Tag Archives: New York Knicks

Shot Fiction: Chris Copeland Joins The Pacers

Photo from Iguanasan via Flickr

The air in the visitor’s locker room was stale and dejected. Although the New York Knicks had just completed what was objectively their best season in 14 years, the subjective left very little room for comfort.

The Knicks thought – no, they knew they were better than this Indiana Pacers team. It just so happened that the weaker squad punched the stronger squad in the mouth, a bad mixture of happenstance and physicality.

Alas, the 6 game Conference Semifinals became the final act, a harsh, brutal climax where Gotham poets envisioned but more crescendo. As those despicable Pacers celebrated in unity, going so far as to send all five starters together to the post-game interview podium, each Knick stood alone and awaited his fate. Mike Woodson stood in the corner, not nearly as talkative as a coach should be, his mind racing forward, trying to project which of his players he is seeing in the locker room for the last time.

A drenched Frank Vogel walked into the locker room. His eyes were triumphant, his smile clearly visible despite his attempts to conceal it under a cloak of professionalism. Most of the Knicks looked away; while Vogel had earned this visit and the perks to come with it, they were under no obligations to comply emotionally.

Vogel stood amidst defeat like a looter in a burned village, squinting his eyes as he strained himself towards a decision. This was the second year of existence for the NBA’s Ron Artest Provision, a controversial turning point of the 2011 lockout that allowed a winning playoff team to absorb one player off the defeated squad, taxed only with the burden of paying the acquired player.

The ruling caused a major uproar when it was instated – called a “kick to the groin of parity” by Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and a “poorly executed offseason post gimmick” by lesser figures. But it passed nonetheless, and any chance of it being overturned died a painful death after the buzz and excitement caused by Miami snatching Ray Allen from Boston after the 2012 Eastern Finals. Any publicity is good publicity, or so seemed to be the thought process over at the commissioner’s office, and Vogel was now entitled to get his as he saw fit.


Carmelo Anthony looked up; he expected to get called all along.


Stunned silence.

J.R. Smith stifled a pout. Tyson Chandler’s ice pack dropped. Mike Woodson’s face, always the microcosm for his teams’ moods, looked like he forgot Copeland was even on the team, an expression that had become all too common throughout the actual series. Even James White looked insulted.

Nonetheless, Vogel and Copeland walked out the door. “I won’t let you down, coach”, said the former 29 year-old rookie. “Partners from here on out”, the coach answered, as the Miami Heat loomed in the background.

Quentin Richardson Brings Back The Head Tap

During garbage time of last night’s blowout win against the Pacers, New York Knicks forward Quentin Richardson made two three-pointers and celebrated the only way he knew how:


(Gif via Bleacher Report)

Perhaps one of the best parts of the celebration was that Iman Shumpert joined in from the bench. Shumpert like Richardson is a Chicago native and had to have grown up watching Q-Rich; Shump was at least 10 years old when Q-Rich and his former Los Angeles Clippers teammate Darius Miles used to celebrate big plays by tapping their heads:

Did we ever find out exactly what the double head tap signified? A quick look at the always helpful Yahoo! Answers lead to these wonderful results:


The real answer appears to be an ode to an alien antennas:

Since you mentioned it in last week’s mailbag, I thought I’d shed some light on the head-pounding thing that Darius Miles and Quentin Richardson do. They are pulling out their antenna, like an alien. I’ve read it’s the idea of “you better pay attention and get your antenna up.” Again, that’s the word on the street, but I could be wrong. It has happened before.

–Troy McGinty, Denver

Troy, my man, as far as the word on the street goes, I’m going to defer to you. The explanation sounds a tad more scholarly than I would’ve theorized, but maybe you’re right.

Via Jack McCallum’s Postseason potpourri mailbag from March 29, 2002

If the great Jack McCallum is going to believe the word on the street about the head tapping celebration of Darius Miles and Quentin Richardson then it must be true.

