The Knicks’ bench is one of the more talent-laden ones you’ll find around the league.
Wilson Chandler could easily start for a number of teams but he has a jack-of-all-trades type of game that seems perfectly suited to a reserve role. Few teams have the luxury of looking down the bench and calling on a player as versatile and productive as Chandler.
Toney Douglas is an emerging two-way player. There are nights when he looks like Ben Gordon at one end and Gary Payton at the other. And it happens just often enough that you can dream on what he might be like 2-3 years down the road as he learns to be a consistent performer.
Bill Walker has a nice feel for the game. He understands spacing and knows how to find himself makeable looks.
Timo Mozgov is learning but most nights his talent is evident. He rarely does the same things well from game-to-game but each game he seems to do something that hints at a wealth of hidden skill.
It’s a fairly impressive stable of bench players. And that’s without even mentioning Anthony Randolph, who could someday become the best one of all.
The problem is, as talented as these players are, they struggle to do it night-in, night-out, and sometimes even from one half to the next. That’s not to say they have to put up numbers you can set your watch to game after game. That’s not really how a bench role often works. But the effort level and approach has to be consistent. These guys need to carve out an identity and make a solemn promise to themselves and the team to bring their best skills to the court every night.
Too often the Knicks’ bench players appear to be playing as much to discover themselves as they are to boost the team. That’s not a function of selfishness, but rather inexperience. These are young players still finding their way in the league. Unless Felton or Turiaf are on the court, and sometimes even when one, or both, are out there, the Knicks’ bench players struggle to play with rhythm or consistency. Even when the results are good–and the talent is abundant so the results can be pretty good sometimes–it’s usually a consequence of Wil or TD or Walker going on a tear and putting up a bevy of points that aren’t necessarily a result of good ball movement or solid team play. It’s a luxury to have bench players that can do that, but it’s not a formula for consistent success.
What the Knicks could really use off their bench is a steady hand, preferably one that can knock down an occasional cold-water three. Someone who can settle the group down, get things organized, and focus their efforts at both ends. They need a leader.
It doesn’t have to be a backup point guard–though, the more minutes Toney Douglas gets there, the more apparent it becomes that he struggles mightily in that role–and the bench doesn’t need a star. But there needs to be someone who’s a smart decision-maker that can help put these guys in positions on offense and defense where they can find success more easily. Turiaf might have excelled in this role if he hadn’t been called up to the starting lineup to address the very same deficiency with that group.
So much has been written and said about Carmelo Anthony and the possibility of trading some of these younger players away to get him. But to some extent that’s a lateral move. Melo is a great player, far and away better than anyone the Knicks would give up to get him. In the aggregate, though, his production might not be much more than a marginal upgrade over what the team would have to trade away to get him.
The smarter move might be to find a veteran reserve that can help these younger players play their best on a more consistent basis. The Knicks need a player with the experience and gravitas to competently direct these guys for 15-20 or so minutes a night. It may not sound like such a tall order, but it would make a big difference.