What's the Point?

What's the Point?
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In the modern NBA, winning teams have one of two things. Either a dominant point guard or a complete point guard. You simply can't win on a regular basis in the NBA without one of those things. Unfortunately, the Knicks haven't had anything resembling either of those things since the dawn of the modern NBA. The current iteration of the Knicks has some big names at point guard. But they lack the consistency needed to bring a winning team to the Garden. So far each of them has shown enough for us to make a pretty conclusive evaluation of each of them and what you'll find is that you would need to combine all 3 of them to create the point guard that can take the Knicks to the promised land.

When the Knicks landed Derrick Rose via trade, Rose was quick to dub the squad a “super team.” What he didn't understand was that for the team to be super, he'd have to be above average when it comes to production. His career so far as a Knick has been tumultuous to say the least. I won't get into the off-court drama, but his absences at pivotal moments has definitely hurt this team. On the court, Rose is the first Knick point guard that can drive into the paint with any consistency since Stephon Marbury. Unfortunately, what he does when he gets there leaves very much to be desired. Far too often he drives into the paint with no plan B and ends up throwing up a prayer of a layup while flailing his way out of bounds and out of the transition defense. His reluctance to shoot the 3 point shot allows defenses to sag into the paint and cut off cutting lanes for teammates and driving lanes for him. He also misses obvious passing situations in favor of low percentage shots that kill floor balance. By the way, this is the good side of his game. On defense, he has been nothing short of awful. With a defensive rating of 109.5, Rose can constantly be found getting embarrassed in the pick and roll and missing rotations when there is ball and player movement. The most frustrating part about it is that he is physically capable of doing what is asked of him, but the focus necessary to accomplish his tasks is consistently lacking.

The next guard on the depth chart is the mercurial Brandon Jennings. Before his Achilles injury, he was known as a scoring guard that played with his emotions on his sleeve. Now, he just plays with his emotions on his sleeve. While his pass-first approach is like a glass of water in this desert of shoot-first Knicks that make up this year's crew, his assist hunting tendencies tend to muddy those waters. Brandon Jennings is quick enough to get just about anywhere he wants to on the floor, but he lacks the lift and dexterity to finish around the basket in traffic. This allows defenders to stay home on shooters and doesn't promote the ball movement that makes it easier for non-scorers to contribute. Luckily, Jennings is a willing and able three-point shooter. If not for that, there'd be no good reason to play him so many minutes. Despite his offensive weaknesses, offense is easily his forte. His putrid 113 defensive rating gives him a -10 net rating. He doesn't have the strength to fight through screens, or the discipline to stay in front of his man without reaching and bailing out the man he’s guarding. Simply can’t win with that.

Finally, we get to the fan-favorite Ron Baker. Let’s get this out of the way early. He’s not very good. He’s a solid spot-shooter and a more gritty defender than his fellow Knick point guards. But those are the only two reasons he sees the floor. He doesn’t efficiently run the pick and roll and gets exposed when he has to play extended minutes. While he does have NBA rotational potential, he’s an effort player at the moment. He is the Knick fan flavor of the season; the player that Knick fans clamor for once the team has proven to be inept as they tend to be these days. Previous flavors of the season include Josh Harrelson, Landry Fields, and Travis Wear. These guys don’t usually end up with long NBA careers, but at least their effort is never in question.

For the Knicks to have what they need at point guard, they’d need to combine the athleticism and driving ability of Rose with the vision of Jennings and the defensive effort and spot shooting of Baker. Better point guard play is essential to anything resembling a turnaround this season. Unfortunately, the answer may not currently be on the roster. A season that started with possibilities for successful play at Madison Square Garden has Knick fans all over the world asking “What’s the point?”