As long as the Knicks don’t replace their “It’s Three Points. Take that to the head.” celebration then I am good with Q-Rich reliving the glory days of the early 2000s. Keep head tapping Q-Rich.

Top image via New York Knicks Memes

A Return to Normalcy

Photo: Werner Kunz | Flickr

Ed. Note: Evans Clinchy is a Bostonian and active member of the hoops blogosphere. He’s been covering the Celtics for nearly four years, with his writing appearing on CelticsBlog, NESN, and SI (among other places). You can follow him, his thoughts, and his writing on Twitter. He wrote this piece before the start of the Knicks-Celtics series this past weekend.

After taking a good, solid 96 hours or so to process all the thoughts and emotions brought about by the disaster that unfolded Monday afternoon in Copley Square, I was struck by an odd realization: The rhetoric we use to cope when tragedy strikes isn’t so terribly far removed from the basic sportswriting tropes that columnists fall back on when a deadline looms minutes away and they’re struggling to find meaning.

Grit. Grind. Perseverance. Resilience.

Especially in Boston, we’re no stranger to these buzzwords. Every time Rob Gronkowski plays through a nasty injury or Dustin Pedroia gets a little dirty breaking up a double play, we hear them. Sports journalism is a constant quest to assign narrative value to random, fluky, unpredictable events, and when we can’t really make sense of something, there are always easy lexical crutches to lean on.

Boston is tough. Boston has a will to survive. Boston can’t be defeated.

When you hear this stuff in a sports context, it’s no big deal. A little hacky and clichéd, sure, but it’s just sports and none of this really matters, so we’re able to let it slide.

But when you start applying these words to events like Monday’s Boston Marathon bombings, which ended three lives and injured 183? Then it becomes a little difficult to swallow.

Everyone has been throwing around verbiage about the heart and determination of Boston. We’ve heard it from our athletes, our celebrities, our random Twitter friends — hell, even our president. Barack Obama came to Boston on Thursday and gave a stirring speech, one that many are calling the finest oratorical moment of his presidency, in which he talked about how the marathon bombers “picked the wrong city” and that Boston has the resolve to “finish the race.”

It sounds great in a figurative sense, until you realize that thousands of runners quite literally did not finish the race on Monday afternoon, and that since we’re all humans here, every city is the “wrong city.” Obama’s speech was great, but it was only that — a speech. Words are ultimately meaningless. They don’t bring back Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi or Martin Richard; they don’t keep criminals off the streets; they don’t undo history. What happened Monday happened, and no one can change it.

Speaking of empty gestures (and getting to the point, since this is a basketball blog and you’ve already read 400ish words that have very little to do with basketball), there’s been a growing sentiment that as the Celtics begin the NBA playoffs this weekend, fans will support their cause in a display of solidarity with the people of Boston. It’s even been suggested — by a New York media outlet, no less! — that the Celtics are now “America’s team,” that the nation will rally behind the C’s from now until the moment they’re eliminated.

To that, I say: Thanks, America, but no thanks.

Rooting for our sports teams won’t make a difference. It won’t erase what happened Monday. It will simply add to the never-ending pity party, and that’s the last thing this city needs.

Especially during playoff time.

The other great cliché here, besides the one about grit and grind and all that, is that sports are supposed to be a distraction. We watch the games because they’re not real life — they help us get our minds off of everything that really matters, if only for a couple of hours. So once the ball goes up and the Celtics open the Eastern Conference playoffs this weekend, why would we want any sympathy? The sympathy is exactly what we’re trying to forget.

Basketball is not life. It has no terrorists or bombs or manhunts. It’s a diversion. It’s entertainment. And why does it entertain us so? Because we all love friendly rivalry. We watch the games for the trash talk, and the hard fouls, and the guys dunking in each other’s faces. Basketball is war, but it’s fake war. At the end of the day, we’re watching adults play a kid’s game, and it’s OK when things get heated, because that only adds to the fun. No one has their limbs blown off on the Garden parquet.

