Deeper Than Linsanity
Baron Davis and JR Smith speak on the depth and chemistry of the Knicks backcourt.
by Jonathan Evans
In less than a month the Knicks have gone from a team struggling to find anyone to competently bring the ball up and start offense to a team with a host of potentially explosive options on the perimeter. The emergence of Lin, signing of JR Smith and return of Baron Davis has changed the fortunes of the Knicks, infusing energy and depth into their backcourt. In their 115-111 loss to the Celtics, this unit showed they still have a ways to go but there were flashes of what they can be.
Rookie Iman Shumpert is proving to be the most critical piece off the Knicks bench. He doesn’t start the game, but is on the floor at the end when it matters. Against Boston, Shump dug in defensively on all comers, be it chasing around Ray Allen or contesting shots from Paul Pierce. The rookie even held his own against the bullying Kevin Garnett. After an explosive dunk, he mean mugged KG and later on a switch defensively, his quick hands swiped away a post up attempt from KG.
Offensively, he filled the lane with aplomb in transition and had no problem creating his own shot. With a more defined role off the ball, Shumpert can now focus on attacking instead of creating for everyone else. Down the stretch with the offense stagnant, Shump forced the action with drives past Pierce to keep New York close late in the fourth. He finished with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting, 5 boards, 3 assists and 2 steals.
Baron Davis, in just his fifth game of the year, got some burn early with Jeremy Lin in foul trouble. He looked spry and had good action off the pick and roll, especially early in his season-high 20 minutes off the bench. While at times he was a steadying force, he did commit 6 turnovers and like Lin, many were unforced, careless and momentum-killing. That said, his missteps looked more like a committed player working his way back into shape and trying to get his timing back than a malcontent mailing it in. Overall, Baron finished with eight points, seven assists and a plus/minus of +10 for the game. Afterwards, Baron talked about how the Playoff-like atmosphere was a helpful test in helping him get back to his Boom Dizzle days.
SLAM: Talk about depth you all have in the backcourt.
Baron Davis: We have a lot of athleticism, some good basketball players coming off our bench. At any moment any one of us can make a play and impact on the game. That’s a luxury we have. We have a great young starting back court. We come off the bench with young explosive guards that can make plays. It’s a tough loss but we’re encouraged. We need to take a page out of [Boston’s] book and learn their mentality and togetherness and continue to move forward.
SLAM: With all the scorers, is there enough ball to go around?
BD: Everyone on this team is unselfish and everyone wants to win and wants to see everyone have success. We can put up points with the best of them and I don’t think that’s going to be a problem with us.
There’s probably no one in the League that fits the bill of explosive bench guard more than JR Smith. JR didn’t have his best shooting performance against Boston (2 points on 1-6 shooting), but nonetheless found ways to contribute with defense and energy. JR’s versatility—that he made a positive impact despite his shot not falling—epitomizes the attitude of the Knicks bench.
SLAM: Talk about the depth you guys have and your role specifically off the bench.
JR Smith: I generally come in and try to play faster than the first team and try to keep the tempo up. We did a better job in the third quarter than in the first. It’s a tough situation on the road with a crowd like this, but that’s our job.
SLAM: How’s the chemistry coming along?
JR: It’s coming together faster. I think when Baron gets to 100 percent, we’ll be a lot better. But for now, we’re getting there.
SLAM: Is your role the same as when you were on Denver?
JR: I’m trying to be a defensive player now, trying to get stops. I know we can score, we’ve got the best scorers in the game, so I’m trying to get in on the defensive end.
SLAM: How does it feel to be back in your backyard?
JR: It feels great. Being able to come back to the NBA is a blessing in itself and being able to play in The Garden is just unbelievable. I’ve been getting so much support from the New York, New Jersey area, it’s been crazy.
SLAM: That haircut earlier—was that Bishop from Juice?
JR: Yeah, my man messed it up though. I’m going to get it back though.
New York’s bench has the tools to be great insurance against their promising but young starting backcourt. Landry Fields and Lin, are no doubt coming into their own and they surely have their pregame ritual down but as Sunday showed, they have a ways to go especially when matched up against some of the better defenses in the league. The bench has an intriguing mix of explosiveness, scoring, and experience, not to mention shooting from Steve Novak. Ultimately time will tell if Smith and the rest of his “Wrecking Crew” have the Juice.