"Deep down in my stomach, with every inch of me, I pure, straight hate you...but goddamn it do I respect you!"
Yep...that line pretty much sums up how I feel about Jason Kidd. I despised the man when he played for other teams and I cruelly mocked him for his recent drunk-driving arrest after the Knicks signed him in the off-season (drunk-driving ain't cool!) Then, the season started...
...let's just say, I still feel a little dirty.
I've been cheering like mad for Kidd, cursing out the goons who have been knocking him upside the head fairly often so far, laughing at his awkward headband and hockey helmet, and even - God help me - cheering his Reggie Miller leg-kick-out three to beat the Nets. We're all going to hell for that last one, people.
But let's not turn this into a theological discussion. We've all sold our souls to Kidd at this point, and the man has certainly delivered. By most metrics he has been the Knicks' third-best player this season; actually, it took a recent run of cold shooting to drop him below Carmelo Anthony in some of the advanced ratings like WS/48. Kidd's shooting slump has perfectly coincided with the Knicks' just-completed six-game home stand - since hitting that last three to beat the Nets in Brooklyn, Kidd has shot an unsightly 26.2% from the field (11-42). Still, he has compensated by filling up the various other sections of the stat sheet - especially rebounds, which the Knicks desperately need. I know this is impossible to quantify, but when I see players like Melo and J.R. Smith working hard and contributing all over the court even when their shots aren't falling, I can't help but wonder if some of that attitude hasn't come from exposure to players like Kidd. In short, the joy Kidd has brought to the Knicks' universe has more than made up for the queasy feeling we get while rooting for him...this, my friends, is a true Christmas miracle.
Unfortunately, these Faustian bargains always seem to come with a catch (Seriously, Satan, why you gotta be such a dick all the time?) For the Knicks, the catch is that they are growing increasingly dependent on a player rapidly approaching his fifth decade. Kidd has already proven that he is that special kind of player who can adapt to old age and still play at high level, and age doesn't necessarily guarantee injury (Seriously, look at this man's career in terms of games and minutes played. The dude is made of iron), but the Knicks are playing with fire here. The Yankee fans here know what I'm talking about - we've watched this same old-age drama unfold with another legendary, tough-as-nails player by the name of Derek Jeter. A team can rely on this kind of player - up to a point - but sacrifices must be made in terms of playing time.
The Knicks are not making those sacrifices. Kidd's minutes-per-game average of 29.2 is up only slightly from last year, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Let's break those MPG averages down per month:
December: a metric shit-ton
...or, for those of you who prefer numbers:
November: 26.1 MPG
December: 33.1 MPG
That's almost five minutes more per game than he averaged last year for a dude who will turn 40 in March. And Mike Woodson has given very little indication that he plans to limit Kidd's minutes anytime soon.
How did Kidd's minutes get so far out of control? A couple of factors seem to come into play here. First, the Knicks have played more close games this month than they did in November. It was much easier for Woody to rest Kidd during those glorious first few weeks went the Knicks were straight-up crushing everyone. Second, check out the two-month splits of a certain Knick wing:
November: .461 FG% / .412 3P% / 7.0 PPG / 3.5 RPG
December: .273 FG% / .182 3P% / 3.3 PPG / 2.6 RPG
If you guessed "Ronnie Brewer" then congratulations: you've just won 150 P&T Doubloons, the official currency of Posting and Toasting! (Pay them, Seth!)
Woodson has started cutting Ronnie's minutes of late, and it is pretty hard to fault the man for increasing Kidd's minutes while Brewer has been stumbling around the court with his pants around his ankles screaming "Play me less!" (not literally, of course, but you get the idea.) Still, Woodson must make resting Kidd a priority.
To Woodson's credit, he has repeatedly tried rolling out a no-Kidd, no-Brewer lineup, replacing them with J.R. Smith and Steve Novak. Unfortunately, the Felton / Smith / Novak / Melo / Chandler unit has been a complete disaster. This group has the third-most minutes of any Knick 5-man unit - they've played 89 minutes together to the tune of -11.5 points per 100 possessions. And sure enough, once this group is finished hemorrhaging points in the middle of each game, guess who has to come in to clean up their mess. That's right, Jason Kidd.
I suppose the simplest answer would be to wait until Iman Shumpert returns and just feed him some of Kidd's minutes. I have to say, however, that I'm a little wary of just assuming Shump will slip into this lineup and replace what Kidd has brought to the table. Leaving aside for a moment the fact that we're talking about a second-year player coming off a major knee injury, who needs time to work himself into a rotation very different from the one he played in last season, Shump is pretty much the exact opposite of Kidd as a player, and as a mammal. Let's Break it down:
At this stage of his career, he relies on guile to contribute on defense and his preternatural court vision to contribute on offense. Lacks the speed to stay in front of atheltic guards or drive the lane, scores most of his points with the jump shot. Vaguely resembles a hairless newborn piglet.
Relies on athleticism and instincts on defense. Does this on offense:
Has a hairstyle that can be described as "full-on erect."
Shump is not the guy who should be replacing Kidd. If anything, I'd love to see him in the lineup with Kidd from time to time - his game would make an interesting complement to Kidd's, and it would be nice for him to spend some time learning at the foot of the master. Instead, it should be Brewer who loses some minutes to Shumpert upon his return.
I have another idea to lessen Kidd's minutes: an idea so crazy you'll probably start browsing Travelocity for ticket prices immediately after reading this article just so you can fly to Beijing and punch me in the face for even suggesting it. (Good luck with that...Chinese travel visas are $300 a pop). I think it's high time the Knicks tried a lineup without Kidd or Brewer or Novak: the Felton / Smith / Copeland / Melo / Chandler lineup.
A center and two forwards in the same lineup? Madness! Dogs and cats, living together...mass hysteria!
Please, just hear me out. I'm not suggesting they make this their starting lineup, and I certainly don't want to mess with the Felton / Kidd / Earl / Melo / Chandler lineup they use at the end of the game. Kidd should be starting and finishing games, no doubt about that. But I'd like to see Chris Copeland get some play with Melo and Chandler, perhaps in the second or third quarter. This front-court has played a whopping 13 minutes together, so it's not like Woodson is 100% opposed to putting them all out there. Woodson needs to at least try giving Copeland some of Novak's minutes, for starters, and if Brewer and Kidd continue their respective shooting slumps then Copeland might be able to take some minutes off their hands. It's hard to know what he'll bring on defense, but the Knicks haven't really been excelling on that side of the floor anyway. On offense, Cope has shown the ability to stretch the floor and hit the open shots that will come his way from the inevitable Melo double-teams. At the very least, it's hard to imagine opposing defenses just flat-out ignoring the guy, like the Nets did to Brewer last Wednesday.
In conclusion, Jason Kidd is old. I do believe, however, that the Knicks have the pieces to limit his minutes right now, while still playing winning basketball.
I'd be interested to know what y'all think.