What’s perfect about the Celtics’ playoff run is that it begins against the Knicks. Boston and New York have both been through tragedy, and thus they know some things are more important than basketball — but they’re also great rivals, so when they do happen to be engaged in a sporting event, it’s the best fake war you can ask for. The Sox and Yanks go back to the sale of the Bambino. Pats-Jets has been great since the start of the Rex Ryan era. Celtics-Knicks… well, there was that time Kevin Garnett said that thing about that breakfast cereal.

Jon Stewart this week referred to Boston and New York as a “sibling rivalry,” noting that “oftentimes the two cities are accusing each other of various levels of suckitude.” I can’t say it better myself, so I don’t know why I’m trying. But the point is this: The Knicks are a perfect opponent for this first-round series. New York will feel your pain, sympathize for your loss, then take the court and try to kick your ass. That’s exactly how it should be.

Here’s what should happen starting with Game 1 on Saturday afternoon. KG and Carmelo Anthony should take their trash talk to all-new, never-before-seen heights. The Knicks should foul Paul Pierce, hard, right in his sore left ankle, and the Celtics should respond with a healthy shove to the bulging disc in Tyson Chandler’s back. Jason Terry and J.R. Smith should trade monster 3-pointers all series long. These two teams should beat the living daylights out of each other for six games at the very least, preferably seven, and it should be fantastic theater from the opening tip to the final buzzer. We deserve that. It won’t make us forget that Monday ever happened, but it will certainly brighten our moods a little bit, if only for a couple of hours.

Doc Rivers responded to Monday’s disaster by telling reporters at practice, “You don’t stop the spirit of Boston.”  In a general sense, I’m not sure what that means. But in the sporting world, it’s clear — Boston plays hard, Boston fights dirty, and Boston loves to be hated. Even now.

The Celtics don’t need an entire country to unify behind them. Their own fans will band together, that’s for sure — but as for everyone else, screw ‘em. Let ‘em boo. In fact, I hope they boo louder than ever.

Lion Face Lemon Face 4/23/2013: Shooters Gon’ Shoot

Welcome to Lion Face Lemon Face, where we recap last night’s NBA action Ben and Matty style. In case you didn’t already know, Lion Face equals good and Lemon Face equals bad. At least that’s how I think this whole thing works.

Lion Face: Dwyane Wade’s monster put-back dunk

Wade may be 31 years old, a reluctant defender in transition for stretches during the playoffs and spending the majority of his time raising his eyebrows at Brandon Jennings but give the man his due: He hasn’t lost it yet, whatever “it” is.

Lemon Face: Norris Cole’s missed dunk

Norris Cole, on the other hand, is 24 years old. Here’s a general rule of thumb: if your name isn’t Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade or Blake Griffin and your running the floor beside LeBron James, the only thing that should be on your mind is “how do I get this flying death machine freight train superhuman machine basketball player the ball?”

Lion Face: Presented without comment, a real Lion Face.


Lemon Face: Brandon Jennings

There’s nothing wrong with making sweeping declarations. In fact, I encourage them. They give me funny things to tweet about. The problem here is that Jennings is all shot and no substance. Here’s his shooting chart from last night:

jennings shooting

A whole lot of red and nothing in-between. Daryl Morey is only mildly impressed. Lucky for Jennings, the Bucks can technically still win this series in six games. That is, if LeBron James spontaneously combusts and Dwyane Wade is too emotionally shattered to continue playing. Even then, Chris Bosh and a healthy mix of shooters could get the Heat over the proverbial hump.

