Commentary

Kidd imparts smarts to Knicks

He may not fill a stat sheet anymore, but veteran's value can't be ignored

Updated: December 25, 2012, 7:30 PM ET
By Ian Begley | ESPNNewYork.com

His team was down five early in the fourth quarter of a recent game against the Denver Nuggets, so Mike Woodson's first thought, naturally, was to put the ball in Carmelo Anthony's hands.

But Anthony, the NBA's second-leading scorer, had a different idea.

"I wanted to go through Jason," Anthony said.

And a funny thing happened on the way to another New York Knicks win at the Garden. Jason Kidd turned back the clock, handing out six assists to go with four points, a steal and a rebound in the final minutes to lift the Knicks to a comeback win.

[+] EnlargeJason Kidd
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsBit player? No way: Jason Kidd has 22 starts in 23 games played.

"We were just feeding off of him," Anthony said of his 39-year-old teammate. "Even though he wasn't scoring that much, the playmaking he did made the difference."

If there has been one common theme throughout the Knicks' surprising 20-7 start, it's that Kidd has made a subtle -- but vital -- impact on nearly every win.

He's no longer a threat to put up a triple-double on a frequent basis -- he's averaging just 8.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists -- but the 10-time All-Star helps the Knicks in so many other ways.

"You don't see it on the stat sheet, but there's three or four or five plays that Jason does throughout the course of a game that beats the other team," Woodson said on ESPN New York 98.7 FM. "It's amazing."

Some NBA observers and fans were skeptical when the Knicks signed Kidd to a three-year, $9 million contract in early July, which furthered the narrative that the Knicks were too old to compete in the Eastern Conference. Then, days after his introductory news conference with the Knicks, Kidd was arrested and charged with DWI in the Hamptons.

That inauspicious beginning seems like long ago.

Kidd, a regular in the Knicks' starting lineup, has a 4.10 assist-to-turnover ratio, ranking third in the NBA this season. Lakers point guard Chris Duhon (4.70) leads the league and the Clippers' Chris Paul (4.37) is second.

Kidd is also 15th in 3-point field goal percentage (.435) and has the third-highest true shooting percentage (a percentage that accounts for free throws and 3-pointers) among NBA guards.

Clearly, Christmas came early for the Knicks when Kidd signed his name on the dotted line in July.

"Whether it's a steal, whether it's a 3, whether it's diving for a ball ... he just makes play after play after play, and I don't understand it," said Knicks center Tyson Chandler, who won a championship with Kidd in Dallas. "That's why he's a Hall of Famer."

Kidd also communicates with his teammates throughout the course of a game, sharing some of the strategic insight he has gained over 1,300-plus games in the NBA.

"He's just like another coach on the court," Raymond Felton says. "We get down by 10, 15 points and he's still calm. I've never seen a guy who's so poised; it seems like he isn't worried about anything."

Adds Pablo Prigioni: "He's not the kind of player that talks, talks, talks all the time. When he says something, you listen, because it's something important."

The impact of Kidd's influence is clear: The Knicks entered play Monday averaging a league-low 10.8 turnovers per game. Last year, they ranked 29th with 16 turnovers per game.

Kidd himself turns it over just 0.9 times in 29.4 minutes per game. For comparison's sake, Jeremy Lin averaged 3.6 turnovers for the Knicks last season, though he was asked to handle the ball with greater frequency than Kidd does.

Thanks in part to Kidd, the Knicks also have the second-most-efficient offense in the NBA, based on points per 100 possessions.

"He just continuously evolves and understands what it takes for him to help his team," Pistons coach Lawrence Frank, Kidd's former coach with the Nets, said earlier this month. "Look, it's not a coincidence that their culture is starting to change with guys like Jason Kidd on their team."

When you ask Kidd to sum up his impact on the Knicks, he keeps it simple.

"I'm just trying to help my guys win," he says.

But that's an understatement. In addition to helping the Knicks take care of the ball, he has also helped Anthony evolve as a player.

The Knicks' star is a more willing passer, more adept at punishing teams for doubling him, and he gives an honest day's effort on the defensive end. Teammates have quietly credited Kidd for part of Anthony's evolution.

In each of the Knicks' past three games, Kidd has either dived on the floor or into the Knicks' bench to save a loose ball, a source of inspiration among teammates. And he has continued to produce, even when his shot fails.

He had eight rebounds, five assists and three steals in New York's win over the Nets on Wednesday, in which he shot just 2-for-9.

He shot just 3-for-14 against the Cavs on Dec. 15, but added six rebounds, eight assists and two blocks as the Knicks held off a late rally.

Typical Kidd. Impacting the game in ways that you don't see in the box score the next morning.

"It's been beautiful to watch," Woodson says. "I'm just happy that he's a part of our franchise."

The coach isn't alone on that one.

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