NBA PM: D’Antoni’s Roster Takes Shape
The New York Knicks addressed their depth at point guard on Monday by announcing the signing of former All-Star Baron Davis.
As many know by now, Davis was cut by the Cavaliers using the amnesty clause and has been dealing with a bulging disc in his back which could take anywhere from four to 10 weeks to properly heal. The UCLA product has gained weight and lost some agility in recent seasons, but he’s also shown flashes of his former brilliance.
Davis was nearly dominant in three games at Madison Square Garden a season ago playing as a member of the Clippers and the Cavaliers. In three performances in what will now be his new home, Davis averaged 18.7 points and 9.0 assists per game while hitting 58.8% of his 3-point attempts. Of course, he was doing that against a Knicks defense that ranked 21st in defensive efficiency.
Now the Knicks have Tyson Chandler on board to protect the rim, 6-10 Amar’e Stoudemire defending power forwards (as opposed to centers) and solid backcourt defenders like Toney Douglas and rookie Iman Shumpert. At 6-3, 215 pounds, Davis is capable of defending bigger guards if he can’t keep up with younger point guards. However, that doesn’t mean he’ll be a defensive liability like fellow veteran backup point guard Mike Bibby.
Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni will have to hide Bibby as much as possible on defense, but Davis on the other hand can be quite effective when properly motivated. He’s strong enough to absorb contact from bigger point guards like Jrue Holiday and Derrick Rose and he’s also good at fighting over screens.
Given Davis’ defensive versatility, he can be paired with Douglas, Shumpert or even Bibby and second-year swingman Landry Fields.
Most people are assuming Davis will start when he eventually does return to the hardwood, but his presence instantly makes the bench better. Depending on who ends up starting, Douglas, Shumpert, Bibby or Fields will be coming off the bench and that gives D’Antoni a significantly deeper backcourt than he had just a week and a half ago.
The big question now is, what will the rest of the bench look like?
Who Will Be Tyson Chandler’s Backup?
The Knicks did well to add center Tyson Chandler, but the 29-year-old veteran hasn’t been the picture of good health throughout his career. He played only 96 games between 2008-2009 and 2009-2010, so it’s important for New York to find a suitable replacement.
Obviously that backup can’t take up a lot of cap space on a team with Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, so interim general manager Glen Grunwald brought in 2010 second-round pick Jerome Jordan, undrafted rookie Josh Harrellson, former Michigan big man Chris Hunter and re-signed veteran defensive ace Jared Jeffries.
Jeffries is a known quantity at this point. D’Antoni can plug him in to defend nearly any position. Of course, hiding Jeffries on offense is a challenge in itself, but the team won’t really be counting on any of the aforementioned bigs to score many points anyway.
Perhaps the most interesting candidate to be Chandler’s backup is Harrellson, who played very well for Kentucky last season. At 6-10, 275 pounds, Harrellson doesn’t look like a prototypical center. However he does have big-game experience and knows how to blend in with more-talented teammates.
“I like him,” Chandler told HOOPSWORLD of Harrellson. “I like him a lot. He’s a strong player. He’s smart. He’s willing to learn. He plays defense.
“I don’t know who he reminds me of,” Chandler continued. “He’s a little undersized but he’s burly out there. He’s strong. And I love the fact that he can stretch the defense. He can definitely hold his ground in the post position. He’s a smart player.”
Harrellson was 3-for-6 from the field against the Nets in the first preseason game (he hit one of two 3-point attempts) and he grabbed three rebounds and came away with two steals. More importantly, he looked like he belonged with the Knicks second unit.
“I felt very comfortable,” Harrellson told HOOPSWORLD. “They’ve been very happy with what I’ve been doing, so I just try to keep doing the same thing. I don’t try to step out of my comfort zone. I don’t try to do more than what I’m needed to do. I don’t go out there and try to score 30 points. I got Melo, I got Amar’e, I’ve got Tyson, so I don’t need to score a lot. I just need to go out there and play good defense and do the little things.
“There is a good opportunity for minutes right there because you know it’s hard to play the whole game in the NBA no matter how fit you are,” Harrellson continued. “I know we’re all fighting for it every day in practice to see who’s going to go out there and contend for the minutes.”
Harrellson has primarily been working with assistant Dan D’Antoni, who has been helping him “get in NBA mode,” but Mike D’Antoni’s brother also serves as a consultant for Harrellson. The Missouri native said whenever he has a question, he takes it straight to Dan so he can make any corrections as quickly as possible.
As far as the 3-point shooting, that’s something that might come later. Harrellson feels confident in his ability to make the shot, but Kentucky coach John Calipari never really asked for much outside shooting from his big man.
“I’ve been practicing ever since I got drafted,” Harrellson said. “I’ve always shot it in college too, just joking around. I’ve always had the range to do it, but once you start practicing it and getting in the rhythm of doing it, it becomes a lot easier.”
While the 27-year-old Hunter does have good size, Jordan appears to be a better option for the Knicks. The native of Kingston, Jamaica (didn’t the Knicks have another Jamaican-born center once?) was playing professionally in Serbia when the lockout ended, and he says that gives him an advantage because he’s already in game shape.
At 7-0, Jordan is a prototypical shot-blocking center (he averaged 3.7 blocks per game as a sophomore at Tulsa before teams stopped challenging him). Jordan also grabbed 9.0 rebounds per game as a senior thanks to his long reach.
The biggest challenge for Jordan might be staying out of the way on offense.
“Just pick your spots and pretty much read the point guards or whoever has the ball,” Jordan told HOOPSWORLD. “Just try to make yourself available but at the same time, stay out of their way while they’re going to work. It’s tough but I think we’ve done a good job in practice of doing that.”
Jordan is more similar to Chandler than Harrellson is, which is why he’s studying the veteran to polish his own game.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Jordan said. “Since he came in, I’ve been trying to learn a lot of different stuff from him defensively and just (about) the presence he has on the floor. It’s a great opportunity for me to go out and work hard every day.”
The Knicks couldn’t spend big on backup centers, but D’Antoni didn’t hesitate to throw Timofey Mozgov into the fire last season and he probably will do the same to Jordan and Harrellson this year. The good news is this time, as opposed to last year, the young centers can learn behind Chandler.
Peja Calls it Quits
Peja Stojakovic will retire, he told ESPN.com on Monday. The 34-year-old finally won an NBA Title as a member of the Mavericks last season, but said he was “competing against” his “body” and that was the signal he needed to call it quits.
Stojakovic, who will be known for his play with the Sacramento Kings, ranks 33rd in NBA history with a 3-point percentage of 40.07%. However he ranks fourth in league history with 1,760 3-pointers made.
Mullens Lands in Charlotte
Byron Mullens has been traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Charlotte Bobcats for a 2013 second-round pick, the Bobcats announced Monday. Originally selected by the Mavs in 2009, Mullens was traded to OKC and has primarily played in the D-League, where he averaged 15.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game.
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