Lion Face: JR Smith

Your 6th Man of the Year, folks…


Lemon Face: The Celtics’ offense

I’m not really sure what happened here. All I know is that Knicks-Celtics felt a lot more like a first round series in the Eastern Conference than I thought it would. Here’s the Celtics’ shot chart from the second half:

celtics shot chart

That shouldn’t be allowed in the NBA. This looks like if a fifth grade version of me went on Microsoft Paint and decided that red was my favourite colour and that all basketball courts should be red because I said so! What’s worse is that the Celtics went the final nine minutes of the game without getting a single basket. Part of the issue was that the C’s just couldn’t capitalize on their open shots — especially the open threes Paul Pierce produced from the post — but I have to give kudos to the Knicks’ defense. They were absolutely suffocating. “Signing Kenyon Martin in the middle of the season sure made a difference for the Knicks” is close to number one on my list of things I never thought I’d say in 2013.

Screen Shot 2013-04-24 at 2.13.04 AM


Lion Face: The Knicks’ third quarter

This is the only scoreboard you need from the third quarter: Carmelo Anthony – 13, Boston Celtics – 11. I guess it’s an improvement from Boston’s fourth quarter performance in Game 1 when they were held to just eight points. One thing’s certain: it won’t matter that the Celtics are in the TD Garden for the next two games if they continue to score less than 13 points for multiple quarters.

Lion Face: America’s team. I think. Probably not.

Last night, the Golden State Warriors became the first team to score over 130 points in a playoff game since the Celtics eviscerated the Lakers in Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals. Jarrett Jack, Stephen Curry, Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson combined for 101 points on 63 shots. In completely unrelated news, Golden State’s small ball is awesome. Here’s the Warriors’ shot chart:

warriors shot chart

Notice the way that this one contrasts with Boston’s shot chart from the second half? Yeah, that’s an inherently good thing. Oh, and here’s an incoming super overreaction: The Warriors are kind of perfectly set up to be this year’s “they just went on a crazy shooting run and knocked off a few teams that they really shouldn’t have knocked off” team.

Lion Face: Harrison Barnes’ Reverse Slam, proceeding celebration


Lemon Face: Denver’s defense

Here’s the thing about the Warrior’s small line up, which might end up being the ultimate “diamond in the rough” non-acquisition this Spring: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Jarrett Jack are all capable and willing shooters. Per NBA.com, the trio shot 43.5 percent from 16-24 feet over the course of the regular season, miles ahead of the league average. The Nuggets, on the other hand, aren’t employed with big men that are adept at closing out on shooters off the pick and roll. As a result, they allow the league’s second worst opponent field goal percentage from that range. Unless George Karl is an even better coach than I think he is (likely), Denver’s going to be in a bit of a pickle.

All statistical support for this story provided by NBA.com

15-Footer 4/23/13: HAIKUS FOR TUES(day)

Milwaukee Bucks vs. Miami Heat. 7:30 PM ET NBA TV. Miami leads, 1-0


Not get Most Improved Player

No thumbs up for that


LeBron James will shoot

12 for 6. Not a typo.

eFG through roof.


Can the Bucks bounce back?

Unlikely. Heat are too good.

Will win this game easy.


Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks. 8 PM TNT. Knicks lead, 1-0

Jeff Green played very well

In the first half of game one

Not in the second.


Oh, Jason Terry

Has not had a good season

Where did his shot go?


JR Smith, Sixth Man!

Shot well for the last three months

Clearly deserving


New York will win this

With veteran leadership

And Jared will cry


Golden State Warriors vs. Denver Nuggets. 10;30 PM TNT. Nuggets lead, 1-0

Moment of silence

For David Lee and his leg

Terrible to see


How will Warriors

Make up for his production?

Andris Biedrins, duh.


Curry and Thompson

Will have to score more, shoot more

Barnes must score as well


Will Andre Miller

Have another old man game

Or will he take a nap?


Denver’s adjustments

Won the game. But it was close.

Seven games, pretty please?


Lion Face/Lemon Face 4/18/13: LAKERS RULE, JAZZ DROOL

Records broke, playoff seeds clinched, and a lot of really terrible basketball. Ladies and gentlemen, the last night of the 2013 regular season!

Lemon Face: Alonzo Gee Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 8.09.21 AM


This is brilliant, and it’s how I’m going to answer most of life’s important questions from now on.

