Are The Older, (Maybe) Wiser NY Knicks Better?
J.R. Smith will celebrate his 27th birthday on Sunday (follow Swish on twitter and I’m positive you’ll get plenty of “interesting” details of said celebration…); which means that when the Knicks take the floor on opening night next season, each and every member of their rotation will be 27 years of age or older.
In fact, a contingent of that rotation will be significantly older. At the end of last season there were a grand total of five active NBA players over the age of 38. The Knicks signed and/or traded for three of those of five players over the course of four days back in July…
Here is a quick recap (in chronological order) of the offseason acquisitions and departures orchestrated by New York General Manager Glen Grunwald:
- Traded guard Toney Douglas (age 26), centers Josh Harrellson (23) and Jerome Jordan (25) and two future 2nd round draft picks and cash to the Houston Rockets for center Marcus Camby (age 38)
- Re-signed J.R. Smith (age 26)
- Signed guard Jason Kidd (age 39) and re-signed forward Steve Novak (29)
- Opt not to match offer sheet on Landry Fields (age 24); Fields signs with Toronto.
- Traded forward Jared Jeffries (30), center Dan Gadzuric (34), the draft rights to forwards Georgios Printezis (age 26) and Kostas Papanikolaou (age 22), a 2016 second-round pick and cash to the Portland Trail Blazers for guard Raymond Felton (28) and forward Kurt Thomas (39)
- Opt to not match offer sheet on Jeremy Lin (age 23); Lin signs with Rockets.
- Signed guard Pablo Prigioni (age 35)
- Signed guard Ronnie Brewer (age 27)
Now, a player’s age is by no means a strict determinant of his value. For instance, not matching the insanely overpriced contract the Toronto Raptors offered Landry Fields was a no-brainer. Grunwald certainly made the right decision to let Landry walk.
Conversely, the addition of Marcus Camby – as was discussed in this space at the time the trade was made – was a shrewd move that could pay huge dividends down the road. Despite his advanced age, Camby remains one of the NBA’s elite rebounders and is still a solid shot blocker and paint protector. Consider this: Dwight Howard finished second the NBA in rebound rate last season, behind only one player: Camby.
In fact, Camby has led the NBA in rebound rate each of the past three seasons. Despite seeing reduced playing time in the latter stages of his career, Marcus has been remarkably efficient. Since the start of the 2010-11 season, Camby has averaged 14.1 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 1.1 steals per-36 minutes. Moreover, it was imperative to find a legit back-up big man. Not only to bolster the defense, but also to get more rest for Tyson Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire. During his championship season in Dallas, Chandler averaged less than 28 minutes per game. Last season in New York, Chandler played over 33 minutes a night. That’s too much of a burden on the Knicks’ best big man. On a similar note, reducing Stoudemire’s workload is imperative as well. He played over 36 mpg during his first year in New York, and his body has been a mess ever since. Camby is versatile enough to slide in at either the center or power forward spot.
Similarly, adding Brewer gives the Knicks another plus-defender. The fact that the Knicks were able to ink him to a contract at the veteran’s minimum (less than $1.1 million) is undoubtedly a bargain – Brewer has made over $9.4 million during his previous two seasons in Chicago. Strong wing defenders are essential in today’s NBA. And while Brewer’s offensive game is far from pretty, to paint him as a complete liability on offense is unfair. While he did struggle with his shot last season, Ronnie’s career FG percentage sits at 50.1 percent. To put that in perspective, Tyson Chandler was the only Knick to shoot over 50% from the floor last season. Lastly, Brewer maximizes possessions; he was one of just five players in the NBA last season to average over one steal but less than one turnover per contest.
As far as the PG’s brought in as Lin was leaving, the jury is out. New York’s lack of a reliable and effective point guard during last season’s playoff push was a major obstacle to success.
Kidd is a proven winner, and is just one season removed from being the starting PG on a world championship Mavs team. One of the all-time great point guard in the history of the NBA, it remains to be seen just how much gas is left in Kidd’s tank.
As far as Felton is concerned, Knicks fans are curious to find out which Raymond will show up. When Felton initially signed with NY as a free agent back in the summer of 2010, Knicks fans were excited to have a legit point guard on the roster. And, Felton, who was coming off a disappointing season in Charlotte, performed extraordinarily well over his first 50-plus games in a Knickerbocker uniform. He played the best basketball of his entire career during that three-month stint under Mike D’Antoni in NYC. Felton started 54 games for the Knicks that season, averaging 17.1 points, 9.0 assists and 1.8 steals. However, since leaving the Big Apple, Felton’s play has been consistently mediocre and largely disappointing.
Examining the complete body of work, not just his short stint under D’Antoni, Felton has proven himself to be an average (at best) starting PG in the NBA. In the 80 games Felton played in Charlotte before coming to NY, he averaged 12.1 points and 5.6 assists for the Bobcats. Since leaving New York, Felton has played a total of 81 games and has averaged 11.4 points and 6.5 assists in those contests. All told, that’s 161 total games from which to draw data. That’s the player the Knicks are trading for.
Can the combo of Felton and Kidd provide the point guard play necessary to push the Knicks towards the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference?
Looking at the big picture, it appears the Knicks have improved their depth and solidified their defense through their myriad transactions this summer. It did come at a cost; they lost their most promising young player (for reasons unknown), and traded away multiple 2nd round picks as well as using the full allotment of the $3 million in cash available to facilitate trades throughout the fiscal year. The inability to include any money in any trade they make for the next 11 months could prove to be particularly painful.
However, the roster as currently constituted looks solid on paper. The second unit, likely consisting of Kidd, Smith, Novak, and Camby is a vast improvement over previous New York bench brigades. How about this imposing five-man lineup Coach Mike Woodson could send out to get a key stop in an important game in late April: Iman Shumpert (assuming he’s fully healed), Brewer, ‘Melo, Camby, and Chandler. That’s group will be tough to score on.
Yet, eventually we come back to the question we posed at the top: can the vet’s Grunwald brought in stay healthy?
Older players bring with them intangibles such as experience and a certain comfort level in big games that only repeated playoff success can bring. The potential downside is a greater propensity for injury and decreased effectiveness as the marathon season drags on. The average age of the players currently on the Knicks roster is inching towards 29. Last season, New York’s average age barely exceeded 26.
Grunwald gambled a bit by investing in older vets instead of younger, less proven options. Arguments can be made both for and against this approach.
This much is now clear and undeniable: The Knicks are all in and have pushed their chips towards the middle of the table. This is not a team building towards a brighter future at some point down the road; the window to win is “now.”