After a riveting, dramatic, short-handed win over the Phoenix Suns last night, good spirits were flattened by some disappointing news: an X-ray revealed Raymond Felton has a fractured pinky finger. Estimates have been made that this newest injury upon a pile that keeps stacking up for the Knicks, could keep Felton out 4-6 weeks.
Though fans and analysts alike have bemoaned Felton’s recent struggles (he’s had bone bruises on both hands that were affecting his shooting and passing), there’s no doubt that Felton is the best choice as a starter among the Knicks’ collection of point guards. Felton is younger, quicker, more capable of scoring, and at least competently skilled in passing compared to Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni. However, with Felton now sidelined for the next few weeks, it’s understandable to be concerned if the Knicks can get by without their starting point guard.
Last night Jason Kidd got the start for Felton in Phoenix and had a terrific game, showing shades of his former dominance in his younger days with 23 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists. However, with Kidd, at 39-years old, already logging so many minutes prior to Felton’s injury, can he handle an even bigger role as the starting point guard?
The same thing goes for Pablo Prigioni. While Prigioni is younger (35) and more rested than Kidd – just 13 minutes per game to Kidd’s 30 – this is Prigioni’s first season in the NBA. Though he’s an experienced point guard from a famed career in Spain, to suddenly give Prigioni the reins of the offense as the starting point guard may be like baptism by fire.
There are arguments for both, however. While Kidd has logged tons of miles and minutes in his career, he hasn’t shown any sign of fatigue yet this season, and his presence on the court has continually led to good things for the Knicks. Whether it’s making three-pointers, driving and kicking, making the extra pass, getting a steal or deflection, drawing a foul – the plays Kidd makes almost always benefit the Knicks.
For Prigioni, the case could be made that because he is younger, quicker, and better rested, and with the return of Amar’e Stoudemire possibly just days away, the Argentine rookie could thrive with more minutes and a devastating pick-and-roll partner. Likewise, giving Prigioni more minutes instead of increasing Kidd’s could help preserve Kidd for later on in the season when he presumably will go back to being the number two option next to Felton.
Without Felton, though, there are two immediate concerns: scoring from the point guard position, and defending opposing point guards. Though Felton hasn’t done either particularly efficiently this season (he’s shooting 39% from the field and has a defensive rating of 109), he still is simply more capable of carrying the offensive load and matching up with quicker point guards than either Kidd or Prigioni. For instance, Felton averages 16 points per game, which is double what Kidd averages and even more than Prigioni. Kidd has shown some offensive prowess this season, but it’s unlikely he could score at the same clip. Similarly, are we to imagine Kidd or Prigioni chasing the likes of Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry, etc. better than Felton would?
A potential boost of help could come in the form of Iman Shumpert in future weeks. Shumpert, while more of a combo guard than pure point guard, is a better option of running the point for periods of time than J.R. Smith or Carmelo Anthony, and would help scale back on Kidd and Prigioni’s minutes. Shumpert was recently cleared for physical contact, and appears to be on target for a January return. Shumpert would also give the Knicks a defensive lift, negating the worries of having Kidd or Prigioni defend the NBA’s elite at point guard.
The Knicks could also go the way of free agency where a number of cheap, backup point guard options exist. However, this would require cutting one of the players on the already-maxed out Knicks’ roster. It would seem that James White would be the most likely candidate to be cut to make room for a free agent, but with Carmelo Anthony in and out of the lineup, and Ronnie Brewer struggling, White’s been needed as of late to fill up minutes as a defensive help on the wing. It’s been suggested that the Knicks could pursue some help, but at this point it still seems unlikely.
In recent weeks, we’ll see how the Knicks fare without their starting point guard, relying on two aged veterans with savvy point guard skills. Contributions from other players like the Knicks received last night, will no doubt go a long way in helping mend the absence of Felton from the Knicks’ offense.
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