Job interview: “Jordan, why should I hire you?” “I’m here.”

Marriage: “And do you, Jordan White, take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, in sickness and health, until death do you part?” “I’m here.”

Birth of my first child: “Mr. White, are you ready to hold your baby for the first time?” “I’m here.”

Lion Face: Stephen Curry


(Graphic courtesy of the Golden State Warriors)

Not only did Curry break the mark for most three-pointers in a single season (272), he did so while shooting a ridiculous 45% from beyond the arc this season on nearly eight attempts per game.  ANKLES? HE DON’T NEED NO STINKING ANKLES.

Lion Face: Chris Copeland

Last night, Copeland became the first Knicks rookie since 1980 to notch consecutive 30-plus point games.  It’s been a terrific, near-storybook season for Copeland, whose path to the NBA has been well chronicled. Also, his lion’s mane alone is worthy of a Lion Face

Lemon Face: Utah Jazz



Utah, not wanting to face the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round, went with the unorthodox strategy of sewing up the ninth seed in the Western Conference. This bold maneuver paid off, as the Jazz lost to the Grizzlies, gifting a playoff berth to the Lakers as a result. It’s unfortunate that Utah’s most important game of the season came against one of the league’s premier defensive teams, but you still expected a better effort than what was put forth last night in Memphis.

(Photo courtesy of SBNAtion.com)

Lion Face: Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers lived up to their preseason hype, securing the seventh seed after defeating the Houston Rockets in overtime.

Lion Face: NASA

Lemon Face: Houston Rockets

You let NASA down, Houston. NASA.

Lion Face: Orlando Magic

I have to admit, you really scared me at first, Orlando. You were actually winning games to start the season, and not by accident! That’s not how tanking works! But you righted the ship, finishing the season at 20-62, and are now the proud owners of the worst record (but highest lottery odds!) in the 2013 season. Tankalicious!

Lemon Face: Rasheed Wallace retiring

Goodnight, sweet prince.


Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends, unless of course you consider the show to be the NBA regular season in which case it’s actually ending very soon. Regardless, with the regular season winding down and the playoffs getting ready to start up, we’re bringing back America’s 34th favorite semi-running column: Lion Face/Lemon Face. As a refresher for those that forgot and introduction for those who are new here, Lion Faces are given to the best players, plays, or moments of the night; Lemon Faces are for the worst. Have a suggestion in the future? Tag it on Twitter with #LionFace or #LemonFace during a weeknight game and we’ll make sure one of our 921 writers see it. Without further ado, on to the LF/LF nominees from Thursday’s TNT doubleheader…

Lion Face: Nate Robinson

GIF from Beyond the Buzzer

It’s been a while since I watched professional wrestling regularly, but I do know that Wrestlemania XXIX was this past Sunday. I was shocked to find out and completely unaware that they unified five different championship belts, and they were apparently all won by Nate Robinson. Either that, or he is the most insured man on the planet after busting out the never before seen Discount Septuple Check following a three pointer. Robinson finished with 35 points on the night, a season high and the most points he’s scored in a game since New Year’s Day 2010. He also added 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, and infinite swag in helping the Bulls snap the Knicks’ 13 game winning streak.

Lemon Face: Jarrett Jack

GIF from DailyThunder.com

In the immortal words of Harry Doyle, “Juuuuuuuust a bit outside.” On the plus side, the Raiders are set to start Matt Flynn this year and Terrelle Pryor is currently Flynn’s backup, so if the whole basketball thing ends up not working out for Jack, he can still put that arm to use in Oakland.

Lion Face: Jimmy Butler

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/JeffGurt/status/322536544089042944"]

Butler has been playing extremely well lately having chipped in a double digit scoring effort in 10 of his last 12 games including his career high 22 tonight. Butler also pulled down 14 rebounds, another career high, against the Knicks. Not too shabby for the 30th pick of the 2011 Draft.

