The New York Knicks' priority in the offseason was to bring back their own key free agents, which explains why they used a portion of their mid-level exception on re-signing Pablo Prigioni.
New York agreed to a three-year, $6 million deal with Prigioni, with the third year being partially guaranteed. After taking only the rookie's minimum last year, he deserved a pay raise, and is arguably still underpaid.
On the surface, it's easy to question the front office's decision to use the money on Prigioni instead of attempting to keep Chris Copeland, but when you look beyond the basic numbers, the Argentine point guard is probably the Knicks' most underrated player.
Prigioni isn't someone who's going to post flashy statistics. He averaged only 3.5 points, 3 assists and 0.9 steals last season, but that doesn't tell the whole story. In reality, he was a major part of the offense and his presence was essential for ball movement.
The most important number to look at with Prigioni is New York's record when he was in the lineup as a starter. They went 16-2 in those games, including a truly dominant 13-game win streak.
According to 82games, the team's overall net production went up by 6.5 points when he was on the floor. To put that in perspective, that was the highest of any player on the team other than Steve Novak, whose number was misleading since he only contributed as a shooter.
Prigioni may not be one of the best five players on the team, but it's clear that the team is at its best when he's in the game. Having him at the point lets Raymond Felton play a scoring role, which makes use of his much-improved spot-up shooting.
On top of that, Prigioni is also an excellent pick-and-roll ball handler, which was clear during the few games he was able to play with Amar'e Stoudemire.
If Stoudemire can stay healthy, we should really see that partnership start to develop next season and we could even see Prigioni working with new addition Andrea Bargnani through the pick-and-pop.
The main criticism of Prigioni has been his reluctance to shoot, which is actually somewhat refreshing for a modern NBA point guard. When he does shoot, he does it efficiently, as shown by his 40 percent mark from beyond the arc last season.
On the defensive end, Prigioni is much better at guarding the point than Felton, who was statistically the worst defensive point guard in the league in terms of opponent scoring numbers. If he doesn't make significant improvements, there's no doubt Prigioni should be taking some of his minutes next season.
In particular, Prigioni is great at causing turnovers, and is always looking for a cheap steal on inbound plays. He doesn't turn the ball over himself, either, and knows exactly when to push the pace of the offense.
Prigioni's game has never been based on athleticism, but even so he's still pretty mobile for a 35-year-old point guard. He only gets in the paint with the use of a pick, but his strengths elsewhere more than make up for that.
Now that Jason Kidd has retired and the team is more used to Prigioni's unconventional style of play, we should see his fingerprints all over the offense next season.
We all know that Mike Woodson is a limited offensive coach, but Prigioni has the kind of creative basketball mind that he could be used as an on-court offensive assistant.
He now knows the strengths of his teammates and is used to the NBA. Now in his second year, he should be given bigger control of the offense, which will help big-time when it comes to avoiding isolation and stagnant ball movement.
The Knicks have a crowded backcourt after drafting Tim Hardaway Jr. and having Iman Shumpert back for a full season, but they need to find a way to get Prigioni more minutes. He has a positive impact on both ends of the floor and could be their secret weapon next season.
Although his penetration is fundamental to the offense, it may be worth giving Prigioni some of Felton's minutes. They need his defense on the perimeter and it may be worth seeing what he can do as the team's primary ball-handler. That doesn't mean he should start, but he should at least be seeing 20 minutes per game.
As good as Prigioni was last year, we really didn't see just how impactful he can be until very late in the regular season. The Knicks would be wise make the most of having on the roster. There aren't many point guards like him in the NBA and there's no doubt that he makes this team better.
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