"You know the sad thing about betrayal? It never comes from an enemy," -- just one of a myriad of J.R. Smith's self-serving prophecies and forgettable faux pas stretched over the volatile guard's bumpy season.
Unfortunately for Jeremy Tyler, his first legitimate (non-training camp) foray onto New York's roster became overshadowed by the melodrama surrounding the seldom-used Chris Smith, the man whom Tyler replaced on the squad. Armed with a partially-guaranteed contract in the preseason, with youth (and seemingly potential) on his side, Tyler appeared a near-lock to dodge the Knicks' final camp cuts and nestle into the end of the bench as a frontcourt insurance policy. Persistent foot problems (resulting in a September surgery to attend to a stress fracture in his right foot), however, derailed the trajectory of his burgeoning NBA career, and his health concerns ultimately meant that he was not able to survive to the final roster tinkering on the eve of the season.
Tyler's NBA travels and career progression has, to date, been unspectacular and gone largely unnoticed by the broader fan community. Since being selected in the 2nd round of the porous 2011 Draft by the Charlotte Bobcats, his name and player rights have been attached to no fewer than four NBA franchises (Charlotte, Golden State, Atlanta, and New York) across slightly more than a two-year span. If you blinked at all during the last two-plus regular seasons, you have probably missed any semblance of Tyler's relevance to the league. Despite being linked to the aforementioned handful of teams, the 6'10" pivot had mustered only 704 total minutes in his maiden two years -- many of which were earned during a period of both curious and shameless player management by the Golden State Warriors.
Given this, and with knowledge of his relatively barren NBA resume, it may have come across as surprising (but not altogether concerning) that his initial deal with the Knicks in August was adorned with the words "partially guaranteed." The wider growth of the D-League as a truly "developmental" entity and farm system imitation is encouraging, and the practice of taking a flier on inexperienced and/or untested young players via contracts such as Tyler's is more or less gaining steam throughout the Association. It's difficult to isolate any one "pioneer" of the recent, warm embrace of the D-League and its potential, yet the Houston Rockets' use of their affiliate the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and continued signings and call-ups of D-League alumni on multi-year, team-option-heavy agreements stands as one such example of the league's changing reputation.
The Knicks, more specifically, have been comparatively slow to acknowledge the produce of the lesser competition and utilise the advantages of the prototype low-risk, high-reward arrangements that are present in the atmosphere. This, among other things, is why Tyler's presence in pre-season conversation and in-season re-emergence is more generally a positive occurrence, and not simply for the player in question. The methodology underlining the confidence in players of Jeremy Tyler's nature and (in)experience, and precisely how said players are acquired, is an equally important element of the process.
Tyler's training camp agreement was not unique, as the Knicks also elected to dole out partially guaranteed contracts to fellow camp invitees C.J. Leslie and Chris Smith, fostering a precarious situation for the front office when the time for the roster to be finalised eventually arrived. The motivations behind offering this form of guarantee (somewhat of an NBA "advanced payment") are clear; assure the player's interest, nuzzle ahead of competing teams in the negotiation process, and hope that the long-term benefit proves to dwarf the intermediate cost. A friendly disposition toward the D-League carries value, yet it seems the Knicks' brass have further finessing to do before they can comfortably have the farm system down to a managerial fine art. In the case of the much-discussed and deliberated Smith, his circumstances were summarised in this November report from the New York Post:
"the Knicks are paying Smith his minimum contract of $491,000 and have to pay the league's escrow account an additional $1.6 million in luxury tax, equaling about $2.1 million. Because of a favorable quirk in his contract, the whole sum became fully guaranteed on opening night."
Nevertheless, the post-Christmas miracle that was Chris Smith's exodus from the team happened to be the manoeuvre that paved the path for Jeremy Tyler's involvement with the Knicks, and subsequent opportune play. Since re-joining the team, Tyler has featured in 10 games (86 minutes total) in varying roles, and in that time has managed to (small sample size alert!) register a PER of 24.1, with a TS% of 62.7%, and per-36 averages of 18.4 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks. These are flashy, mostly unexpected numbers, to be sure, yet either way it is production that has been wholeheartedly welcomed on an otherwise floundering, inconsistent team. The crown jewel of Tyler's 86 minutes in a New York uniform undoubtedly arrived last night (see below), as he recorded a career-high 17pts (admittedly, many of which were attained in the most pungent of garbage time in a long-lost blowout scenario) in 23 minutes on 7 of 9 shooting from the floor against Boston.
Regardless of the insignificance attached to some of what Tyler has put forth on the court thus far, it speaks volumes for how desperately it was needed and grasped by this Knicks team when -- in two separate pre-season publications -- his place on the roster was once described in the following ways:
"Tyler wasn't expected to play major minutes for the Knicks this season, as Tyson Chandler, Carmelo Anthony, Andrea Bargnani, Amar'e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin are all above him on the Knicks' depth chart." - SI's Ben Golliver on September 5, after the news of Jeremy Tyler's surgery requirements.
"The 22 year old may not be Coach Mike Woodson's first choice off a bench that includes the likes of Amar'e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani, and [Kenyon] Martin, but what happens when the coach doesn't have such resources?" - Keith Schlosser of Ridiculous Upside on Tyler's contract, and his status with the team.
It's a wild cliché and gross over-simplification to state that Jeremy Tyler (over his ten appearances) has brought "energy" and "activity" off the bench, but with such a cavernous, arid frontcourt rotation, it is true that neither of those qualities really existed (whether due to injury or apathy) in the big-man department for the Knicks prior to his return. Tyler has averaged 5.2 fouls per 36 minutes throughout his scattered 73 game career, and this is something that will have to improve should he be considered for more meaningful minutes with New York further down the road. Meanwhile, at 17.4%, his defensive rebounding percentage within the same window is not far removed from that of Andrea Bargnani; the notoriously hapless rebounder whose career mark is around 15%. These are the kinks that still need to be ironed out of his overall game, yet one hopes that Tyler (by both fans and the organisation) can be afforded a little more than 722, mostly inconsequential NBA minutes to hone his craft.
Jeremy Tyler can play.— Jared Dubin (@JADubin5) January 29, 2014
Amar'e Stoudemire remains sidelined, Andrea Bargnani won't be returning anytime soon, and Kenyon Martin appeared to have re-aggravated his troublesome left ankle in the win over the Celtics, and hence, the wave that allowed Tyler to see the floor of late doesn't seem likely to dissipate in the near future. In a season full of ongoing depression, disappointment, and disenchantment, a surprise story akin to Jeremy Tyler's (for now) revised role in the rotation is a healthy distraction. It will be interesting -- if the opportunity presents itself -- to measure his production and position with the Knicks after thirty-five to forty games, rather than ten, but for now, take solace in the fact that he's contributing to the team at all.