Lemon Face: This Bulls fan

GIF from @SBNationGIF

This is actually a fantastic shot, so don’t think that it got a Lemon Face because it was somehow the worst of the night. I’m giving this a Lemon Face only for the sole fact that it looks like she might be ready to actually ingest a full lemon sometime within the next four seconds. Also, what is Joakim Noah doing in the stands right behind her? Why isn’t he getting back on defense? And why is he wearing a t-shirt jersey?

Lion Face: The Durant-Westbrook Connection

Without question, Durant and Westbrook gave us the best sequence of the night. A swat by Westbrook followed up by Kevin Durant’s complete lack of regard for human life coupled with Golden State’s complete lack of regard for transition defense made this happened. Just sit back and enjoy it.

Lion Face: Golden State’s 3 Point Shooting


Typically, if you shoot 183.3% from beyond the arc, that’s a pretty solid shooting night. Unfortunately for the Warriors, this actually appears to bring down the torrid 248.8% they were apparently shooting coming into last night’s contest. If you’re the type of person that’s actually into “statistics” and “actual facts”, Golden State actually entered the game shooting 40.2% from 3, good enough for first in the NBA. They finished last night 7-16 from 3 to slightly raise their shooting percentage on the year. Consider this as more of a season long Lion Face honor because honestly, the Lion Faces are hard to come by when you get blown out by 19 points on national TV.

Lion Face: Guys named Kevin on the Thunder

Kevin Martin Shot Chart via NBA.com

Kevin Martin Shot Chart via NBA.com

Kevin Durant Shot Chart via NBA.com

Kevin Durant Shot Chart via NBA.com

Kevin Martin: 8-10 from the field. 4-5 from beyond the arc. 3-3 from the line. 23 points in total. Yeah, Kevin Martin had himself a night off the bench for the Thunder. And if you ever wanted more proof that single game +/- is hilariously misleading at times, Martin finished with a +1 for the game. Meanwhile, Kevin Durant turned in a ho-hum 31-10-8 night on 10-16 field goals and shot 90% from the charity stripe. In the race for the scoring title, Durant now is averaging 28.2 points per game while Carmelo Anthony has widened his lead by averaging 28.6 points per contest. Speaking of Melo…

Limón Face: Carmelo Anthony

On one hand, Anthony became the first Knick to ever post six consecutive games of at least 35 points. In his five previous games, he shot at least 51% from the field, and shot over 60% in four of those five games. On the other hand, last night he needed 34 shots from the field to get his 36 points, and finished the game 13-34 (38%) including missing all four three-point attempts. It’s not often that a guy with a 36 point, 20 rebound effort deserves a Lemon Face, but 13-34 is far from Lionesque. Instead, he gets a hybrid of the two: the Limón Face.

Statistical support for this post provided by NBA.com

Small Sample Size Theater: Steve Novak

Courtesy of hsingy via Flickr

Courtesy of hsingy via Flickr

In this weekly piece I will take a look at a player who wasn’t on the court very long but had a measured impact on the final result. The chosen player may have a negative or positive impact, but either way, the player played a crucial role for his team in the past seven days.

The Knicks simply don’t lose games any more, but their sharpshooting reserve from Marquette is not the primary reason. Statless Steve Novak may be the most pigeonholed player in professional sports (the jury is still out if he or designated hitters are asked to do more) and the Knicks have been better over the last seven days with him speculating instead of shooting. For the week, New York outscored their opponents by 135% more points per minute when Novak was on the pine than when he was on the floor. With Carmelo Anthony playing at such a high level and the rest of the Knicks conforming to his style, Novak’s role could be diminishing quickly.

Here is a glance at Novak’s points per 48 minutes in the five seasons in which he has averaged at least seven minutes per game. “Season 1” was his second season in the NBA and the “Season 3” includes just his numbers with the Spurs, where he reached the minimum minute’s requirement. “Season 5″ is Novak’s numbers thus far this season.


