The New York Knicks find themselves in a surprising position right now: They have a few players who aren't old.
Traditionally, this franchise has never known what to do with an influx of young talent (Should we trade them or simply non-tender them?). But the new Jackson/Fisher regime appears to be amenable not only to acquiring young players, but developing them as well. The Zen Master traded vets Tyson Chandler and Ray Felton (HAHAHAHA) for a package that included second-year point guard Shane Larkin and two draft picks that became Cleanthony Early and Thanasis Antetokounmpo. And the Knicks' new head coach took pains to actually...what's the word...coach those youngsters during summer league, instead of wordlessly staring daggers into them from the sidelines for four quarters (still not missing you, Woody).
But these kids might still not be ready for the bright lights of Madison Square Garden. They need some seasoning. They need...Pablo Prigioni.
Don't concern yourself with these rumors of a possible Pablo trade -- nothing more than libelous, preposterous propaganda. Know who specialized in propaganda? The Nazis, that's who. Am I saying this Pablo trade is some kind of Nazi plot? Impossible to know for sure (But yes...definitely).
In truth, the Knicks' D could probably use some more of Pablo's patented sneakiness as it makes the transition from "catastrophe" to "optimistically mediocre."
Taking the ball away from the other team was a critical part of the 2012-13 club that finished fourth in the league in opponent turnover ratio. New York forced 1242 turnovers (15.1 per game) in 2012-13; that number dropped to 1193 (14.5 per game) last year.* That might not seem like much, but when a team is as bad at defending in the halfcourt as the Knicks have been, one fewer turnover a game pretty much correlates to an automatic two or three extra points.
* Believe it or not, there was a time when I thought Mike Woodson consciously crafted the 2012-13 club's defense with a mind to accentuate their strength (forcing turnovers) over their weakness (contesting shots). How wrong I was.
The Knicks don't figure to be much better at defending the halfcourt than they were the last two seasons -- even if they end the Woody policy of switching every screen, they simply do not have to personnel to be a good defensive squad.
Pablo might not be the sneaker he was in his youth, he is now in a position to teach his sneaking skills to the next generation. To paraphrase the poet laureate Old Dirty Bastard: Pablo is for the children.
Here's hoping that the Knicks take time out before training camp to hold a special sessions for the young'uns. Counselor Pablo cannot say all the secrets, of course, but even if we were to divulge, say, 70 percent of the secrets, it could lead to a defensive renaissance down the road.
Here are three young Knicks I would like to see spend some time at Camp Pablo:
1. Shane Larkin
Look, if I could transfuse all of Shane Larkin's youth and quickness into Pablo's 37-year-old body and toss the withered husk of the second-year point guard into the gutter, I would. It's not that I have anything against the kid; I just want Pablo to play forever.
Larkin showed a sneaky streak in the Las Vegas Summer League, coming up with several steals. He also displayed a tendency to severely over-play the ball and bite on every pump-fake, much to the consternation of Clyde Frazier ("Why are you jumping? You're 5'11"...you're not gonna block it).
Pablo needs to teach this kid how to sneak with savvy.
2. Thanasis Antetokounmpo
Pablo's spiritual son -- as tenacious on the court as he is adorable off it -- Thanasis still has a great deal to learn from the master. He was downright Prigion-esque in the LVSL, picking up ball-handlers full-court and harassing them into turnovers and even the rare backcourt violation.
Unfortunately, he also had a nasty habit of fouling everyone, all the time. They allow 10 fouls per game in the LVSL and Thanasis was usually at seven in the blink of an eye. Interesting tidbit: You can't pick up seven fouls in a real NBA game.
Like Larkin, Thanasis needs to learn how to play more mature team defense in between the sneakings. If Pablo can impart his wisdom on the young Antetokounmpo, the kid could develop into one of the league's premiere perimeter defenders over the next few years. If Pablo can teach him how to hit threes at a 40-percent clip, Thanasis might just take over the world.
3. Tim Hardaway Jr.
It would be difficult to find two guards more diametrically opposed than Tim Hardaway and Pablo Prigioni. Tim gets buckets...and does basically nothing else. Pablo would rather do anything but score.
While Hardaway could certainly use a lecture from Pablo on the art of the pass, let's stick to defense for the moment. It isn't so much that Hardaway is an unwilling defender; he's just bad at it. As a rookie, he lacked the necessary bulk to check most NBA shooting guards.
That said, he should be quick enough to jump a passing lane or two...and that simply did not happen in 2013-14:
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Pablo Prigioni might not be a Hall of Fame talent like former Knick veteran Jason Kidd, but he knows a great deal about the game of basketball. Here's hoping he remains in New York, and that the Knicks' young guards watch him closely.