boston in Game 6. Felton hurt his ankle and fizzled out during the Indiana series and Kidd never bothered to show up at all. Prigioni was their most consistent point guard in the playoffs, even if his time on the floor didn’t reflect it.
I’m not saying Woodson should play Prigs for 35 minutes a night, or even 25 for that matter. Felton should still get the lion’s share of the minutes, but just think of the fire power it would give the team if he came off the bench. While other teams are resting their starters, the Knicks could be bringing in a big three of Felton, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year in J.R. Smith, and a proven veteran/former All-Star in Amar’e Stoudemire.
Starting Prigs would allow Melo to set the offensive tone early and not feel worried when it’s his turn for a breather. He needs a high-IQ point guard on the floor with him, someone who can do the little things like re-enter the post and move the ball around. Felton is more of a scoring guard, which is no knock on him, but Woodson has to play to his team’s strengths, and putting points on the board shouldn’t be an issue when the holder of last year’s scoring title is on the floor.
At the end of the day, it’s more important to finish the game than it is to start it, so Woodson might as well use Prigioni’s time at the beginning. The Knicks should learn from last year’s mistake of giving too many minutes to Kidd too early in the season and let the Argentinian save his legs for the postseason, using Felton during the meat of the game, but starting it with Prigioni.
Chris DiGioia on Raymond Felton
My fellow TOK colleague, Kevin Smith, makes strong points on why Prigioni should officially be inserted into the starting lineup, but I’d still like to see Raymond Felton get the start. Felton is the type of player where it’s crucial he gets his shot going early, because when he’s putting points on the board, it takes an immense amount of pressure off the NBA’s reigning scoring champ, Carmelo Anthony. Honestly, I love the two point guards playing together. Felton can be an effective floor general, running the pick and roll with Tyson Chandler, and handling the ball consistently, but he truly doesn’t get enough credit for his scoring ability when playing shooting guard with Prig in the game. Although I’m a huge fan of the addition of Andrea Bargnani for his ability to add size on the court, stretch the floor, and not clog the lane for Melo, the two-point guard set could bode problems for where Iman Shumpert fits in. Let’s face it, Shumpert has to play, given he’s the youngest piece the Knicks have, with the highest ceiling. But with Bargnani starting at power forward, and Melo sliding back down to the three, the two-point set would leave Shumpert out of the starting lineup mix, and I’m not so sure that’s a good idea.
Now, the Knicks could start Prig and Felton alongside Shumpert, but that would put Bargnani back to the bench. I don’t like that for a few reasons. One, Shumpert’s not a small forward, he’s a shooting guard, and he should remain there. Two, Head Coach Mike Woodson will have to find a way to get Bargnani and Stoudemire in the game off the bench, while playing the same position. In other words, one of them will be playing out of their natural position in that case.
Kevin explains how Felton could bolster the Knicks bench scoring, but with Amare Stoudemire coming back from a knee injury, and JR Smith returning, I believe that’s all the bench scoring a team needs to stay competitive throughout the game. I believe the bigger concern for the Knicks is helping Melo score right from the start of the game, due to how confident I am Smith and Stoudemire can fill that role when the reserves come in.
So, basically what I’m saying is, continue to start Felton, and continue to start Shumpert, but don’t hesitate to play the two point guards together. Let’s breakdown Felton offensively when Prig starts beside him. Just for starters, the Knicks were 18-3 in the 21 games Prig started in the regular season. With the two-point guard set, the Knicks have been playing better defense, shooting the three-pointer more efficiently, and turning the ball over even less then they were. The Knicks averaged and NBA’s best 12.9 turnovers per 100 possessions in that set. On top of that, Prig is notorious for stealing the basketball, making the defense stronger as well.
Keep Felton in the starting lineup, continue to have JR Smith and Amare Stoudemire keep the bench scoring afloat, but don’t rule out the importance of Prigioni getting significant minutes. Felton is simply a more dominant scorer alongside the “veteran” point guard. Woodson must make the decision where to place Shumpert, and if Bargnani, or Prig should be starting. It’s going to be interesting seeing how Woodson works these different looks the Knicks can put on the court throughout the season.