For the past week (four games), Novak’s sum stat pack (points + assists + rebounds + blocked shots + steals) failed to match the number of points scored by Chris Kaman in a single game. Novak’s sum stat pack for the week was 25, a number that LeBron James has surpassed twice in the last six weeks without including points scored.

Typically a role player will come off the bench and change the pace of the game, adding a new dimension that can be successful for short periods of time as opponents prepare to stop the star players, not the reserves. But Novak does the exact same thing, but less effectively, than the Knicks top two scoring options, making him an easy adjustment for defenders. It is no wonder why the Knicks as a team have had more success of late, as Novak’s minutes per game have been trending downward since they peaked in December. Teams like the Heat who have rim attacking star players can afford to roster specialists, but does a three point dependent team really benefit from playing Novak?

2013 All-Star Profiles: Tyson Chandler


Image via bridgetsd via flickr

If Carmelo Anthony is the proverbial straw that stirs the drink for the New York Knicks, then Tyson Chandler is the glass containing said drink. Without Tyson around, everything spills all over the place.

New York’s four-out, spread pick-and-roll offensive system simply wouldn’t be possible without Chandler screening and diving his way through the middle of the lane (his 1.4 points per play as a roll man rank second in the NBA this season, per mySynergySports), sucking in help to clear space for what has become one of the most potent three-point attacks in NBA history.

Chandler has limited offensive skill – he has no jumper, zero post moves and even less in the way of an off-the-dribble attack – but that doesn’t stop him from being one of the most devastatingly effective offensive players in the league. He’s again threatening the all time true shooting percentage record (and pacing the field in the stat for the third consecutive season), leading the league in offensive rating by a large margin, drawing the defensive attention of help defenders everywhere and is throwing in a career-high 4.5 offensive rebounds per game (many thanks to his patented Tyson Tip-out, where he simply reaches over the defender in front of him with his giant arms and slaps the ball back toward a teammate outside the arc) for good measure.

While his defense has slipped a bit from his Defensive Player of the Year campaign last season, he’s still one of the very best bigs in the league at defending the post, isolations and both on- and off-ball screens. There may not be a center in the league more capable of guarding a wing or a guard off a switch. It’s Chandler, and maybe Joakim Noah and Marc Gasol. That’s really it.

A team filled with subpar defenders – Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, JR Smith, Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Steve Novak all play heavy minute loads – is somehow 15th in the NBA in defensive rating, but it’s not hard to imagine them in the bottom five without Chandler. While he has only intermittently displayed the consistently elite level of defense he kept all of last season, Tyson’s kept the team afloat on that end mostly by his lonesome. New York’s switch-happy scheme has leaks and holes almost everywhere, and more often than not it’s Chandler who’s asked to plug them.

He’s done so for 33 minutes a night, every night, and finally, at long last, he’s been rewarded with an All-Star bid in his 12th season. He’s not having the best season of his career (that would be last year), but it’s certainly his most recognized one. Had the NBA not done away with the traditional center designation on All-Star ballots and replaced it with an extra “front court” spot, Chandler may have even been starting Sunday’s game (depending how the NBA chose to classify Chris Bosh and Kevin Garnett). So the coaches recognized his efforts as a reserve, and indeed it seems that coaches, front office types and writers around the league have come to a mutual understanding about just how valuable he is.

That ending seems abrupt, so I’m adding this video of Tyson doing a cool dunk to wrap things up. Enjoy. 

Profile Paroxysm: Pablo Prigioni, Veteran Rookie

The Grand Central Station

Photo by Stuck in Customs on Flickr

Knicks rookie Pablo Prigioni made his professional basketball debut for a team called Ramallo in Argentina’s Liga Nacional de Básquet in 1995. It was, in many ways, an auspicious year for the members of the NBA’s 2012-13 draft class. Several of the higher profile ones—including Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, and Andre Drummond—turned two.

