Pablo Prigioni, shot-flinging ball thief, steps up for the Knicks

Pablo Prigioni. (NBA.com)
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As originally envisioned by the New York Knicks, Jason Kidd was brought in to be Jeremy Lin's backup.

Much has changed since then, way back in July.

Kidd has been designated as Raymond Felton's backup, then as starting shooting guard, and had one of the best starts in franchise history. Now, Kidd is the great missing piece, as a back injury kept him out of the past two games, with no clear timetable for his return.

On Monday night against the Nets, his absence was enormous, with Raymond Felton struggling in his role as lone playmaker.

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Accordingly, Pablo Prigioni, the team's third-string point guard, was given more responsibility and minutes in the Knicks' game against the Milwaukee Bucks. He provided a solid Jason Kidd impression, his best game of the season, and the Knicks won easily, 102-88.

Prigioni, a 35-year-old rookie, is of course no rookie at all, having played a distinguished career in Europe, and internationally as the starting point guard for Argentina.

His game is a fascinating blend of unusual skills. He isn't a great defender, but has mastered the art of stealing the opposition's inbound passes after Knicks' made baskets. He doesn't so much shoot three-pointers as fling them toward the basket. He looks to pass first, second and third, though he's clearly adjusted to a league that now never expects him to shoot.

He shot Wednesday, making four of his five shots and both of his three-pointers. He also managed to collect a team-high seven assists. For all the justified plaudits Kidd has received for his passing, and the effects of it on the team's offense, Kidd's season-high in assists this year is six.

The major flaw in Prigioni's game early on has been turnovers. This season, 120 guards have played at least 150 minutes; Prigioni's turnover percentage of 32.7 percent is second-worst of any of them. Kidd ranks 91st, with a terrific 11.3 percent. Kidd's career rate of 18.9 percent suggests he'll see some regression when he returns, but nothing like Prigioni's turnover rate, which means roughly one in three Prigioni plays end in heartbreak.

The Knicks as a whole have been more efficient on offense because of an ability to take care of the basketball. They have 163 turnovers all season, which is partially the result of a slow pace, but mostly a remarkable ability to hold onto the basketball.

If Prigioni is to be close to as valuable to the Knicks as Kidd, while Kidd recuperates, he'll need to improve that turnover rate.

If he doesn't, though he'll probably see plenty of time anyway. He brings other strengths to the table, and the Knicks don't have the luxury of being picky. Wednesday night suggested that Prigioni can play well enough to make the team happy with the options they've got.