The scrimmage was sloppy and the players weren’t in synch, but it was still the most optimistic the Knicks have felt in almost two weeks.
It was all due to the presence of Baron Davis, who was finally cleared to practice on Monday. The veteran point guard, who is recovering from a herniated disk, took a major step toward being in uniform and, the team hopes, providing the stewardship of the offense that the team so desperately needs.
“I know I can definitely help, I know I can definitely do things out there that can help,” Davis said after the practice at MSG Training Center.
“We all need each other at this point as a team. We need to just figure out how to play off of each other and play with a style that suits everybody and works to everybody’s strengths and talents.”
Mike D’Antoni has been confounded by his team’s nightly struggle just to get to 90 points, despite the presence of two of the NBA’s top five scorers from last season in Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. It was a duo that proved could coexist successfully late last season, when the team found its stride with a seven-game winning streak. But the lack of an experienced point guard, along with the absence of reliable three-point shooting, has caused the offense to sputter and players such as Anthony, with a sprained wrist, to try to take on too much responsibility to handle the scoring.
Davis is expected to help put everyone in place and distribute the ball evenly and accordingly. Eventually. After just one practice, it’s not going to happen overnight.
“The good is he’s back on the floor and starting to get better,” D’Antoni said of Davis’ practice debut. “What wasn’t good was the execution, but that’s to be expected.”
Davis admitted to making “a lot of mistakes” and being “very, very rusty,” but also spoke excitedly about a system he’s always wanted to play. There were flashes during the scrimmage portion of practice when Davis made dazzling passes to Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler around the rim. Both big men were surprised by the passes and fumbled them.
That didn’t stop Stoudemire, who was engaged in a long chat after practice with Davis, to call his new point guard’s debut “phenomenal.” Perhaps Davis’ presence and quick passing will finally get Stoudemire’s noticeably heavy legs popping again.
What is equally encouraging is that Davis said he saw several other openings a split-second too late, but after repetition, the timing is sure to get there.
“It just takes time and timing and pace in order to really get that rhythm,” he said.
With the compressed schedule, the Knicks don’t have much time, at least not on the practice court. So D’Antoni said he might look to find minutes for Davis during games to help him assimilate quicker.
“I think the best workout he can get is in a game,” D’Antoni said.
The plan, for now, is to see how he feels on Tuesday morning and if all goes well, have him participate in the shoot-around in Charlotte and perhaps play some three-on-three afterward.
D’Antoni wouldn’t rule out getting him in for some minutes Tuesday night against the Bobcats or sometime during this four-game road trip, which continues to Cleveland on Wednesday.
The most important step is that Davis is back on the court. With that hurdle cleared, he said, “It’s just a matter of time.”
Davis’ presence certainly takes the pressure off Melo from having the offense run through him. It was impossible not to notice how much Davis dominated the ball during the scrimmage as a point guard generally should, but how much Melo appreciates it remains to be seen.
From the outside, Davis’ presence and ball handling ability will allow Anthony to move within the offense as a key option rather than fall into the habit of isolation games and feel the pressure to get others involved when his strength is in creating for himself.
Anthony talked about this very issue after Saturday’s loss to the Nuggets, in which he wondered aloud if he “maybe” needed to “not take so many shots” and that it was on him to get Stoudemire more involved.
After practice, however, Anthony seemed to backtrack from his introspective thoughts, saying it was “just me beating myself up.” D’Antoni said Anthony “can’t take all the blame on himself” and that the issues with the offense is “a whole team thing.”
D’Antoni added, “You can’t completely change radically what you’re doing. You’ve got to be yourself and you’ve got to have your ego intact and go forward.”
That kind of advice could be given to several players in orange-and-blue right now … and, quite frankly, the head coach, too.
THE DYNAMIC DUO
People have short memories around here as the assessments fly from all angles that the Melo/Amar’e tandem can’t work. Thought it took a few weeks to find the chemistry, the duo actually did work — with great results — late in the regular season when the team won seven straight games in dominating fashion and averaged over 115 points per game in that stretch.
The Knicks offense wasn’t an issue at all going into the Boston Celtics series and Game 1 was a battle to the final minute, when Chauncey Billups was lost for the series with a knee injury.
Then Stoudemire injured his back before Game 2, which left the Knicks without two major pieces. That means the series should be thrown out as evidence of success or failure of the trade.
Billups, the veteran point guard, missed six games after the trade because of a thigh injury and then tweaked his knee in the second-to-last game of the season against the Bulls. His absence was felt and continues to be felt this season. This is why Davis’ arrival is viewed to be so critical. You can’t overlook the importance of a veteran point guard to run the offense and get (and keep) the stars in place.
But the decision was made to fill another critical need, a defensive center, with Chandler, which led to the departure of Billups via the amnesty provision. A major reason why the Knicks believed they could make this move was because of how Toney Douglas emerged late in the season when Billups was out with injury. But Douglas was unable to build off of that and the result is a troubled offense without a true floor leader to run it.
JORTS WILL BE MISSED
If Josh Harrellson proved anything, aside from the fact that he has a very good touch from three-point range, is that he’s country strong. The 6-foot-10 forward from Kentucky earned a surprising role in D’Antoni’s rotation similar to what Shawne Williams was last season: A reliable stretch-4 who had the strength and toughness to defend bigs.
D’Antoni lamented the loss of the rookie, who broke his wrist during Saturday’s game and will miss six weeks. “You hate to lose him because I thought he was playing real well,” D’Antoni said. Harrellson is expected back in early March, when there will be two months left in the season.
It’s a testament to Harrellson that we’re even talking about looking forward to his return. That’s consecutive years that the Knicks have found a very useful rotation player in the second round of the draft.
The team recalled Jerome Jordan and Jeremy Lin from their D-League assignments with the team’s affiliate in Erie. It was only supposed to be a two-game stint for both players, but it’s not expected they will see immediate playing time. In Harrellson’s absence, it appears Jared Jeffries and sharpshooter Steve Novak will get the bulk of those leftover minutes.
This is a great opportunity for Novak, a three-point shooter, to carve a niche for himself in the rotation.