So why is Prigioni here? A two-time Olympian with Argentina’s National Team and Spanish Cup MVP who was voted best point guard in the Spanish ACB three times, he signed a contract for the rookie minimum with the New York Knicks—$473,604 or about half what he made last season playing for Caja Laboral in Spain, according to the New York Times’ Nate Taylor. He’s 35, an age when most NBA players are already retired or, at the very least, are winding their careers down. Hell, it’s an age when most of us are likely hoping for lives that will hold their shape for more or less the next few decades.

And yet there he is in the visiting locker room after the Knicks put the hammer down on a depleted Minnesota Timberwolves team in the fourth quarter, handing them a 100-94 loss. Prigioni played 10 minutes, notching 4 assists and a steal, but missing his only shot. In his best games, he scores in double digits while dishing 8 or 9 assists, but since he averages just under 15 minutes a game, this doesn’t happen often.

He sits working his phone, shirtless and in dark slacks with white socks and dark leather shoes while his teammates chatter around him. James White wants to know what Pau Gasol tweeted during the game, while J.R. Smith bemoans the fact that bad weather in New York will keep them in Minnesota overnight. He wishes they were stuck in Phoenix, where they could at least golf. Prigioni thumbs his phone for a few moments more, then stands and pulls on a shirt while the media converges on Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire.

With his long, square jaw and closely cropped hair, Prigioni is the epitome of the typical NBA player, circa 1956. He looks more like he should be manning the ball-turret gun of a B-17 than running the Knicks’ offense, but when he speaks in his capable but utilitarian English, it becomes clear that the usual sports clichés are only barely concealing a man more curious than ambitious.

“This year, for me, is to try to discover some new things,” he says. “But at the same time, try to help the team. Try to adjust to this different basketball. Try to know the league, the opponents, my teammates, the system. So many new things for me, so I focus on adjusting as soon as possible to everything.”

On the surface, this doesn’t sound so different from any rookie doing his best to project the image of a team player, a guy who wants to put in the work. But Prigioni has already proved it over a long career as a pass-first, pick-and-roll point guard. In 10 games of Euroleague play last year with Caja Laboral he posted an assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.18 (for comparison, Chris Paul’s is 4.35 this season, Tony Parker’s is 3.09) and a PER of 19.2. That’s a small sample size, obviously, but then again, all the sample sizes are smaller in European play.

“There, a regular season is 35 games but here it is 82.” He pauses then elaborates: “So many travels.” He isn’t talking about the dribbling rules.

The schedule hasn’t been the only adjustment, even if it’s the biggest: “Different speed—all the players are more athletic. Talent. The rhythm of the game is different. There, sometimes, we don’t play so fast. We control the ball more, set a long offense, move the ball to one side. Here in the NBA, most of the teams play early offense, you know? So the game gets a high speed.”

Surprisingly, it hasn’t run him ragged, as it would most 35 year olds. “It’s great for me and, you know, I play so many years there and to jump to the NBA now, it gives me more energy, you know?” He peppers his responses with that phrase—“you know?”—the same way Ricky Rubio does with “mmm”: unconsciously, an interjection by a non-native speaker buying a little time. But there’s something charming about it, the casual suggestion of the listener’s familiarity with something most of us probably couldn’t bear to undertake in our mid-30s: moving to a foreign country to play fewer minutes against younger, stronger players for less money.

The playing time is what he brings up when asked what he misses the most. “From Spain?” he says. “Oh, you know: maybe playing more minutes, important minutes, to have the ball in the last possession. That’s the most.” But he says it not with frustration, but with the placid acceptance that characterizes experienced world travelers. He’s here to play the game at its highest level, to make sure he hasn’t missed something special in his career. He’s here to learn, to help.

When Prigioni leaves the NBA, whether it’s at the end of his contract with the Knicks or at some point further down the line, he will likely leave it much as he found it. He didn’t come here to change the world, but for the simplest and often most profound opportunity that life affords us: to try something new. He’ll likely return to Spain with his wife Raquel and look back at his NBA career, with its single digit averages in everything from points to assists to possibly minutes, and count it a success.