The Guard, the Meh, and the Ugly
New York has two new, plush point guards. Who were their predecessors?
The one-spot, the Point, the PG, Floor General, whatever your nickname for point guard is there’s no denying that since basketball’s inception it has undoubtedly been one of the most important of the five positions on the court. Since the days of Bob Cousy the point guard has been a passer that controls the tempo of the game. Even when forwards lead the term “point forward” is coined, demonstrating the importance of this role in the offense.
Over time, the prototypical point guard has changed, but only into a more intense form of itself; superb shooting capabilities and extraordinary court vision and awareness are just a couple of these attributes pushed to the extreme. In applicable terms Chris Paul is the archetype and Magic Johnson is the ultimate.
The Knicks and point guards have had an unfavorably tumultuous relationship in years gone by. The longest tenured star point guard in recent Knicks history was Stephon Marbury, and even during his time as a Knick he wasn’t chosen for a single All-Star Game. In this new age where the point guard leads the way with passing and often times scoring, the Knicks have struggled to get with the times.
Most teams have found that point guards also serve as an anchor for their team. The two time reigning MVP Steph Curry is one for starters, but perhaps an even better example is Damian Lillard. After the Portland Trail Blazer’s loss of LaMarcus Aldridge, a sizable amount of people expected the team to fall into irrelevance like the years prior to the duo’s reign. Lillard, and his teammates to an extent, showcased that there was still basketball to be won, even with the departure of Aldridge. In fact, one could go so far as to say that Lillard has attracted talented players with this vacancy of power.
The Knicks have not been so lucky. The relationship between the Knicks and point guards is akin to the relationship between the Cleveland Browns and quarterbacks. The Browns have had 9 starting quarterbacks since 2012, and The Knicks? Let’s just say that they’re not too far off.
Pablo Prigioni (2012–2015)
Although he was the oldest rookie in NBA history, he was a crowd favorite because of his unselfishness and hard work on defense with the few minutes he was afforded.
Nate Robinson (2005–2010)
Robinson stuck with the Knicks for five years. He started sparingly throughout that span, specializing as a sixth man off the bench. His energy and passion on the court was refreshing. Unfortunately, the guard never saw a winning season with the Knicks.
Jason Kidd (2012–2013)
Kidd was supposed to serve as a backup point guard, but ended up playing the majority of the time at shooting guard. His skills on the court were nowhere near where they were during his prime, but Kidd’s leadership was an invaluable asset in the Knicks 54-win season with the roster of ripe veterans.
Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway
Marbury landed in Madison Square Garden in early 2004 due to a trade where the Knicks relinquished two first round picks for Marbury and an aging Penny Hardaway. Although Marbury was the “sweet part of the deal,” the sweetest part came pretty early when the duo helped the Knicks reach the playoffs that year as a 7 seed. They then proceeded to help in the expeditious 4–0 sweep by the New Jersey Nets. Marbury averaged 21.3 points per game and Hardaway contributed 16.5 points in the playoffs (via BBall_Reference). This may seem like a disappointing end to a season, but this occurrence should serve as solace since this was the highlight of their careers in New York.
Hardaway’s numbers consistently fell from his first season in nearly all categories. All of the falling stats juxtaposed together reminds me of watching Plinko on The Price is Right, and a lot of them end with 0. Marbury saw a slight resurgence in his scoring during the 2004–2005 season, his only full season with the Knicks, but he soon began to suffer the same fate as his counterpart.
Like most times when the Knicks aren’t playing well, they were booed, the coaching drama was in full swing as the revolving door hit five coaches in the span of 2004–06, and the Knicks tumbled to the bottom of the conference standings. It wasn’t fun. Most things aren’t if Isiah Thomas is the executive making decisions for your teams.
Upon the departure of Marbury, the Knicks looked to Chris Duhon, who had just left the Chicago Bulls in search of a starting position, to start as a point guard. After a slightly worse season in 2010 than in 2009, the Knicks benefited from the signing of Amar’e Stoudemire and the signing of Raymond Felton. However, Felton’s first stint with the Knicks did not last long as he was traded to make room for Carmelo Anthony, but the part to be covered is the young point guard who almost became a star.
Anthony’s first full season as a Knick saw the rise of Jeremy Lin. He was brought in as a reserve point guard behind Tony Douglas and Mike Bibby in the 2011–2012 season. He made his first start, without stars Stoudemire and Anthony on the court, scoring 28 points and tallying eight assists. This string of games affectionately named Linsanity are among the most romanticized moments in recent Knicks history. His 6–0 debut as a starter was filled with 20 point games, a triple double, and, oh yeah, a swath of turnovers. In his 35 games played for the Knicks, Lin averaged 3.6 turnovers per game (via BBall_Reference), but this ugliness was easy to overlook as he helped the returned stars lead the Knicks toward the playoffs until his injury rendered him unavailable.
So, at this point in the season the Knicks turned to Baron Davis. He averaged 6 points until he tore his ACL and MCL in Game 4 of the first round of the playoffs. That was his last time in the NBA.
This led to Felton’s second stint as a ‘Bocker. Felton’s numbers weren’t nearly as high as his first season with the Knicks, but people were willing to look the other way since his first year back with the Knicks the team won 54-games and finally made it to the second round before being eliminated. This feat, which had not been achieved by the Knicks since ‘99, was followed by a middling Felton being traded midseason yet again.
Calderón’s contract was absorbed in a trade where both he, Shane Larkin, and a couple of other players were traded to the Mavericks for Felton and Tyson Chandler, the former Defensive Player of the Year. He averaged 9.1 points in the 2014–15 season with the Knicks before an injury rendered him incapable for the disturbingly terrible remainder of the regular season. His final year, in the compulsory tradition of a Knicks point guard, his points per game and assists per game dropped even lower. Then, as a next step, he was traded for another point guard who was merely a shell of his former self, Derrick Rose.
With Rose (or Brandon Jennings, depending on whose fragile legs can last the season) at the helm, Jeff Hornacek, a coach who ran a two point guard system in Phoenix, on the sidelines, and with the Triangle Offense as a means of attack, the future of the starting point guard spot in New York is ambiguous in the most optimistic of words.
Will this lead to the Knicks following the rest of the league in point guard focused offenses, or will this just be another chapter of the Knicks forty years of failure?
— Ty Jordan, site writer