The Knicks will take on the Miami Heat Friday night, a rematch of a recent loss which blew open the widening fissures in New York's bench. The second unit has been all anyone can talk about since they crapped all over themselves Monday night in Miami, only to leave a poop trail all the way up I-95 en route to another dismal performance Wednesday in Orlando.
Jerian Grant seemed to lose the faith of the coaching staff during the Magic loss, playing only six minutes, by far his lowest total of the season. The past seven games have been a nightmare for the rookie point guard, who has hit only five of his last 26 field goal attempts (19.7 FG%) to go along with six assists and six turnovers. He didn't even attempt a field goal on Wednesday. That's bad, yo.
After the game, he noted how the bench's scoring problems seem to stem from a lack of pace:
"We're not getting on the break as we were. I'm out there with some different guys, just trying to get back into a rhythm. The most important thing is pushing the pace.
"Early on, we did a lot more drags, rebound and run. I think it was more comfortable doing that.''
The grinding pace is certainly one culprit, but there has been a perfect storm of adversity surrounding Grant of late. He is a poor shooter in a major slump, running a bench unit composed mostly of poor shooters who can't space the floor. When the second unit stops running, he is forced to run an offense for which neither he nor many of his bench compatriots are particularly suited.
The Triangle can be rough on young point guards. It's usually very different from the offenses they ran in the past. When you combine that with mediocre bigs who camp out on the block, surrounded by wings who aren't much of a threat from beyond the arc, you have a confusing, constipated muddle for a guard who earned his reputation driving and kicking.
This particular possession from Wednesday perfectly captures Grant's struggles with the offense:
Grant completes the strong-side Triangle and picks up his dribble for no reason. You can practically hear the gears grinding in his head: OK, I'm in position, now I should feed the post and afterwards cut thusly. Everybody in the arena knows the pass is going to Lou Amundson on the block -- they might be confused as to why getting the ball to Lou Amundson when he's posted 17 feet from the basket is so friggin' important , but they all know what's coming -- and the pass is easily picked off.
Now, Grant isn't the only Knicks point guard who struggles throwing entry passes -- Jose Calderon is also pretty crappy at it -- and the Triangle has built-in counters the point guard is supposed to run when the post-entry pass is cut off, but this offense is befuddling the youngster at the moment.
Since Derek Fisher isn't going to drop the Triangle anytime soon, the best thing he can do for Grant is find more opportunities to put him on the court with better players -- *cough* Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis *cough*. Fans and pundits have been on Fisher of late to stagger minutes to allow Melo and Kristaps (and Arron Afflalo to a lesser extent) time to play with the reserves. Not only could that immediately help in making the second unit less of a flaming heap of elephant dung, it could have the long-term effect of giving Grant the space needed to rediscover his game.
Sure, every Knick plays better when placed with one of the two franchise players, but Grant really needs this, both from a floor-spacing standpoint and as a confidence booster. Grant actually played a fairly decent game against Houston -- as good a game as a point guard can have while shooting 0-4 without an assist, at least. He got to the rim, only to be stoned by Chris Bosh and an unkind rim. He shot an open three with confidence (and missed it badly, but still...) and tossed a confident bowling-style entry pass to Melo for the secondary assist. Notice all the room he has to operate with defenders paying such close attention to Melo and Kristaps (also, try to ignore the Chinese commercials blaring in the background):
I don't care if he misses all those shots; that's the Jerian Grant I want to see in halfcourt sets ... attacking rather than hesitating. Those looks at the rim will start falling again, and he might even sink a three-pointer or two.
More than any other player on the second unit, Fisher needs to do whatever is necessary to nurse Grant through this rough patch. He is their (other) first-round pick, and he's by far the most gifted point guard on the roster. Even using the old "We're here to win and can't wait on this rook" logic doesn't hold up, since his backup is Sasha fucking Vujacic. You're gaining nothing by playing Vujacic over Grant ... nada, zero, zilch. Putting the rookie in a position to succeed by giving him more time with better players is going to help this team win, both now and in the future.