Toney Douglas’ Demise In New York
It all started out innocently enough… The Knicks were looking to address their most pressing offseason need: Improving their defense by adding a quality starting center. When interim GM Glen Grunwald and the Knicks front office became aware that they had a shot at free agent Tyson Chandler, arguably the best big man on the market, Grunwald and company quickly realized they would need to think outside the box in order to reel in the big fish. In order to carve out the requisite cap space necessary to make Chandler a competitive offer, the Knicks would need to get creative. The solution the devised involved sacrificing their starting point guard, proven and accomplished veteran Chauncey Billups, via the newly instituted “amnesty clause,” which would clear nearly $14 million in cap space.
Although an admittedly risky gamble, the thinking seemed sound at the time: New York would surrender the only pure PG on their roster in order to plug the gaping hole in the middle. Was it a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul? Possibly, but the Knicks were desperate to land Chandler, an intimidating center who had helped transform the Dallas Mavericks into NBA champions just a few months earlier.
Chandler was the type of player New York had been yearning for; an intense, defensive-minded big man eager to protect the paint. And since arriving in New York, Chandler has been everything the Knicks could have asked for, and more. Averaging 11.3 ppg (converting a ridiculous NBA-best 70.7% of his FG attempts and 77% of his free-throws), 10 rebounds, 1.1 steals, and 1.3 blocks –Chandler has exceeded even wildly extreme expectations.
The other side of the wager has not faired nearly as well. When the Knicks waved goodbye to Billups, the short-term plan was to install Toney Douglas as the interim starter until a permanent replacement was found. Grunwald would soon sign Baron Davis (an amnesty clause causality himself); but with the full understanding B-Diddy wouldn’t be ready for action until February. Veteran Mike Bibby, on his last legs, was also signed off the scrap heap in hopes he might possibly find a way to contribute a few minutes a night.
But Head Coach Mike D’Antoni had reason to be cautiously optimistic that Douglas would be able to adequately perform the duties expected of a starting NBA point guard. Toney was drafted out of Florida State as a combo guard better know for his defense (he was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year in his final season at FSU) than his offensive exploits, but he was coming off his best season as a pro, as his promising play over the second half of the 2010-2011 campaign had turned some heads.
Over the final 28 games of the 2010-2011 season, Douglas averaged 13.4 ppg, 4.5 apg, and 3.2 rebounds; while shooting 43.4% from the floor and 82.9% from the free-throw stripe. TD also shot a scorching 40.5% from behind the arc. In a win over the Grizzlies in mid-March, Douglas poured in 29 points, including nine three-pointers, which tied a franchise record. He followed that up with a 20-point, 11-assist gem the next night against the Pistons.
In fact, Douglas led the entire league in three-pointers made over the second half of the 2010-2011 season.
Douglas did all this despite battling a painful shoulder injury. Last May, shortly after Boston bounced New York from the playoffs, the Knicks announced Douglas would undergo surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right (shooting) shoulder, which would sideline him for four months.
With plenty of tine to recuperate, and two NBA seasons under his belt, the hope was Douglas’ career trajectory would continue on course. The expectations weren’t outlandish.
However, the results have been far worse than any fan, analyst, GM, or coach could have imagined.
Douglas hasn’t just regressed, he’s rocketed backwards.
The particulars are NOT pretty. Compared to last season’s totals, Toney’s scoring, assist, steals, and rebounding averages are all down. Yet, his turnovers have doubled. Still, the most alarming numbers are related to his accuracy, or lack thereof. Douglas is shooting an abominable 31.9% from the floor, more than 12 points below his career percentage coming into this season. Of the 436 players that have attempted a shot in a game this season, Toney ranks 390th in FG%. 31.9% is by far the lowest percentage for any player in the NBA who is playing over 17 minutes a night and has appeared in at least 20 games.
A career 38% shooter from three-point range over his first two years in the NBA, TD is connecting on just 25% of his three-point attempts this season (24 of 96). Of the 35 NBA players that have attempted over 85 three-pointers this season, Douglas possesses the lowest accuracy rate, as no other player is shooting below even 28%.
According to ESPN’s PER Ranking, Douglas currently ranks 61st out of the 62 point guards that qualify – any PG averaging at least 6 minutes a night. Among all players, Douglas checks in at 317th overall (335 total players qualified), right behind Memphis’ Jeremy Pargo.
The Knicks backcourt currently ranks dead last in NBA in scoring (31.3 ppg), last in FG% (38.2%), and second to last in Defensive Efficiency (-11.4).
His confidence shattered and production sagging, Douglas was yanked from the starting lineup in early January. The hope was that returning to his former role as a reserve coming off the bench might snap TD out of his funk; yet things only got worse. He’s been unable to find his stroke and has often become a liability for the Knicks when he’s been on the floor.
Friday night in Boston, Douglas hit rock bottom. D’Antoni benched him the entire first half, opting to insert D-Leaguer Jeremy Lin instead. D’Antoni did end up giving Douglas some PT in the second half, but Douglas missed all three shots he attempted. Despite playing just eight minutes, Toney managed to post a team low (-9) plus-minus.
New York now finds themselves an unimaginable seven games under .500, at just 8-15 on the season.
Many pundits had always accentuated the importance of a solid PG in D’Antoni’s offensive attack. This season, it appears that concept has been proven accurate. The Knicks offense far too often grinds to a halt on important possessions, with Carmelo Anthony forced to create a shot for himself with the shot clock winding down. Amar’e Stoudemire has also been unable to find a rhythm, as no Knicks PG has been able to effectively run the pick-and-roll, a staple of D’Antoni’s offense since his days in Phoenix.
These disastrous results may end up costing D’Antoni his job…
Can the Knicks season be saved? Baron Davis, currently rehabbing his injured back and purportedly making some steady, if slow, progress, has inherited the role of “savior.” There have also been reports that Grunwald and the Knicks have explored trade options that would net them a reliable starting PG. In addition, New York will be able secure a solid free agent PG next summer via the mid-level exception (possible candidates include: Steve Nash, Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, Kirk Hinrich, Ramon Sessions, Goran Dragic, etc.)
As for the rest of this season, the Knicks can certainly still sneak into the playoffs, but they undoubtedly need improved point guard play in order to consistently string wins together. And therein lies the problem…