Monday, December 3, 2012
Opening Tip: If no Felton, what changes?
By Jared Zwerling
Every weekday throughout the season, ESPNNewYork.com will tackle a burning question about the Knicks in our "Opening Tip" segment.
Today's Burning Question: How could the Knicks adjust looking ahead to Wednesday if not only Jason Kidd is out, but Raymond Felton as well?
Since last week, Kidd has been listed as day-to-day with lower back spasms. Now, his backcourt sidekick, Felton, is day-to-day with a contusion and bone bruise on his left hand, suffered towards the end of the fourth quarter in the Knicks' Sunday win over the Suns.
So what happens if both point guards are out Wednesday night, when the Knicks take on the surprising Bobcats, who are 7-8 and feature six players in double-figure scoring?
For starters, expect Pablo Prigioni to take the reins as the main floor general -- and that's nothing he can't handle. The 35-year-old excelled for many years on the biggest international stages with several top club teams and the competitive Argentina national team.
With Prigioni, though, the Knicks' offensive pace will slow down some, and it will be interesting to see how Carmelo Anthony, Ronnie Brewer and Tyson Chandler adjust. Felton and Kidd like to push, and by setting up the offense really well and delivering great passes in the process, the team's best average scoring margin is in the first period (+3.9). That's been a huge boost for them in terms of carrying that momentum throughout the entire game. It's been rare to see the Knicks behind.
On the flip side, Prigioni prefers to calmly move the ball up the floor. But here are two positive signs: one, Anthony is still on the court at the start; and two, when Prigioni is playing, the team's defense is actually better based on fewer points allowed per 48 minutes.
One of the main reasons is because Prigioni's presence leads to fewer possessions, and more grind-out ones -- the overseas way. That hard-nosed style can provide an edge against teams with young backcourt players, like the Bobcats. The Knicks have already been dominating defensively, so with an added touch of Prigioni, who's been consistent at ball-hawking opponents and getting physical with them, that could give them more of a clamp in the beginning -- always needed on the road to silence the home crowd in hostile environments.
Beyond Prigoni, Mike Woodson could use Anthony and J.R. Smith in more pick-and-rolls. Both men have solid playmaking skills around screens, and they can get into the lane to make plays for themselves or their teammates.
When Kidd was out of the starting lineup against the Nets last Monday, and Felton was struggling, Woodson used Anthony in additional pick-and-rolls to create some scoring opportunities and movement on the court. And it worked down the stretch, leading to an overtime decision.
If Anthony and Smith play an increasing point-forward role on Wednesday, Steve Novak and Ronnie Brewer's baseline corner 3-point shooting will be that much more important. Of course, Rasheed Wallace and Chris Copeland can also knock them down.
Looking at the big picture, the unique combination of seasoned point guards Kidd and Felton in the backcourt has been one of the biggest difference makers for the Knicks so far this season. The team purposely went after Kidd, Felton and Prigioni to avoid going through another season of point guard inconsistencies, and having a rotation to take on the experienced Heat.
Fortunately, both Kidd and Felton's injuries, as of now, could heal in time for Thursday night's South Beach showdown.