Steve Novak: Still Hungry
Less than 10 months ago, Steve Novak was waived by the San Antonio Spurs. On December 19, 2011, the Spurs actually became the second NBA team during that calendar year that decided they were better off without Novak’s services, as the Dallas Mavericks also waived the forward back in January of 2011.
However, in the NBA it is often said that one team’s trash is another team’s treasure. Two days after he was released by the Spurs, New York Knicks general manager Glen Grunwald signed Novak off the waiver wire. It was Novak’s fifth NBA team since being selected in the second round of the 2006 NBA Draft.
Over the first five weeks of the truncated 2011-12 NBA season, Novak was relegated to mop-up duty and saw limited minutes off the Knicks’ bench. Through New York’s first 12 games, he was averaging just 3.4 points and 0.6 rebounds, playing just nine minutes a night. However, in an important win over the Utah Jazz on February 6, Novak got hot and poured in 19 points in just 17 minutes – connecting on five three-pointers. Two nights later, against the Washington Wizards, Novak again notched 19 points and drained five more three-balls. A few days later, he chipped in 15 points off the pine, connecting on four three-pointers against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Novak’s hot hand was integral to the Knicks’ five-game winning streak. Looking back, it could easily be argued that week was the turning point in Novak’s previously vagabond basketball life.
As we know, once the Knicks relentlessly unleashed Novak on the league, he continued draining threes and giving opposing defenses fits. He finished the 2012-13 campaign averaging a career-high in scoring and led the entire league in three-point percentage (47.2 percent), connecting on 133 of the 282 three-pointers he attempted.
When Novak became a free agent this past summer, the Knicks organization was determined to keep him in NYC. The Knicks were able to exceed the salary cap to re-sign Novak only after a surprising court ruling that led to a settlement between the NBA and the players’ union, which gave players claimed off waivers their “Early Bird rights.”
On July 9, 2012, the Knicks signed Novak to a four-year, $15 million contract.
From out of the league, to a stint in the D-League, to waiver-wire fodder, to a key contributor on a playoff team, to a lucrative long-term contract… all within eight short months.
Despite his success last season, and his freshly inked multimillion dollar contract, Novak was adamant in declaring his belief that continued success would only result if he approached each practice and each game as if his NBA livelihood was still on the line.
“I think the biggest thing I’ve always had in my head is that I don’t want it to affect me at all,” Novak told HOOPSWORLD. “I think that’s always been a fear of mine, that if I was able to get a contract, I’d finally feel comfortable. I know that I have my success up to this point because I never felt that way and that’s been the most important lesson I continued to remind myself.”
In addition, Novak also acknowledged that he’d have to continue to improve and expand his game if he wanted to be effective in the future.
“I think defenses are going to know my strengths and run me off the three-point line and do that kind of thing,” Novak explained. “This summer, I definitely put an emphasis on being able to put the ball on the floor. One or two dribbles, using my shot fake more; just understanding how defenses are going to play me.”
Throughout the preseason, Knicks head coach Mike Woodson has relied heavily on his top long-range gunner, trying to figure out how to best utilize Novak’s unique skill set. Novak has averaged 28.5 minutes per game this preseason, which is second to only Carmelo Anthony. Another factor in his increased playing time has been injuries along the front line. Novak believes it is a combination of both.
“I think some of it is that we’ve had some injuries and depending on what positions are injured. We had some bigs out so I think that’s part of it, but also I think just putting me with different lineups and knowing that with a lot of the lineups I can space the floor regardless of who else is out on the floor. I can either be more of a feature option or a decoy. From that point of view, I can either match up with a three or four depending on who we are going against,” Novak said.
One of the principal topics of conversation in Knicks-land nowadays is whether or not Anthony will play at the power forward position, and if so, how frequently. From Novak’s perspective, he is eager to help out in any way he can, regardless of where he is slotted on the floor.
“It will be depend on matchups, but I think if that’s something that gives us our best opportunity with Melo on their four man, I know Melo would probably not prefer that, but he would be more than willing to do it if we had to,” Novak said. “And we did have success with him at the four last year. Also, there’s so many in-game adjustments that maybe you start the game with Melo at the three and it goes unnoticed that he’s become the ‘four’ during the game because so many things are changing. Even depending on the team; if they are playing well and one their guys gets hot, he ends up at the four.”
As far as personal goals are concerned, Novak explained that he reflects on and set individual standards for himself during the summer, but once the regular season begins, they become an afterthought and team success becomes the only true objective.
“Once the season starts those are out the door, buddy,” Novak said. “I think once the season starts it’s all team stuff, you start talking about how far you want to go as a team.”
However, Novak did crack a big smile when asked how it would feel to win the Three-Point Shootout during All-Star Weekend.
“Just being in it would be awesome,” Novak said. “It’s something I have always watched and obviously, being a shooter, it would be an honor. That’s the pinnacle of All-Star Weekend, it would be fun, very fun.”
As the conversation turned toward a discussion of Three-Point Shootout champions of the past, Novak talked a bit about some of the greatest marksmen the league has ever seen, and how each shooter’s style is unique.
“Well, I’ll tell you, Ray Allen’s form is so unique; when you consider that the majority of great shooters are not ‘jump’ shooters like Ray,” Novak said. “How high he rises off the ground, he’s unique. He wasn’t a guy I could say I model my shot after. My game a little bit, yes, how he used screens and how he got open and how quick he got his shot off, but his shot is so unique because he elevates. Majority of great shooters don’t get up that high.”
Novak explained that there wasn’t a particular player he modeled his shot after.
“Not really… Like I said, a lot of guys I watched on film to see how they got their shots, how they got open, like how Rip Hamilton used screens, how Ray used screens, how he got space, how quick they got their release off, how Reggie Miller always kept moving. But actually shooting the ball, that’s something my dad taught me,” Novak said.
Just as there are a myriad of ways great shooters get their shot off in the NBA, there are also a vast number of ways just to make into the NBA. Novak’s journey has been truly unique, and certainly an example of the road less traveled. Nonetheless, Novak isn’t content and satisfied simply because he finally found security via a long-awaited, long-term contract. As he enters the next phase of his career, Novak promises he’s as hungry as ever.