FanPost

Searching for Light in the Garden's Tunnels of Darkness

Regularly watching New York Knicks basketball can be a fruitless, laborious task. Particularly of late. Add in an element of emotional investment, and you've got yourself a handy pastime that's not too distant from all-out self-flagellation.

In the modern era of the Knicks, where the team and its fans are forced to submit to the will of the organisation's overlord owner, James Dolan, it can be difficult to find remnants of hope. Often times, the daily happenings inside the walls and tunnels of Madison Square Garden and the freshly minted "Chase Bridges" resemble the activity of a Cold War-era Kremlin, rather than the headquarters of a professional basketball team. Recently, Grantland.com's Jalen Rose iterated that Mike Woodson has to withstand company from Garden employees (who monitor his everyday behaviour and interactions), a discomforting notion that was raised by the Daily News's Frank Isola in early November.

On the court, the Knicks have been equally unnerving. The team sits at 5-14, reeling after an historically awful, repugnant 41pt home loss to the Boston Celtics. There aren't enough adjectives with negative connotations available in the English language to accurately detail that performance. Plenty has been said and written about the perplexing post-game comments of certain players, and thus that's a matter that is best left unattended, for now. Is there any room left for positivity? Probably not. A measly four rotation players on the roster carry a Player Efficiency Rating the above league average (15.0), one of whom has been sidelined since November 7. Sigh. The outlook is grim. Yet, if we must plumb the depths of hell, then there should be no harm in searching for something smile-worthy, right? Right...?

Enter Pablo Prigioni, the Knicks' wily 36 year-old Argentinian guard, and sporadic member of the team's starting units. Prigioni, the undisputed darling of the fan blogosphere and analytics advocates alike, offers a neat, gleeful point of difference on an outfit otherwise stuck in an ongoing malaise. In twenty-nine games after the All-Star break last season, he logged an average of 19 minutes per game on a team that held a winning percentage of 72.4%. Individually (over the same span), Prigioni registered a +/- of +9.7 per 100 possessions, too. It seems that there was something, generically speaking, about the artful Argentine that proved beneficial for New York's lineups. The roster may have undergone reshuffling this past offseason, however, (with Tyson Chandler absent in 2012-13) one lineup in particular produced quality results. A five-man unit consisting of Raymond Felton, the aforementioned Prigioni, Iman Shumpert, Carmelo Anthony, and Kenyon Martin garnered a wholesome Net Rating of +17.4 in 80 total minutes of shared court time. Funnily enough (not looking at anyone in particular, Mike Woodson), all five of these players remain on the New York roster, and are currently active/healthy.

The Knicks have experimented with 134 different lineups through the first 19 games -- none of which are reflective of last year's successful, guard-heavy group. By contrast, the tall trio of Anthony, Bargnani, and Stoudemire have featured in 10 games together, earning an aggregate -48 in that time. There has been no shortage of sources of frustration to date, although recklessly defying logic (and tangible evidence) in coaching is near chief among them.

The pass-first guard's minutes peaked at 20.9 per contest during the playoffs -- even with Woodson's panic-stricken removal of him from the starting rotation in the second round series with Indiana. That floor time has since been slashed further, as Prigioni has started just the three times. With in-house murmurings of a lack of ball movement and spacing plaguing the team's morale and the outside shooting slumping (sitting at 32.2% from beyond the arc before Friday's blowout of Orlando), it's easy to see why (in Bizarro world) Mike Woodson would choose to overlook the international veteran. After all, Pablo only ranks third in the NBA for his three-point shooting touch. J.R. Smith, for comparative purposes, approached the weekend's two home bouts having connected on 35.2% of his flings from the field in 13 games, with more than half of his attempts coming from deep. Prigioni is a notoriously hesitant shooter and an innately selfless player, admirable traits that (ironically) don't fit too well with the basic construct of the team. This diagram illustrates specifically where he has excelled from on the floor (albeit in limited attempts), and highlights his balanced, above-average perimeter shooting. Efficient shooting, solid ball control, spacing, and fluid passing are all seemingly valuable assets for a player to possess, unless you're a member of these Knicks.

The team arrived at this point for a reason. New York's nadir arose from a consistent, laughable level of incompetence on both sides of the ball, with the defensive deficiencies being regularly palmed off as a mere outcome of the absence of the elite Chandler. It would be rare, to say the least, for a team to have managed the third worst win-loss ratio in the league without having "earned" it. Maybe it's superfluous to suggest it, perhaps it's naive (or both), but what is to lose from increasing the role and minutes of the man with the second best assist-to-turnover ratio (at 3.2) on the entire roster?* Prigioni is steadily developing folklore-status among avid fans and, if nothing else, is the player that clued-in observers are calling for to receive more attention, respect, and playing time. The list of terms that one could use to describe Mike Woodson's coaching style is long -- and inherently subjective -- yet "stubborn" must be somewhere near the top.

There's a reason why Knick fans tend to sympathise with bit-part rotation players plucked from relative obscurity: the casual fan can just naturally relate to them to a greater extent than they otherwise would to a max-salary star. Whether it's Landry Fields, Chris Copeland, Jeremy Lin, Josh Harrellson, Steve Novak, or Prigioni, there have been a handful of recent examples of the Garden crowd gravitating toward to the lesser likes. Their resumes and accomplishments prior to arriving in New York may not have mirrored one another, but all enjoyed at least a small window of time as unexpected contributors in the Knicks' rotation.

It is no revelation that Pablo Prigioni's play warrants further consideration and recognition from Woodson. This is not forthcoming, though, and there are those of us haplessly clinging to anything that could be vaguely termed a "worthy cause." Knicks fandom is a torrid, exhausting love affair, and in the muddy quagmire that is this season, I choose to divert my irrational adoration toward "Priggy Smalls."

* Only Kenyon Martin (surprising?) holds a better mark, on the back of his heady perimeter passing, which was well covered by Seth here.

Statistics utilised are courtesy of NBA.com/stats.

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