Jonathan Bender, a phenom drafted by Indiana straight outta high school, initially retired at a young age due to injuries. This year, still only 29, the seven-footer decided to make a comeback on the Knicks for GM Donnie Walsh who had drafted him for the Pacers. With our team mired in mediocrity, it seemed an intriguing possibility.
Bender came out in his first couple of games with energy, looking like a potential find. It soon became clear though that he could not bring it consistently, nor was he willing to do Big Man work. Tellingly, despite being the height of a center, ESPN lists him as a Small Forward. His career rebounding high is 3.1. Sure, that season he only played slightly over 21 minutes, but still double that to an outrageous 42 minutes and we’re still talking only 6.2 boards. Meaning if he did get decent 30+ minutes, even in his prime he would’ve given you like 5+ boards. For comparison sake, the 5’8″ Nate Robinson has averaged nearly 3 boards in 24 minutes during his career. Hmmm…
Okay, okay, but this is the Knicks, where we don’t care about defense and rebounding, we care about offense, right? Bender has amazing tools that include a nice looking jump shot and still some decent athleticism. However, forgetting that his career high in scoring his 7.4 points/gm, he’s basically a poor man’s Al Harrington. Nearly every time he got the ball, you knew he was gonna shoot it. Either from out at the three-point line, or if his defender was close or closed out on him, then he’d drive and put up a bad attempt. Passes were not an option. At least Big Al could hit from out deep semi-regularly and would pull off nice drives on occasion. When Bender made a move, he might’ve looked capable, but it rarely ended in success.
When motivated, sometimes Bender was a decent help defender. In slightly over eleven minutes a game he was close to averaging nearly a block, but still, he was far too unreliable on the defensive end.
His pro-rated salary for the season ended up being only $597, 271, or using yesterday’s terminology, less than the cost of a mere 5 courtside Spike-Lee-style season tickets. His unremarkable play means we could probably easily get him back again next year at the same veteran’s minimum price without any competition. Particularly due to his relationship with Donnie Walsh.
But do we want him back? Al Harrington’s game has enough issues as is, but a poor man’s Al Harrington? A no-defending, no-rebounding, no-passing, ball-stopper, who can’t even really score? Um, I think that’s a definite no.
The scary thing is that due to the fact that he does have a connection with Walsh and that to fill out the roster we’re gonna need players willing to take the minimum, he just might end up being back here come training camp.
Don’t let him do it, D’Antoni.