About one year ago, the New York Knicks were mostly being ridiculed by the national media and even some local outlets for assembling a cast of characters that seemed closer to the retirement home than to an NBA Championship.
After winning 54 games and the team’s first Atlantic Division championship in almost 20 years, the story that was mostly told was not about any of the many positives that could have been taken away from the Knicks’ season. Instead, the story focused on Mike Woodson being outcoached by Frank Vogel, J.R. Smith’s miserable postseason and Carmelo Anthony’s mostly ineffective shooting against the Indiana Pacers.
While all of those critiques are both true and fair, what is also true and fair is the following:
The Knicks are not America’s team and the benefit of the doubt is not something that is usually given to the franchise. And despite his mostly successful track record, the moves that general manager Glen Grunwald makes are expected to fail until proven otherwise.
That is why the acquisition of Beno Udrih has been mostly met with yawns and the same dismissive indifference as Kenyon Martin’s.
Udrih, though, has been a solid pro point guard for his entire nine-year NBA career. As a member of the Sacramento Kings, Udrih was the full-time starter for head coaches Reggie Theus and Paul Westphal.
Though the Kings struggled to win games over the course of his four years there, as a starter, Udrih turned in impressive numbers across the board.
From 2007 to 2011, in Sacramento, his 12.6 points, 4.7 assists and 3.1 rebounds on 48 percent shooting from the field and 36 percent from three-point territory are quite solid.
In the two seasons since, Udrih has spent time as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic. His minutes have dipped dramatically, but his per-36 minute averages have remained relatively consistent.
When called upon to start the final nine games of the 2012-13 season for the Orlando Magic, Udrih responded by averaging 14.3 points, 8.1 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game. He shot just 41 percent from the field, but managed to convert 14 his 26 three-point attempts—54 percent.
Obviously, the Magic were playing out the string of a lottery-bound season, and the majority of teams he competed against as a starter were playoff-bound teams, many of which were resting starters.
It would be unfair to expect Udrih’s productivity to remain at such a high-level over the course of an 82-game season, but it is fair to refer to him as a solid point guard, based both on his tenure in Sacramento and what he accomplished in the small sample size at the end of last season.
What Udrih does provide the Knicks, though, which should not be understated, is an effective pick-and-roll point guard who should excel playing with Andrea Bagnani and Amar’e Stoudemire. He is an above-average shooter who is a good decision maker off of a pick-and-roll and is as adept at shooting off of the dribble as he is threading the needle for a pick-and-pop opportunity.
He will easily be the best passer on the Knicks roster and will give Mike Woodson the third point guard necessary to continue playing Pablo Prigioni and Raymond Felton together in the backcourt.
That duo started together in 16 of the Knicks’s final 18 games of last season. In the 16 games they started together, the Knicks put together a 15-1 record.
In the playoffs, Woodson stuck with Prigioni and Felton as his starting backcourt, starting them in 10 of the team’s 12 playoff matchups. Prigioni’s two non-starts were a result of missing Game 1 against the Boston Celtics due to injury and playing just three minutes off the bench in Game 4 against the Indiana Pacers.
Although the team was a more modest 5-5 in those 10 playoff starts, Woodson had obviously grown to trust the tandem.
With Jason Kidd’s departure, there was a gaping hole in the Knicks’ personnel. It would have not been feasible to continue to start both players without a third point guard that is capable of orchestrating the offense. To this point, neither Iman Shumpert nor J.R. Smith has proven that they could handle such a task, and asking rookie Tim Hardaway, Jr. to do so may be unrealistic.
Now, with a new array of players at his disposal, Woodson has options as to whether he prefers to keep Anthony as his power forward, or move him back to small forward. Thus far, the coach is not tipping his hand.
Still, with Udrih, the Knicks have a solid third point guard on the roster and one who has proven capable of running a pro team. With Udrih, Woodson has the option of continuing to start the backcourt he has grown to trust.
And with the capable Udrih giving the Knicks solid minutes off of the bench, a second-consecutive Atlantic Division Championship is much more possible than it would be without him.
This season, Udrih will earn the veteran’s minimum salary of $1.4 million. In the long-run, his acquisition may prove to be a small investment that makes a huge difference.