Steve Novak’s 2012-13 season got off to a bang. In the Knicks’ first preseason game against the Washington Wizards, Novak came off the bench to hit all seven of his three-pointers, teasing Knicks fans as to what he may have in store this season as a full-time, regular contributor.
Novak’s season-opener got off to a similar start. In 26 minutes off the bench, Novak poured in 17 points on 5-8 shooting from behind the arc, much to the delight of an exhilarated Madison Square Garden crowd, rowdily cheering on the Knicks’ favorite downtown threat as the team buried the Miami Heat.
After that, however, it seemed Novak’s usual, near-automatic stroke seemed to disappear. From November 5 to November 21, Novak shot just 10-35 – only 28.6% – from beyond the arc, quickly striking fear into the team and fans alike that the three-point phenom from last year would be unable to reciprocate his previous season’s numbers. Whereas in 2011-12, Novak shot 47.2% from downtown, his total season number of 35.4% from three-point range (through November 21) represented a 12% decrease in accuracy.
Furthermore, Novak’s playing time dipped, too, as through that stretch, he never saw more than 25 minutes in a game as he did in the season opener. His shot was mysteriously awry and consequentially, Novak’s impact on the games took a nosedive. After the season opener against the Heat, in a nine-game stretch where the Knicks went 7-2, Novak was a -2 in +/-. While the +/- stat can be misleading in a game-by-game basis, or in very small sample sizes, with enough data, it becomes reflective of a team’s performance when a player is on the court. Through those nine games, the Knicks were, on average, outscored by their opponents when Novak was playing.
However, in recent games, starting with Noember 23, Novak’s play has picked up. In the past four games, he is averaging 12 points per game, 56.5% shooting from beyond the arc, and is a +14 in +/- in a stretch where the Knicks are 2-2.
Novak’s sudden, expected resurgence (though the sample size is quite small) reflects his numbers from last year, which should, of course, be the point. Last year, Novak was a +178 for the season, and lineups that included him were generally among the best in +/- on the Knicks for the season.
Novak’s struggles have likely come from the extra defensive attention he’s received this season, along with a rushed release as a result of that attention. His decreased minutes, obviously, have not allowed him to accumulate better stats. Novak’s rebounding is also down across the board. His defense has been sturdy, allowing opponents to score 36% of the time, and giving up .82 points per possession. For Novak to warrant extra playing time, regardless of whether his shot is falling or not, he needs to show a consistent, if not overall improvement, effort on the boards, while maintaining the defensive effort he’s shown this season.
Novak is a part of this team’s future, evidenced by the four-year contract he was given in the offseason. When his shot is falling, he’s one of the Knicks’ most dangerous weapons, and they would improve greatly with a consistently efficient, floor-spacing forward off the bench.