Jason Kidd is being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend. For most writers, this is a time to wax nostalgic about one of the greatest point guards ever; for this Knicks scribe, it’s an opportunity to talk about a 39-year-old spot-up jump shooter on the last decent New York squad the world has seen.
To be fair, the 2012-13 Knicks were quite good (54 wins!), and Kidd was quite important to that team. He finished fifth on the squad in total minutes played* and made 48 starts. Moreover, he allowed head coach Mike Woodson to, albeit reluctantly, play a style of basketball that was damn near revolutionary.
* FUN BIT OF TRIVIA: The guy who played the most minutes on the last Knicks team to make the playoffs was...J.R. Smith!
The 2012-13 club is one of my favorite in franchise history, if only because they played the game in a way that pissed off so many people. They were a team of geriatrics (Kidd, Rasheed Wallace, Marcus Camby, Kenyon Martin, Kurt Thomas) playing a young man’s game. They were a mediocre defensive squad, which infuriated the old-school Knicks purists. They were an offensive machine (third in the NBA in offensive efficiency) that rarely scored easy buckets in transition and didn’t even really share the ball that much (dead last in assists per game).
Why were they so successful? Much of the credit goes to the peerless iso-brilliance of Carmelo Anthony, who was then in the prime of his career. But that team also complimented each other in interesting ways. The didn’t defend well, but they limited opponent shots by playing at a snail’s pace, forcing turnovers and taking care of the defensive glass. On offense, they perfected the small-ball, three-bombing attack a few seasons before the Warriors, setting a league record for made threes.
And Kidd was vital to their philosophy. He played alongside Ray Felton in a two-point-guard backcourt, but he didn’t do much point guarding. His 17.8 assist percentage was by far the lowest of his career. What he did was shoot the three — 79.5% of his field goal attempts that season came from behind the three-point line — and play surprisingly frisky defense for an old timer. His 2.2 steals per 36 minutes led a team that was heavily reliant on forcing turnovers.
But where Kidd really shined was in his rebounding. For all of Charles Barkley’s “Hurrrrrr the Knicks can’t rebound” caterwauling that season, the small-ball Knicks finished fourth in defensive rebound percentage. They were able to do this because Kidd and J.R. Smith were elite rebounders in the backcourt, finishing third and second among guards in defensive rebounding percentage.
Sadly, what most people remember about Kidd’s 2012-13 season is his complete inability to hit shots in the final few weeks of the season, including the playoffs. The old man just ran out of gas, which is one of the main reasons he never played in the NBA again. By the end, most of his second-PG duties would be assumed by my favorite Knick ever, Pablo Prigioni, who was then a relatively spry 35 years old. You could say that Kidd was the herald, the John the Baptist to Pablo’s Jesus.
Despite the lackluster ending, Jason Kidd helped shaped the identity which carried the Knicks to their most successful season of this century. Coach Woodson and the front office would quickly abandon this identity, going with bigger and bigger lineups to disastrous effects, but we don’t need to go into that now. Instead, let us toast Jason Kidd on this momentous weekend, and pray that the Knicks find some players who create a winning environment, as he once did.