After a productive offseason, the New York Knicks may have assembled the deepest point guard rotation in the NBA. Unlike most teams' depth charts, Mike Woodson has three bona fide point men to rely on this year, and each should serve the team in various roles.
In a unique offensive attack last season, New York utilized its point guards in an unfamiliar fashion. Using smaller lineups, Woodson usually started games with two generals running the floor in order to promote offensive continuity.
In fact, the team performed better in such games. Thirty-eight of its 54 wins came in games started by two of Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni.
After the addition of Andrea Bargnani, Woodson probably won't be able to start the successful small-ball lineups from 2012-13. Despite playing a traditional starting five, all three of Felton, Prigioni and newly added Beno Udrih will be essential to Knicks victories, and will likely play beside each other at various points in the season. Glen Grunwald wouldn't have been so aggressive in adding a third point guard if that wasn't the case.
Ahead, we break down the components to New York's three-headed point-guard monster, and learn what we can expect from each in 2013-14.
Starter: Raymond Felton
Projected Stats: 33.5 MPG, 14.4 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 5.8 APG, 1.2 SPG, 42.4 FG%, 37.1 3P%
Thanks to his age and salary, if nothing else, Raymond Felton will hold down the starting point slot barring any injuries. This won't be anything new for the 29-year-old, who started 68 games for the Knicks last year.
For the year he averaged 14 points and 5.5 assists, but was plagued by a bum pinky finger through much of the first half. He posted much more reliable numbers after the All-Star break, shooting up around 47 percent from the field while taking roughly four less attempts per game. The table below is courtesy of NBA.com/Stats.
Last season was Felton's first ever stretch of playing with Carmelo Anthony as the offensive centerpiece. It took some time, as seen in the table above. But judging by the number of shot attempts by season segment, Felton adjusted his playing style to better suit the team.
He is reportedly showing up the camp slimmer than last year, according to ESPN New York. Felton is determined to arrive at camp 15 pounds lighter, which should add to his already sharp quickness.
Felton uses that quickness to penetrate to the rim, which he does with ease. Upon arriving at the rim, however, the point guard has struggled mightily. He made just over half his shots from inside eight feet last season, a mark which must improve. Over 150 blown layups in a season is never acceptable, and Felton needs to correct this issue if he hopes to make the leap into the next tier of point guards.
Felton has more than enough New York experience under his belt by now, and has logged sufficient time with Anthony to understand how the offense must function. 2014 will largely be determined by Carmelo's performance, but Felton's influence will be instrumental throughout the year.
Key Reserve: Pablo Prigioni
Projected Stats: 20.2 MPG, 4.4 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.2 SPG, 43.9 FG%, 41.4 3P%
After a "rookie" season in which he became more and more reliable with each appearance, 36-year-old Pablo Prigioni was rewarded with a multi-year deal this past summer.
His role in 2013-14 will likely be similar to what it was with the Knicks to conclude the 2013 regular season, with the only difference being he'll hop in off the bench.
Over the team's final 18 games—all started by Prigioni at the off-guard—the Knicks finished 16-2, solidifying their spot as the No. 2 team in the East. Pablo shot 52 percent from the field during that span, and 46 percent from the arc.
It took until around March—when he earned his starting gig—but Prigioni eventually managed to hurdle his apparent fear of shooting the basketball. Through his first 53 NBA games, the Argentine maestro put up only 2.8 shots per game, 1.6 coming from beyond the arc.
His generosity would prove disruptive to the offense's flow at times, as he'd often neglect the best look of a possession. Woodson and the rest of the team eventually hammered the point home to Prigioni that shooting the ball can be necessary.
Defensively, despite his age, Prigioni is an active pest. Countless times in 2013, the point guard would jump a run-of-the-mill, lackadaisical inbounds pass and steal the Knicks a free possession. In just 16 minutes, he averaged about a steal per contest. In 21.3 playoff minutes, he averaged 1.3 steals.
Looking at the Knicks' various lineups from a year ago helps indicate how crucial Prigioni's minutes—however sparingly they came—were to New York.
His name appeared in the most efficient five-man lineup, the second-most efficient three-man lineup, while he and Carmelo Anthony held the title of most efficient two-man group during the regular season. The duo led to New York outscoring opponents by 8.9 points per 100 possessions they were paired together.
During the postseason, he was a member of New York's two most efficient trios, while he and Anthony again were the most efficient pair, this time sporting a net rating of plus-13.2.
The Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring studied the effect Prigioni had on Anthony's play during last year's playoffs. Pablo was key to the Knicks' star playing as effectively with the ball as possible.
With Prigioni, Anthony has taken fewer shots (28 attempts per 48 minutes, down from 34) with greater accuracy (38% from distance, up from 25%). Perhaps most important, 57.7% of Anthony's baskets have stemmed from an assist when he shares the court with Prigioni. That is a steep increase from the 31% of Anthony baskets that are assisted without Prigioni playing. For context, Anthony scores more unassisted baskets with Kidd playing and experiences no real change with Felton in.
"We see how [Anthony has] tried to do everything [by himself]," Prigioni said Tuesday. "That's not good for us. We move the ball, and he still get his shots."
Prigioni is key to the team's ball movement, either on his own or in conjunction with another point guard. With J.R. Smith set to miss the season's first slate of games due to a knee injury and a suspension, and with Woodson unlikely to rely heavily on rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. solely because of inexperience, the coach may call on Prigioni to line up next to Felton at the 2 during important phases of early-season contests.
Key Reserve: Beno Udrih
Projected Stats: 23.2 MPG, 6.9 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 3.3 APG, 0.8 SPG, 44.3 FG%, 35.1 3P%
As the prime stages of free agency dwindled, the Knicks appeared set with two point guards on the roster and the remaining market seemingly either too expensive for the team, or not even worth a look.
But when ESPN's Marc Stein tweeted in late July that the team was "trying hard" to sign Beno Udrih with the minimum-salary contract they could only offer, the prospect of a triple-threat point guard attack reminiscent of last season again became realistic.
A little more than a week later, when ESPN reported that a deal had been reached, Glen Grunwald's goal became a reality.
Udrih split last season between playing for the Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic. After being dealt to Orlando at the deadline, Udrih put up averages of 10.2 points, 6.1 assists and 2.3 rebounds. With the Magic, he shot the ball at a .408 clip—down from his career field-goal mark of .462—but sank three-balls at just under 40 percent.
What Udrih brings to the table is steady play from both guard positions and an ability to score. His handle has been tight over almost a decade in the league, and the lefty has a reliable pull-up jumper in his arsenal from mid-range. He can set up the pick-and-roll well, which was New York's most effective attack by playoff time.
Below is Basketball-Reference's scoring heat map for Urdih, which displays how rounded his offense can be.
Udrih is crafty enough off the dribble to set up his own shots, but will also be capable of finding Knicks scorers like Anthony, Smith, Bargnani and Stoudemire. He won't blow anyone away off the dribble, but the Croatian guard is reliable enough with the rock to be held accountable in a bench role.
The 31-year-old has struggled on the defensive end, and, like the Knicks backcourt as a whole save for Iman Shumpert, that area of the game will be a work-in-progress all year long. Last season, opposing point guards torched the Knicks to the tune of a PER near 18, according to 82games.com.
Between their three capable floor generals, the point guard position shouldn't pose many issues for the Knicks this season. They've assembled a cast that fits the team's game plan almost perfectly. The only thing left is to get on the floor in game action and see if the master plan comes to fruition.
Follow me on Twitter at @JSDorn6.
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