12:32 pm Jul. 6, 2012
What to make of the Knicks' move for point guard Jason Kidd?
He is an easy Hall of Famer who led the New Jersey Nets to a pair of Eastern Conference championships. Just two seasons ago, he started at point guard for a Dallas Mavericks team that won the N.B.A. championship, knocking off LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the process.
Yet there would be little reason to make Kidd the starter on a team that, in all likelihood, will employ Jeremy Lin next season.
Even if the Knicks have Lin, though, Kidd should raise the quality of their guard play considerably.
Consider that last season, Kidd posted a career-low assist percentage of 28.4 percent, well down from his level in the championship season the year before of 35.4 percent, the level he'd played at for roughly three years. (During his peak, he was routinely above 40 percent.)
Were Kidd in the middle of his career, such decline could be written off as a possible statistical blip. But in a player who turns 40 next March, such decline should probably be taken more seriously.
Combine that with his turnover percentage of 24.2 percent, up from the low 20s in his previous three seasons and the mid-teens in his prime, and the argument for playing him over Lin disappears before even taking into account Kidd's advanced age and Lin's youth. Lin's assist percentage of 41 percent fits comfortably in Kidd's prime, while his turnover percentage of 21.4 percent falls somewhere in between Kidd's prime and late-career production. This isn't Steve Nash, who would probably have been worth starting over Lin next year.
But consider how Kidd compares to the players the Knicks trotted out to stand where a point guard normally does last year. Kidd's assist percentage, even if it doesn't recover at all, still checks in well above the 21.2 percent provided by Mike Bibby. It towers even more over the paltry 19.6 percent put up by Toney Douglas. Those numbers should merely be stand-ins for all the possessions you watched last year when the Knicks appeared to be waiting for the shot clock to expire.
Kidd is even an upgrade over Baron Davis, whose assist percentage was better, but whose turnover rate was an ungodly 28.1 percent, and whose shot isn't as accurate as Kidd's. Davis shot 37 percent over all, Kidd just above 36 percent. But Davis shot 30 percent from three-point range, while Kidd shot better than 35 percent. So Kidd's effective field goal percentage was far higher than Davis's, while the perimeter nature of his game will force defenses further out than Davis ever did, creating more space for the other Knicks to operate.
That Kidd did this in roughly 30 percent more minutes per game, while Davis eventually broke down with a knee injury that will keep him from being an option for the Knicks in the upcoming season makes it clear: not only is Kidd an upgrade over what Davis was last year when he's on the floor, he's likely to be available to be on the court far more of the time than Davis was last year.
Exactly how much of a coup getting Jason Kidd to join the Knicks will prove to be now rests mostly with his former team, the Dallas Mavericks. If the Knicks and Kidd simply agree to a free agent contract, the Knicks will be forced to use their mid-level exception to the salary cap, costing them their one chance to bid on a shooter, a backup center, or any other free agent without either a sign-and-trade deal or getting a player to agree to be paid the veteran minimum. This takes them out of the bidding for players like Rashard Lewis and Marcus Camby, both of whom would be enormously helpful for next year's team.
However, if Dallas wishes, it can agree to sign Kidd, then trade him to the Knicks, thus potentially increasing his annual salary, and giving Dallas something, rather than nothing, in return for Kidd. Might they take Toney Douglas in such a deal? It would be the best of all worlds for the Knicks, ridding them of a player in Douglas with no role and a guaranteed contract, so it seems really unlikely. But if Dallas determines that Douglas is more valuable than nothing, perhaps they will do so.
Either way, the Knicks have taken a major step forward in addressing their depth issues last season generally, and their failings at backup point guard in particular.