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Thursday, April 26, 2012
Former Suns GM Steve Kerr wanted Novak

By Jared Zwerling

While Steve Novak was bouncing around the NBA, playing in four different cities in five years before landing in New York in December, there was one GM who envisioned a more permanent role for Mr. Discount Triple Check.

And who else but the Suns' Steve Kerr, arguably the best 3-point shooter ever (with the support of five rings), who served as the team's GM from 2007 to '10.

"I've watched him since Marquette and we always wanted him in Phoenix, when I was with the Suns, and how he could be a good fit with the way we played," Kerr, now a TNT NBA analyst, told ESPNNewYork.com. "But we could never make it happen. I think with guys like Steve, it's just a matter of finding your niche and getting your chance, and then making the most of it. And that's exactly what's happened [with the Knicks]."

When Novak was told of Kerr's previous interest in him (after the Knicks' win over the Clippers Wednesday night), he was humbled, especially because Kerr was a major influence in his basketball upbringing.

"Growing up, when [Michael] Jordan was at his best, and obviously me being a shooter, it was inspiring to be that," Novak said. "When you saw Steve Kerr, it was like, Man. That's what made me believe. That's how I saw my role if I ever got to the NBA. Watching him and hearing stories about how his focus was and hitting big shots the way he always did, it was inspirational for me."

Novak had always been known around the league as one of the best shooters -- in fact, during his pre-draft workout in 2006 with the Spurs, he made 96 out of 100 threes -- but he wasn't as consistent in games as he is now. Signing Novak definitely paid off for Glen Grunwald, which helped his cause erasing his interim job title and becoming the Knicks' executive vice president and general manager on Tuesday.

"I always liked [Steve]," Grunwald said during his press conference Wednesday night at the Garden, when he was introduced in his new role. "He played very well against us and a friend of mine, Brian James, who's now an assistant coach with the 76ers, called me and said, 'Hey, I worked out with him this summer and I think he's really improved and the guy's an unbelievable shooter.' We lost Shawne Williams to New Jersey and we needed someone to sort of fill that position to space the floor, and I thought he was the best alternative."

Grunwald was absolutely right. Now, Novak is about to go down as having one of the best 3-point shooting seasons of all-time. His league-high 47.1 percent (2.5 makes-for-5.2 attempts) would rank him fourth-best on the percentage chart (with a minimum of 250 3-pointers attempted).

Here are the other snippets of Zwerling's conversation with Kerr regarding Novak:

Q: What stands out to you about his shooting stroke?
Kerr:
He's got a textbook release. It's just a beautiful jumpshot and he's tall enough where he can shoot over the top of people, so he doesn't need much space. But with every player, you need to do it in games to build confidence. He could always shoot it, but it was a matter of doing it consistently over time, and that only comes with the opportunity. So now he's just shooting with so much confidence. I mean, you just feel like every time it goes up, it's going in.

Q: Steve mentioned to me recently that the condensed schedule, with the games coming so quickly, has helped him stay in rhythm. Looking back on your 1999 shortened season, did you feel that way?
Kerr:
Unfortunately, it didn't work that way for me. I had a lousy year that year [laughs]. But I think it makes some sense, particularly because in a regular season there's very little practice time, even in a normal year. You can only get maybe one good scrimmage in a week, maybe in the regular season. So I think if you're in the rotation and you're feeling good about the way you're playing then, yeah, you want more games. And I think it's kind of snowballed for him a little bit in a good way. One game after another, he's feeling good, he's rolling and he probably wants to play every night.

Q: Being that Steve is basically a shooter playing for a defensive-minded coach in Mike Woodson, how do you think that’s affected, if at all, his playing time?
Kerr:
Well, first of all, when you make more shots, your coach is going to give you more leeway. He's not going to worry as much about matchups and that kind of thing. If you get a shooter who's as hot as Steve, you'll live with maybe a mismatch at the other end because you know it's going to pan out over the course of the game. On top of that, they obviously feel comfortable that Steve's going to be in the right place, that he's going to battle his guy.

What happens sometimes is teams think they have a mismatch -- this happened to me all the time. People would think, Oh, we've got a mismatch, let's go at him. [A team] can actually get out of their flow offensively by trying to take advantage of somebody defensively. And when you have a good team defense, and you can cover up for certain mismatches, then you can keep a guy out there. I know that was the case for me. I knew where I was supposed to be, and I was going to battle. I might not always be able to hang in there physically, but I was going to battle. I had good teammates around me to help me out. I think that's the case with Steve. The Knicks are so much better defensively as a team and [Tyson] Chandler's back there protecting the rim, so they can get away with more things now.

Q: With star players now being such great athletes and attackers, like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, who create better spacing for their teams, do you think GMs are looking more for players like Steve?
Kerr:
Yeah, for sure. I think it's been sort of a natural evolution of the game in almost the last decade when you think about the difficulty scoring in the late 90s and early 2000s. The game had really slowed down. It was physical, it was clogged up and I think coaches decided to start opening things up by putting more shooters out there. The zone rule, which I guess was [put into effect 11 years ago] also opened things up so that you could do some different things strategically. But, yeah, athletes are so good, and they cover so much ground defensively, that if you can't space the floor on offense, you're going to have a real problem getting good looks. So I think that's one of reasons the game has evolved to where we're seeing all this floor spacing and 3-point shooting.

Q: What was special to you about playing at the Garden?
Kerr:
It's a great shooter's arena with the lighting and then there's so much history in there. To me, it's one of the four or five special places to play that you kind of circle on your calendar when you see the schedule. And I'm sure Steve is having a great time playing there. [Ed note: Novak agreed about MSG being a shooter's arena, saying, "Yeah, for sure. Anytime it's dark behind the rim, it's a good shooting gym."]

Q: The fans love him for his Mr. Discount Double Check celebration after he makes a 3-pointer.
Kerr:
He's got to come up with his own thing [laughs]. I mean, you can't steal that from [Green Bay Packers quarterback] Aaron Rodgers. You've got to have your own shtick.

Q: Overall, out of all of the shooters you've seen or played against, would you rank Steve among the best?
Kerr:
He's almost strictly a 3-point shooter. He hardly shoots any twos, so it's hard to compare him. I think the best shooter in the game is Steve Nash. Part of that is Steve has got such an array of shots in his arsenal. When you look at his numbers over the years, and his consistency from the 3-point line, it's amazing, given that he runs the team and handles the ball.

Steve Novak is more like I was or [Chicago Bull] Kyle Korver, [former Bull and three-time All-Star 3-point shooting champion] Craig Hodges -- guys who were really 3-point specialists and were able to focus on that one thing and play off of their teammates. It makes it a lot easier to shoot threes when you can play off of great offensive talent because you know you’re going to get open looks. I think that’s one of the reasons it’s been a good fit for him just because of the attraction that Carmelo [Anthony] gets and the way the Knicks have played. It’s just fit. During the Lin part of the season, the penetration that he was providing and the kick-outs -- it’s just been a great fit for Steve.

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