Following the Knicks second consecutive first round bounce, I have intently watched this year’s dramatic NBA Playoffs as a student of the game, searching for answers on how the Knicks can make the next step. In the age of comparisons, I have watched the freakish athleticism of Rondo, Westbrook, Durant and LeBron, mulling the fact that the Knicks do not have such naturally graced freaks of nature on their roster. It will probably be another 20 years (if we’re lucky) until they are fortunate enough to find one in the draft or through free agency.
But all hope is not lost. As we saw from the Spurs, athleticism isn’t “everything” (although having role players such as Kawhi Leonard is key), and there are other ways to win – even though it did not spell a championship this season. Being that Jeremy Lin is more than likely the Knicks point guard of the future, whether we agree or disagree, it is important to find characteristics that can make us believe he CAN be the answer.
With that, I couldn’t help but fall in love with Tony Parker. Like Jeremy Lin, they thrive on penetration, have a deceptively quick first step, and possess a killer spin move in the lane. What Tony boasts that separates him from Lin is a spectacular tear drop, which he manages to JUST get over the finger tips of opposing big men. Lin, of similar athletic limitations, was hopefully watching the playoffs closely, picking up little moves and footwork that makes Tony Parker so hard to guard. If you do not plan on rising above the opposition with a thunderous dunk in today’s NBA, you need a consistent floater to keep the defense honest, maintaining your effectiveness in the lane.
If New York is going to make the next step in 2012-13, which popular belief seems to be a top-4 seeding and first round series win, Lin, as well as his teammates must improve on their games. While Jeremy’s numbers will likely decrease somewhat under Mike Woodson, I still believe he has the ability to be a 15 and 5 guy on a nightly basis.
To the Knicks fans picking apart every interaction and shot taken by Carmelo in accordance with “ruining” Linsanity, again, look no further than the championship Spurs when Parker joined Duncan. At that time, Duncan was the man, no questions asked. To me, same should be said for Melo. While the Spurs may currently be running a SSOL system similar to D’Antoni, that has more to do with Duncan aging and Parker priming.
When Parker first arrived, the Spurs ran through Duncan in the post. Under Woodson, I fully expect the Knicks to run through Melo in the post/on the elbow. With that said, like Parker, there is no reason Lin will not get plenty of opportunities to make things happen with the ball in his hands, nor should there be. And while Duncan has definitely proved to be a better passer out of the post than Melo, surround Melo with shooters, and then see how willing he is to move the ball, as he gains confidence in his teammates’ abilities to finish the play.
In the chart below I constructed a small diagram on the shots, points and assists disparities between Parker and Duncan during their three championship seasons.
These statistics represent Parker’s 2nd, 4th and 6th seasons in the NBA. As you can see, Duncan was the man during the Spurs 2002-03 title run. He led the team in field goal attempts/points per game, and rightfully so. He was an established All Star, virtually impossible to guard in the post.
But as the years went on, and the titles continued to roll in, Parker took on a bigger and bigger role, even surpassing Duncan in FGA per game during their third championship season together. Now with Duncan aging, and Parker in his prime, even Popovich will tell you his point guard is the engine to his team’s well oiled machine.
Going back to the Knicks, and their future, I think the Parker-Duncan relationship over the years is what they should be modelling themselves after. They will never be like the high-flying HEAT or Thunder with their current personnel. But that shouldn’t mean the team or the fans should think all is lost. But for the bickering fans, and ruthless NY media, right now this is Melo’s team. And for the forseeable future, it should stay that way. By no means do I think that says Jeremy Lin cannot impose himself on the game each and every night, as he should stay aggressive, taking advantage of the defensive attention Melo attracts.
But if I were coach Woodson, I would be studying the tapes from the dynasty Spurs, looking for ways to replicate the Parker-Duncan pairing, featuring Melo, in the post/on the elbow, until “Father Time” decides it’s Lin’s turn to take the keys and lead the way.